The Deficiencies of Non-native Teachers of English

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The Deficiencies of Non-native Teachers of English by Núria Cabezos Xiqués
Index
Introduction……………………………………………………….............. 2 Perceptions of NNS English teachers………………………………………2 Students’ perceptions of NNS English teachers……………………………3 The survey………………………………………………………………….4 Results and conclusions…………………………………………………….5 References………………………………………………………………….8 Appendix A………………………………………………………………...9

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Introduction This paper focuses on the teaching of English as a foreign language as well as on the number of controversies surrounding the issue of native speaker (NS) teachers and nonnative speaker (NNS) teachers. The background of teachers as native or non-native is of major concern since non-native teachers have to struggle with the language and overcome their complex of inferiority in front of NS teachers. Péter Medgyes (1992), himself a non-native speaker, appears to be the first to have brought the issues concerning non-native speaker teachers to debate. Medgyes and many other authors have stated that a non-native speaker of English cannot acquire a native speaker competence of the language. Therefore, they both can be successful teachers but NNS teachers have some deficiencies when compared with NS teachers. The distinction between NS and NNS exists and plays a very important role in determining the teaching practice of all teachers. However, teaching skills are also influenced by other factors such as teaching experience, knowledge of the subject taught and the amount of specialist training received.

Perceptions of NNS English teachers NNS English teachers often believe that the control of the language they teach is inadequate and that their lack of native perceptions makes it difficult for them to perform their job as good as they would like. Medgyes (1992), who mixed his research and his own experiences as a NNS English teacher, states that NS and NNS teachers are different in terms of language proficiency and teaching practice, and that most of the dissimilarities in their teaching practice are due to this discrepancy in their language proficiency.

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Moreover, he also argues that both types of teachers can be equally good teachers of English on their own terms. Therefore, he points out that apart from the level of English, there are other variables which influence the teaching practice such as age, sex, aptitude, charisma, motivation, training and so on. In the same way, he is also of the opinion that NNS teachers have many inconsistencies but he asserts that we, as NNS teachers of English, have a great variety of advantages: NNS teachers can serve as imitable models of the successful learners of English; NNS teachers can teach learning strategies more effectively; NNS teachers can provide learners with more information about the English language; NNS teachers are more able to anticipate language difficulties; NNS teachers can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of their learners; and finally, only NNS teachers can benefit from sharing the learners’ mother tongue. In her research study, Ofra Inbar-Lourie (1999) sought to discover if there were any differences in the perceptions, assessment methods and teaching practice between NS and NNS English teachers. She states that NS teachers were found to agree with the superiority of the native speaking teacher and showed more confidence in using the English language and teaching about the culture. Conversely, NNS teachers reported to have better relations with their students and to feel more confident in using students’ L1 to facilitate teaching.

Students’ perceptions of NNS English teachers There is also some research on students’ perceptions. One of the first studies in this area is Moussu’s study (2002) on students’ feelings and expectations when taught by NNS English teachers. In addition, Moussu also analysed the variables (first language, age, gender, etc.) which influence student’s perceptions. The results showed that students

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had positive attitudes towards their NNS teachers. Nevertheless, Korean and Chinese students expressed negative feelings towards their NNS teachers. A part from that, Cheung (2002) did a study to determine the attitudes of Hong Kong university students towards NS and NNS teachers of English, the strengths and weaknesses of these teachers from the perspective of students, and their capability of motivating students to learn English. On the one hand, the results showed that NS teachers, who have a proficiency in English, have the ability to use English functionally and have knowledge of the cultures of the English speaking countries. On the other hand, the strengths of NNS teachers were the ability to be identified as students of a second language, a shared cultural background and the emphasis they put on grammar. Another study on students’ perceptions is Mahboob’s study (2003). Its data demonstrated that NS teachers have better oral skills, vocabulary and culture. Besides, NS teachers are not very good at grammar, answering questions and methodology issues, and they do not have the experience as English as a second language (ESL) learners. On the contrary, NNS teachers have an experience as ESL learners; they are good at explaining grammar points; they have a good methodology, vocabulary, culture, ability to answers questions and literacy skills. The results scarcely displayed any negative points with regard to NNS teachers. Students only highlighted some problems with the culture and oral skills.

The survey After considering the related literature of NS and NNS teachers’ dichotomy and before finishing the current study, I found useful to contrast all the previous theories with a survey. I assumed that the following hypotheses will be proved: 1) NNS teachers have some deficiencies in their teaching practice in comparison with NS teachers; 2) NNS

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teachers’ language competence cannot be compared to the competence of NS teachers; 3) NNS and NS teachers cope with different teaching practices. I designed a questionnaire (see Appendix A) to survey some teachers and students. First, they are asked to fill in some personal details and say the number of NS and NNS teachers they have had. Then, there is a list of 13 Likert-scale questions which they have to grade depending on their degree of agreement. Afterwards, they can list some of the advantages and disadvantages of NS and NNS English teachers. The participants in this study were five NNS English teachers, my colleagues at the language school where I am currently working, and 15 intermediate students, one of the classes I am teaching. They were asked to be as honest as possible with their answers and they were given 15-20 minutes to fill in the questionnaires.

Results and conclusions The data of the present survey validates the previously mentioned hypotheses because the majority of teachers and students participating in it strongly agreed with statements 1 and 2 (it does not matter the teachers’ native language, what is important is the way they teach / NNS teachers have some deficiencies in comparison with native teachers). However, the sample of subjects of this research was quite limited in size and it is only based on the perceptions of the respondents. In addition, there were not NS English teachers as subjects. Therefore, it would have been useful to have the opinion of some NS English teachers and contrast their questionnaires with the ones of NNS English teachers. My findings can be compared to Medgyes’ results (1992). One of Medgyes’ first statements is “the less proficient in English a teacher is, the less efficient he is bound to be in his teaching”. According to his outcomes, it can be modified like “the more

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proficient in the learners’ mother tongue a teacher is, the more efficient in the classroom”. Thus, a good NNS English teacher is the one who has a high level of the learners’ mother tongue and a teacher who has achieved near-native proficiency in English. That’s the opinion of most of the students and teachers I have surveyed too. All of them noted down that the knowledge of the learners’ mother tongue is the main advantage NNS teachers have. Most of the students strongly agreed with statement 3 (NNS teachers are good at explaining grammar) and 5 (NS teachers have better pronunciation than NNS teachers). In the advantages part, they highlighted that NNS teachers are better able to deal with grammatical difficulties and answering questions. Some negative points they find in some NNS teachers are the use of too much L1 during the lessons and a bad pronunciation. The disadvantages of NS teachers that students emphasised were the difficulties to understand them and the difficulties in explaining things such as the meaning of words or grammatical difficulties, etc. For this reason, they all agreed with statement 8 and 9 (NS teachers are sometimes difficult to understand / NS teachers have difficulties in explaining things such as the meaning of words or grammatical difficulties). Nevertheless, the strengths of NS teachers are pronunciation and vocabulary. Therefore, they all agreed with statement 4 and 5 (NS teachers know more vocabulary / NS teachers have better pronunciation than NNS teachers). The opinions of NNS English teachers were very similar to the opinions of the students. As far as NNS English teachers are concerned, one of the advantages of NNS teachers is the knowledge of the L1 of the students. Therefore, they are more accurate in identifying sources of difficulty than teachers whose mother tongue is English and who are not familiar with the students L1. Moreover, NNS teachers themselves have learned

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English as a second language or foreign language and they understand the needs and experience of ESL students better. The disadvantages that NNS teachers and the students noted down were alike. Another thing which stood out in the teachers’ judgements was that they strongly agreed with statement 12 (I would learn more about English speaking countries with a NNS teacher). Conversely, they strongly disagreed with statement 13 (a non-native speaker teaches writing skills more effectively). In sum, NNS English teachers know they have some deficiencies and they know that the differences between themselves and NS teachers exist in terms of language proficiency and language behaviour. As far as students are concerned, they know the differences between NNS English teachers but they are open-minded.

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References - Braine, George, 1999, Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. -Braine, George, 2005, “A History of Research on Non-native Speaker English Teachers”. In Enric Llurda (ed.), Non-native Language Teachers: Perceptions, Challenges and Contributions to the Profession. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. -Cheung, Y.L. 2002, “The Attitude of University Students in Hong Kong towards Native and Non-native Teachers of English”. Unpublished M. Phil. Thesis. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. - Hultfors, Pär, cop. 1986-1987, Reactions to Non-native English Native EnglishSpeakers’ Assessments of Errors in the Use of English Made by Non-native Users of the Language. Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell International. - Inbar-Lourie, Ofra, 1999, “Native and Non-Native English Teachers: Investigation of the Construct and Perceptions”. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel. (http://www.tau.ac.il/education/toar3/etakzir2001-4.doc. - visited 4th May). -Mahboob, A. 2003, “Status of Non-native English Speaking Teachers in the United States”. Unpublished Ph. D. Dissertation. Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. - Medgyes, P. 1992, “Native or Non-native: Who’s Worth More?” in ELT Journal Vol. 46/4: 340-349. -Moussu, L. 2002, “English as Second Language Students’ Reactions to Non-native English Speaking Teachers”. Unpublished M.A. thesis Brigham Young University, Utah.

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APPENDIX A

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NATIVE VS. NON-NATIVE TEACHERS Name of the school: ____________________________________ Sex: Male / Female Mother tongue: English / Spanish / Catalan / Other Years of English study: ____ Level of language proficiency: lower intermediate / intermediate / upper intermediate / advanced How many non-native teachers of English have you had? How many native teachers of English have you had? Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statements. 1. Strongly disagree 2. Disagree 3. Neither agree, nor disagree 4. Agree 5. Strongly agree 1. It does not matter the teachers’ native language, what is important is the way they teach 2. Non-native teachers have some deficiencies in comparison with native teachers 3. Non-native teachers are good at explaining grammar 4. Native teachers know more vocabulary 5. Native teachers have better pronunciation than non-native teachers. 6. Native teachers would give me more strategies to learn better 7. My reading skills would be better with a native teacher 8. Native teachers are sometimes difficult to understand 9. Native teachers have difficulties in explaining things such as the meaning of words or grammatical difficulties 10. I would speak more fluently if I had a non-native teacher 11. My listening skills would be better with a non-native teacher 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 1 2 3 4 5

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12. I would learn more about English speaking countries with a non-native teacher 13. A non-native speaker teaches writing skills more effectively 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5

Please list some advantages and disadvantages native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) English teachers have. Advantages: NS____________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ NNS__________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________

Disadvantages: NS____________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ NNS__________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________