LEAVING THE NEST

David Hogg maintains that native-speaker teachers are not the best model for students.
Those among us who are native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) are acceptable models fro learning English, but we are far from ideal. Rather, it is non-NESTs who are the model that students ought to be trying to emulate.

International interaction
Few of our students will ever need to interact with native speakers; rather, they’ll need to interact with people from China, Korea, Russia, Germany, Japan, Iran and so on. They are also more likely to need to interact with native speakers (as well as non-native speakers) from India, than from, for instance, Britain or North America. So the way native speakers use English is a peripheral semi-irrelevance to most of our students. Jennifer Jenkins argues this point very persuasively. She and others (such as Luke Meddings) have pointed out that “EFL” is an anachronistic concept; rather, it is English as an International Language (EIL) that our students really need to learn. Jenkins urges that we simplify our teaching of English pronunciation to the extent that, for instance, we stop teaching different vowel sounds, focusing our students’ attention instead on vowel length, since that is more often what affects the meaning of utterances made by native-speakers and non-native speakers alike. Jenkins further recommends that any listening exercises that we expose our students to in class should be examples of EIL conversations between non-natives, since those are the models they need to get familiar with – not Received Pronunciation, not Estuary English, not Texan English, not High Rise Terminal uptalk (“HRT” occurs in the speech of some native speakers who make affirmative statements rising, question-like intonation). How many course books recognise the very sensible, irrefutably truthful arguments put forward by the likes of Jenkins? None, as far as I can tell. How many of us have acknowledged that nonNEST models are more useful than NEST ones as far as most of our students are concerned? Not many.

Student reaction
Recently, I have been discussing this issue with several groups of students (upper intermediate, advanced and proficiency; about 30 students altogether). Despite their initial confusion when I said to them “My English is non-standard; yours is standard”, my subsequent elaborations clarified the point for them and they ended up in broad agreement with me. In order to bring them around to considering the validity of my confusing, deliberately provocative remark, I asked them the following questions: • • • Are you likely to travel to Britain or North America over the next few years? Are you likely to travel to other countries around the world and use English as a lingua franca with, say, Japanese people, Greeks, Swedes and so on? Do you use English at work? Those of you who do: Do you often need to communicate with native speakers? Or do you communicate more often with nonnatives?

Their replies to these questions highlighted a local manifestation of what is an accelerating international phenomenon: most English use around the world occurs between non-natives and non-natives. I pointed out, further, that at international business meetings, Indians, Koreans and Spaniards can understand each other well using English; it is only when there’s an American or British person at the negotiating table that communication becomes fragmented and mutually unintelligible. My students laughed and agreed with me.

Real action
But it wasn’t until I told my students about Jenkins’s recommendation for simplifying pronunciation work that they really started to come over to my way of thinking. They liked the idea of simplifying pronunciation practice, especially if doing so equipped them better for real communication outside the classroom. And when I discussed with them the fact that EIL includes very few phrasal verbs (which are, in any case, a quirky feature of native speech), they were quite, dare I say, bowed over. (I myself am, of course, one of those phrasal-verb-using native speakers who would be unintelligible at an international business meeting!). It can only be a matter of time before non-NESTs assert their rightful place at the head of our profession. After all, English no longer “belongs” to its native speakers; everybody has a stake in it. And the stake that native speakers (such as I) have is ever closer to the fringe; that which non-natives have is evermore central. So, in the name of progress, I say let’s usher in the day when we NESTs recognise the crucial importance of the valuable insights that our non-NEST colleagues have to offer both us and our learners.
David Hogg lives and works in Barcelona. He currently works at ESADE, EADA and the American British College. Since 2003 he has been a teacher trainer at the Advanced Institute. E-mail: david.hogg@esade.edu
Article published in: ENGLISH TEACHING professional, Issue 40, September 2005. www.etprofessional.com