English teachers – native or non-native English speakers?

  • Is being a native or non-native English speaker important when teaching English? NO
  • Can a non-native English teacher really teach English? YES
  • Should non-native English speakers be allowed to teach EFL/ESL? YES

This is an open-ended article stating the reasons for my answers. Hopefully the article will spark a bit of a debate as well.

What are my observations and statements based on? I have a degree in English language and literature and I’ve worked for a TEFL/TESOL training organisation since 2002.

The native versus non-native conclusions I have drawn are based on over a decade of watching both native and non-native students take the TEFL course. We only accept non-natives onto the course who have either attained a degree from a university in the six main English speaking countries or have passed an official exam that would grant them entry into one of these universities. We also speak to them as well just to make sure. The point I’m making is that the non-natives who attend the course and I’ve observed have a very high level of English.

The non-natives have two virtually guaranteed advantages over native English speakers. Their spelling and understanding of English grammar are usually better. Both of which are skills that are essential for being a good English teacher. They’ve also learned English as a foreign language and therefore can relate much more closely to the teaching process. They’ve lived through the process whereas a native English speaker hasn’t.

The native English speakers’ advantages are that they are have a much higher comfort level and (in most cases) a wider vocabulary as it will include both formal and colloquial terms. The fundamental problem is that they know how to construct sentences but cannot explain why. This is basic to all language teaching as no-one can communicate in any language without understanding how its components fit together, aka grammar.

In addition to teaching them grammar and how it works, we sometimes have to tune up their spelling as well. Having said that, it’s not their fault. Almost all Anglo-Saxon education systems teach little or no grammar and prefer content over form (construction and spelling). There are pros and cons to this, but there are also some situations where linguistic inaccuracies might lead to fatal consequences.

Two points:

  • Why are certain countries obsessed with having a native English speaker as an English teacher?
  • Why I am frequently told by ELLs, “You must give me a teacher with a British (or American, Canadian, etc.) accent.”

The underlying meaning of the first question is that “I want the best.” As we all know, “the best” is relative regardless of what you are dealing with. I can only speak for Spain as that is where I am based. The Spanish have an unspoken distrust in their own countrymen when it comes to foreign issues and/or skills. When choosing an English teacher, their logic seems to be, “If I can’t speak English properly then you can’t teach it properly because we are both Spanish.” It’s a cultural issue and not a knowledge issue. I’d be interested in hearing about other motives behind the “I want a native English speaking teacher” issue.

An example of the second point is “Give me a teacher with a British accent.” My standard reply is, “Which accent would you like to learn?” Britain has a lot of different accents and some dialects as well. Some are fairly easy to understand, others require a sometimes lengthy tuning in period. As such, a British accent is as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. ELLs don’t seem to understand this. They think that all Brits speaks classic BBC newscaster English (Sir Trevor McDonald comes to mind). It’s the same with other countries as well. Northern east coast American is very different from the southern states. Native English speakers often have difficulty understanding the accents of people from other regions in the same country.

A non-native English teacher will have an accent that is relative to their mother tongue but if they speak clearly, understandably, coherently and create sentences that make sense, why should they be treated as being inferior to native English speaking teachers?

There are many non-native English speakers who are perfectly understandable when they speak English. They have an accent but so does someone from Mobile or Boston in the USA; Newcastle, Glasgow or London in the UK; etc.

From my observations there is a big difference between learning English and acquiring an English accent. They are connected but they are not the same. Words must be pronounced in a way that they can be understood, but what is the correct way? In the north of England people will say “bath” with a short “a” sound. In some parts of the south east it will be pronounced with a long “a” so it sounds something like “barth”. Which one is correct? Does it matter as long as the speaker is understood?

The non-native speaker may or may not lose out in this area. One of our trainees, Rafaela (she’s Spanish and now an English teacher in the UK) has a very clear accent when she speaks but there is still the inescapable trace of Spanish in it. Her practice students and English speaking classmates had no problem understanding her. Another of our students, John (from Glasgow in Scotland) had a very thick Glaswegian accent and initially very few people understood what he was saying, English speakers included.

My observations throughout my time on the training course are that non-native English speaking teachers can be just as valuable as native English speaking teachers. Accent should not be an issue unless it interferes with understandable pronunciation. This applies to native and non-native speakers alike. To state the obvious, in order to teach, both groups must understand the communicative and technical aspects of English.

I now take a big step out of the box and pose some closing questions.

English is now the accepted language of international business, air traffic control and other prominent international areas. It’s taking over in diplomacy as well, edging French to the sidelines. The onslaught of English into the international community demands that non-native English speakers learn it.

  • Shouldn’t non-native English speakers who have excellent English abilities be encouraged to teach it or should we native speakers try to hold on to the English teaching monopoly?
  • As a teacher of English, a truly international language, does having a native English accent really mean anything any more?
  • Does the ability to communicate clearly, correctly and understandably in English supersede the fact that a person has a non-native English accent?
  • Given the priceless multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make up of the six main English speaking countries, exactly what is a native English accent?

Jim Ross.

Want to learn how to teach English from the experts?

Contact EBC for more information about our accredited English teacher training courses and job placement program.

Contact one of our Student Advisers

Call Us Toll Free

Call us TOLL FREE from the USA, CANADA and UK. If we are closed, leave a message.  We'll call you back. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE! EBC IS OPEN  FROM 9:30 TO 5:30, MONDAY TO FRIDAY. OUR TIME ZONE IS, 6 HOURS AHEAD OF US EAST COAST TIME.
  • USA and Canada call FREE: 1 888 393 4015
All other countries, call (+34) 915 553 975 (not toll free)
Highly Recommended! Everyone is helpful and the course itself was very helpful, especially for people who have no teaching background and would like to change careers.
Cheyenne Albon
08:00 10 Oct 18
I had a good time doing my TEFL here in Madrid with EBC. The classes always started on time with a very realistic approach used to teach. I would recommend people to do TEFL from EBC to learn good ways to teach English and make it fun for students.
gaurav swamy
12:52 05 Oct 18
i learned a lot of strategies in teaching.I took the intensive 1 month course and it was really hard work but it was well worth it. Thanks a lot to our amazing teacher. I was so happy to receive my Certificate.Thanks alot EBC for everything.
lhiz Velasco Cabales
08:27 05 Sep 18
EBC is a wonderful academy. I attended an intensive course to gain my TEFL/TESOL qualification. The teaching was in-depth, covering skills, general and business English, as well as how to teach children and adults. All of this was imparted by our professional guide, John. Thank you to all the staff who went out of their way to be encouraging and helpful. It has been a memorable experience!
Michelle Fernández
18:00 02 Sep 18
Great course with an awesome staff. All aspects of teaching, grammar, finding work and even living in Spain are covered in great detail. Would recommend highly to anyone looking to do their TEFL.
Joe Kemp
12:53 31 Aug 18
Excellent and very comprehensive programme. Our instructor taught us everything we need to know about teaching English. The practice teaching sessions we did are great experience for the real world and I now feel confident that I can teach professionally. Thank you John for your commitment and dedication.
Susi Santorelli
12:03 31 Aug 18
Totally recommend EBC. A thorough course, well worth the money and with highly qualified instructors. I had never taught before taking this course, but the 8 hours teaching practice makes you feel so prepared. They answered every single one of my questions and made me feel confident to make this investment. Don't hesitate taking this course!
Kathryn Royal
11:59 31 Aug 18
Great course! You'll work very hard (it's very intensive) but definitely worth it. I totally recommend it.
Sol Montaser
09:00 27 Jul 18
The class was very good. The instructor John is friendly and very thorough with his classes. William, in the front office, is a joy and is very helpful with all of my course needs. Tita, is very nice and was helpful in explaining different options for working and staying in Madrid.
Jaime Tully
08:59 27 Jul 18
John is a good teacher and he puts efforts inorder to understand your requirements. He teaches you in the right ways, like how to present the language in a simple way, how to keep the motivation on, etc.It´s a intensive course but it´s really worth !!Willam is a good administrator. Thanks for all the help and support. 🙂
Tanya Bhagat
11:41 18 May 18
The course is very intensive but IT IS REALY WORTH! If you are looking for a course that teaches you how to become an English teacher, well this is the best one. You really get the better skills for teaching English at all levels with a clear knowledge about what you are doing. The staff of the course is really nice and helpful. He is a really nice person who helps you whatever you need.Teachers here at really good and they really know how to train you as a English teacher very well.
Dro !
11:24 18 May 18
I am very pleased with my experience at EBC Madrid. Professor John was an amazing mentor that really prepared my classmates and I to teach English. I feel confident going into the job market and finding a teaching job.
Elizabeth Wohlford
15:28 08 Mar 18
EBC Madrid had equipped me with the necessary knowledge and skills I need to be better in teaching. William is so nice and is very accommodating to us students. And, John is the best teacher who can simplify and make the students understand even the most complicated grammatical concept. Kudos!
Anne Marnelli
14:42 08 Mar 18
The course is very intensive but it helps a lot to bring out the best in me. John is an amazing teacher and he is very professional. I'm very thankful for all the guidance and help that I received from EBC. I highly recommend it.
Roxanne A.
14:42 08 Mar 18
The course is really useful. It makes you equipped with the right knowledge, training and attitude. Things you need to have that confidence to go out and face the world as an English teacher. Highly recommended!
Pedi Dela Cruz
14:25 08 Mar 18
This is a great place to get your TEFL certification. The staff is kind, organized and very helpful. It was such a comfortable learning environment that I enjoyed very much. I liked the personalized attention and I got a lot more confidence and experience to be an English teacher. Thanks for everything!
Victoria Metz
10:35 02 Feb 18
I found the instruction throughout the course to be very effective and I finished the course feeling excited and prepared to begin teaching. There is nothing fancy about the EBC facility, however this doesn't in any way reduce the overall quality of the course. John, the instructor, has extensive experience (both as an TEFL teacher and a TEFL course trainer), which is evident in the thoughtful organization of the course. My class had only five students, which created lots of time for personal attention and advice. Make sure you come prepared to work hard!
Adam Schreiber
12:06 14 Dec 17
It was a great and intensive course! I learned and enjoyed this whole learning how to teach experience. Thank you very much for your time and knowledge. I feel well-prepared now. EBC Madrid, 2017.
Michele Buitron
11:57 14 Dec 17
I've just finished my EBC TEFL course. It was a great experience. I definitely recommend this course. John is an amazing teacher and he is very professional. It was just a pleasure. Thank you so much and good luck!
Natalia Egorova
15:04 10 Nov 17
The course has been really useful and the teacher, John, made the classes so much fun and very interesting. It is has been a great experience and has helped me realise how much I really enjoy teaching. It has also been a bit intense at times but I would recommend this course to anyone who would like to become an English teacher.
Natasha Jimenez
20:17 05 Oct 17
Class of August 2017.It's been a busy stressful 4 weeks but I am happy the group and I have all made it and we have TEFL certificates to show for all our hard-work and sleepless nights. Much thanks to our trainer John for his patience and ability to find solutions and guidance to help you find your way and energy throughout the course. EBC international is the best place to learn and share your knowledge of teaching. And for people like me who has no idea how to teach things like grammar and also to learn the grammar...this is the place to be!
Ashley Kabanda
11:14 31 Aug 17

TEFL courses

  • EBC trains and prepares course students to succeed as English language teachers.
  • We operate at a higher level than most other courses
  • Our TEFL/TESOL certificate courses are written to QCF level 5 standards
  • Our job placement programme is unrivalled with a 100% success record

TESOL / TEFL courses from EBC

Share this page


WhatsApp chat Click to WhatsApp us