Are native speakers better language teachers

16075242 - do you speak english test

  • Teaching English

Are native speakers the ideal teacher of English? There has been a lot of research regarding whether native speakers (NS) are better teachers than non-native speakers (NNS). I do agree that native speakers would feel more comfortable when speaking the language and thus many students prefer to have native speakers as their teachers. However, nowadays it is difficult to define native and non-native speakers. Labelling “the native speaker” which used to be comfortably available to draw a demarcation line is now difficult to identify (Kachru and Nelson, 1996). In addition, non-native speakers bring a great number of strengths to language teacher and act as role models of successful learning themselves. Also, they understand the difficulties and obstacles when learning the language because they have been through all of it (Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011).

In North America, most second language learners of English would want to improve their communicative ability either speaking or writing. Because they are living in a country where the target language is spoken, it is obvious that they are learning the language to “survive” in the English spoken environment. In this situation, I believe there is a stronger preference toward having a NS teacher than EFL teachers in Korea.


In Korea, where English is learned as a foreign language, the purpose of learning the language in schools (middle school and high school) is to get good grades. Reading, listening comprehension and grammar are important in getting good grades in English. On the other hand, speaking or writing is not evaluated most of the times. In this English learning situation, my English teachers in high school all taught English in Korean and the class focused mainly on reading comprehension and grammar. As a student, the class style matched directly with my needs of learning English. I did not have a NS teacher in high school and never had a chance to speak in English with the teacher (which made my spoken English deteriorate). However in schools where there was a NS teacher, their role was to enhance students’ speaking abilities. Giving the native speakers the role of teaching communicative abilities may arise from the stereotype that NNS who was born in foreign countries and who learned English in EFL contexts lack native proficiency in English (Liu, 1999).

  • Teaching Korean

There has not been a lot of research related to NS and NNS teachers of the Korean language. To be honest, I was unable to find research which dealt with NNS Korean language teachers. Since most Korean language is a less commonly taught language (Wang, 2006) and teachers are Korean heritage people, there must not have been a need to do research on NNS teachers. I believe that there would be more research on NNS Korean language teachers in the future due to the increase of Korean language learners. Already on youtube there are foreigners who upload Korean language tutorial videos. And there is even a TV show where foreigners discuss about certain topics every week in Korean.


In order to be able to teach Korean language, the teacher should not only be fluent in the language but also knowledgeable with Korean history, culture and Chinese characters. This makes Korean heritage people to easily become a Korean teacher. However it does not necessarily mean that NNS cannot be a Korean teacher. From my experience teaching first level Korean class in McGill University, even though I am a NS of Korean I sometimes had difficulty in explaining certain grammar. Since there are exceptions in grammar and certain grammar can be used in various situations, students would easily get confused. However because it is so natural to me I would not think it could be confusing for them. Whenever I receive questions, I realize that this grammar can be confusing to KFL (Korean as Foreign Language) learners.

  • Conclusion

I think there are both pros and cons of NS and NNS language teachers. Therefore, stereotyping NNS that they are not better teachers than NS is not appropriate. I think all learners can become native-like speakers if they invest certain amount of time and continues to have interest in the target language. Also, becoming a teacher does not only mean to be perfect in the language but should have empathy towards students’ difficulty of learning new languages and the ability to guide them throughout the process. Along with this effort and mindset, specializing in the target language studies (linguistics, SLE, SLA or Literature) would enable NNS to become good teachers.


Kachru, B. B., & Nelson, C. L. (1996). World Englishes. In S. L. McKay & N. H.Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language teaching (pp. 71–102). New York:Cambridge University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Liu, J. (1999), Nonnative-English-Speaking Professionals in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 33: 85–102. doi:10.2307/3588192

Wang, H. (2006). Korean Language Teachers in Higher Education in North America: Profile, Status, and More. In: 11th Annual Conference of AATK. [online] pp.147-187. Available at: [Accessed 22 Nov. 2016].


One thought on “Are native speakers better language teachers

  1. Mela Sarkar says:

    You raise an interesting question: do we consider NNS teachers of ENGLISH as a second langage in a different way from NNS speakers of anything-not-English? I suspect that we do, and should probably (as applied linguistics professionals) consider our motivations carefully. There are real-world outcomes for many, many people.


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