Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

General discussion about learning languages
Speakeasy
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Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:04 pm

I searched both this forum and the HTLAL for discussion threads covering the following question, but could not find any...

Original Question:
While many members of this forum seem to prefer the independent study of foreign languages, others prefer the classroom experience. Putting aside materials and methodology for the moment, does it matter whether the instructor is a native-speaker or a non-native-speaker of the foreign language? Does it/should it? To what to degree? Advantages/disadvantages? Why/why not?

Subsequent Clarification:
It is more than possible that the question, as I formulated it, lacked clarity. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about the teaching of foreign languages in a formal classroom situation in a large institutional setting such as a High School, a College, or a University and I was wondering to what extent the instructor's native language mattered, or should matter, amongst the many other elements that might influence his/her performance.

EDITED:
The question above, as originally formulated, was not as clear as intended. With a view to clarifying "where I was going" with this discussion thread, I decided to copy/paste a portion of one of my subsequent posts and to add titles to the two of them. Although this EDITED version might seem somewhat confusing, my intentions are good ... hmm, isn't there an adage concerning good intentions?
Last edited by Speakeasy on Tue Sep 12, 2017 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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reineke
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby reineke » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:17 pm

Languages "not taught properly" in Anglophone countries

https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... hilit=Nest

Native English-speaking teachers: always the right choice?

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-m ... ght-choice

Please note the difference between instructors and teachers.
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Speakeasy
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:33 pm

reineke wrote: Native English-speaking teachers: always the right choice?
https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-m ... ght-choice
@reineke: Thank you very much for posting the link. And your thoughts on the matter? Also, would you extrapolate from the British Council's article, which focused on "Native English-speaking teachers", to conclude that their findings apply to ANY language? That is, does it matter whether or not Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, or even Latin and Esperanto are taught by native-speakers?
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby reineke » Mon Sep 11, 2017 7:12 pm

Schools may hire native speakers with no teaching experience to work as instructors or as teachers. Non-native teachers are normally expected to possess a related degree.

All these combinations can work or fail. I"ve witnessed a little bilingual English speaker lose his English abilities in a traditional school setting. In eighth grade his strongest skill was pronunciation. The teacher was not bad. The subject was taught 2x45 minutes each week and the class had close to 30 students. According to the teacher, the kid was "fluent" (allowing for his young age and that he wasn't a monolingual English speaker) when he first met him. When I met him he could sing along to this song:



Irrelevant? I don't know...
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Speakeasy
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Sep 11, 2017 8:08 pm

My own experiences are probably irrelevant ...

I took two years of "French Grammar for Reading Comprehension" some 55 years ago. In the first year, the instructor's native language was English. In the second year, the instructor's language was Hindi. In both cases, it seemed to me that the instructors possessed a complete command of French; I can still recall some of their specific comments on pronunciation. I found that the fact that the were not native-speakers of French had absolutely no bearing on the rather high quality of the instruction that they provided.

About seven years ago, I signed up, twice, for an A1 German class at the Goethe Institut in Montréal. Unfortunately, I fell ill half-way through the first session and could not complete the course. The Institut kindly offered to include me in the next scheduled A1 course. In both cases, and not surprisingly, the instructors were native-speakers of German. However, during the first A1 course, I was rather surprised by the instructor's lack of knowledge of, or rather her inability to explain clearly, the very basics of German grammar, something that I had already learned on my own. Seriously, she was completely lost! In the second A1 course, the gentle, soft-spoken young woman was so incapable of maintaining even a semblance of class discipline -- she had abandoned all authority to a 17-year-old Queen-B who sat cross-legged on her desk while the other adolescents made cooing sounds to all of her utterances -- that I simply walked out, never to return. In my view, the instructors' native abilities in speaking the language afforded them no particular advantage.

As I said, my experience is not all that relevant.

EDITED:
Tinkering.
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mcthulhu
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby mcthulhu » Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:13 pm

It is very hard to generalize, to the point that I'm not sure this discussion is even worthwhile. There are just too many other variables besides this one that go into making a good teacher. You never know what you're going to get until you're in the class, unless you already know the teacher. I think this is true of teachers in general, not just language teachers.

I've known native speakers with no teaching background or training who were unable to articulate grammatical concepts, and so would frequently resort to asserting "that's just the way we say it." Some didn't communicate that well in English, and seemed to have a hard time judging what would be too difficult for students to follow in the foreign language. Native speakers do always have the advantage of a native accent; though I was told of one (an educated native but not a teacher by profession) who apparently "encouraged" his students by mocking them. (Probably not an effective teaching technique - I'm glad I didn't have him myself.)

I've also known native speakers who had advanced degrees and extensive classroom experience, who were absolutely wonderful teachers, and could patiently explain anything, with abundant examples, and who could seemingly come up with extensive high-quality materials on the spot to supplement the textbooks whenever necessary - in addition to having perfect native accents.

I've also seen a wide range of skills among non-native teachers. Some were outstanding, and were close enough to native fluency that a student could hardly tell the difference; and having studied the language as an L2 themselves, they were also extremely good at explaining grammatical points to fellow non-natives. I've also had non-native teachers whose teaching abilities were minimal and who would follow the textbook routinely and mechanically, and might not really have been able to go beyond it.

It's possible that what skill you're working on might make a difference as to whether you want a native or a non-native, too. Without prior knowledge of the teachers, I might prefer a native English speaker for a translation course where I was translating into English. (I've had some peculiar discussions with native speaker instructors about how translations into English should read.) Or I might prefer a native speaker if I were to be focusing only on conversation. This would be a secondary consideration, though, if I knew the teacher to be really good.

One approach I've seen work well is team teaching, with both native speakers and non-native teachers working together. This could be the best of both worlds (depending on the quality of the teachers, of course). I don't think this is all that common a practice, however, though I could be wrong.
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby reineke » Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:35 pm

My Teaching Abroad Horror Story
"We arrived at the back of the school to see a row of wooden cabins. Inside each cabin were three pairs of bunk beds, two squatting toilets and a hose dangling over the toilets to shower. I don’t think there was plumbing because the toilets wouldn’t flush and reeked of... toilet. This was my new home."

"After setting our things down, the school hurried us to a “welcome lunch.” In the cafeteria, they handed me two containers. One container had a cold pile of rice, and the other had overcooked vegetables alongside a puddle of oil with bits of bony meat..."

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/10060648

Dreamcrusher: Teaching English in Japan Sucks

Learn all about Ryan's swollen uvula:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=s0YHo_U4Ufc
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lavengro
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby lavengro » Tue Sep 12, 2017 1:10 am

Interesting topic!

I expect one may answer differently depending on what stage the learner is at. At the beginning stages, I expect I would much prefer a good teacher who has learned the target language as a second language, than a native speaker who may have less developed teaching skills. If I were retaining someone to push me over the impossible hurdle between C1 and C2, I expect I would prefer a native speaker.

(Pretty moot for me, my "impossible hurdles" are generally located a little earlier on the track, around the A2/B1 spot.)

There was a mix of French immersion teachers in the elementary school system in my area of the planet when my daughter attended, roughly half were native speakers and the other half appeared to be committed second language learners. And they all seemed right for that level.
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby leosmith » Tue Sep 12, 2017 3:55 am

Speakeasy wrote:does it matter whether the instructor is a native-speaker or a non-native-speaker of the foreign language? Does it/should it?

In my situation it makes no sense to use non-native teachers, but I use them (edit: teachers) exclusively for conversation and maybe you didn't mean to cover this case. I think the advantages of studying alone, or at least without a teacher, far outweigh the disadvantages for everything other than conversation, but that's just my personal preference.
Last edited by leosmith on Tue Sep 12, 2017 11:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Speakeasy
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Re: Language Instructors: Native-Speakers versus Non-Native-Speakers?

Postby Speakeasy » Tue Sep 12, 2017 4:36 am

@Leosmith: Thank you for your comments. It is more than possible that the question, as I formulated it, lacked clarity. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about the teaching of foreign languages in a formal classroom situation in a large institutional setting such as a High School, a College, or a University and I was wondering to what extent the instructor's native language mattered, or should matter, amongst the many other elements that might influence his/her performance. As you can see from reading my own response to the question, my personal experience has been so limited as to be quite inconclusive.

I'm not quite sure what to make of your comment: "In my situation it makes no sense to use non-native teachers, but I use them exclusively for conversation and maybe you didn't mean to cover this case." Your profile, which might be out-of-date, indicates that you are living in Seattle and that you are studying a number of different languages. Does your reluctance to turn to non-native-speakers of the languages you are studying mean that there are simply no alternatives? In other words, in the scenario where a sufficient supply of competent non-native-speaker-teachers* existed in your area, would the "it makes no sense" argument disappear, apart from the use of native-speaker-teachers** for supplementary conversational practice?

As to your comment "I'm not quite sure I think the advantages of studying alone, or at least without a teacher, far outweigh the disadvantages for everything other than conversation, but that's just my personal preference", I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that many, if not most, members of the forum share your views.

There must be a commonly-accepted acronym for these designations!
* Non-native-speaker-teachers: NNST, anyone?
**Native-speaker-teachers: NST, anyone?

EDITED:
Formatting, tinkering.
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