Native-speaker teachers will always have an important role to play in second language education. There are many reasons, but the following figure most prominently among them:
1) The demand for English language teachers outstrips the supply of communicatively competent non-native speaker language teachers. This is simply a question of numbers, and in Asia in particular, there is a high demand for communicatively competent language teachers. (Some might argue that demand is created by native-speaker language teaching organizations and their agents, but this is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this post that the demand exists).
2) Native speakers have the advantage of 20-plus years of immersive language acquisition before moving abroad to teach their language; not to mention the benefits of having acquired the language during the critical period, the full importance of which is not yet known.
3) At the outset of an English teaching career, a native-speaker teacher’s knowledge may not be declarative knowledge, i.e. native speakers may be able to apply grammatical rules correctly, but not able to explain them. Dedicated language teaching professionals acquire declarative linguistic knowledge throughout their careers.
4) Cultural considerations also weigh heavily in favor of native-speaker teachers. Native-speaker teachers are held in high esteem, particularly in Asian cultures. I would suggest that this level of respect is not a right; it must be earned.
5) Native speaker teachers are ambassadors and representatives of their countries and cultures in the places they live and work. External influence on business, culture, society and individual psychology can be a force for the good. Most countries recognize this (even the infamous hermit kingdom of North Korea might be starting to), and want to invite English language educators and other members of foreign cultures into their own, to be a positive and progressive influence.
Native speaker teachers have an important role to play in language education, but we have to live up to that role. We can’t consider our place of birth as a teaching qualification. We must endeavor to develop our declarative knowledge of language in order to be of the best possible service to our students. We must earn the respect that our students hold for us. And we must endeavor to be a positive influence on the cultures and societies in which we live and work.
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