Dave Jolly was a brilliant musician. He could play Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and all the greats. The violin sung like an angel in his hands. But he couldn’t teach people how to play it.
What Dave did in the concert hall, Aritz Eizaguirre did in the kitchen. He was a virtuoso with food. He could both feed an army and create exquisite new dishes from exotic ingredients. But he couldn’t teach people how to cook.
So why do we think that people who are highly competent in speaking a language can teach it? It doesn’t make sense.
One assumption is that the native English speaker is the best person for English. In the British Isles alone you have hundreds of types of English – Mancunian, Scouser, Cockney, Geordie etc. None of these is ideal for intelligibility in an international setting. You want a good pronunciation model? Look somewhere else.
Learning English is not pretending to be an English person. It is acquiring competence in an international language. Where your teacher was born cannot be a deciding factor in choosing your teacher.
A Native English speaker has no idea what it is like to learn English as an additional language. They have never had that experience. Non-native teachers, on the other hand, do have that experience. In terms of empathy for a student’s experience the non-native teacher wins hands down. If you are trying to understand phrasal verbs, you are better off with someone who has had that (seemingly complicated) experience. When you are in unknown territory, you want someone who has a map.
The idea that a native student visiting your country in their gap year is better qualified to teach English than someone from your country who has studied the language for years is nonsense. And it’s not just about studying the language. Teaching is a profession. Teaching is a vocation.
Are proper qualifications important?
“Excuse me, waiter, this paella is horrible! The rice is burnt, and the ingredients are undercooked!”
“True that, but the chef is called Pedro. So, it is an authentic Spanish paella. “
In all other areas of life, you want people who are qualified to serve you. Why not in education? You are going to invest time and money in your education. Don’t let yourself be fooled by irrelevant selling points.
Teachers are experts in the art of explanation. They know how to programme the acquisition of both knowledge and skills. They know when to challenge their students and when to hold off. They can look into the future and see where students might have difficulties and they can prepare for that. Teachers have three important skills
2. empathy and
3. more empathy.
Find a teacher with that and you will not care what colour their passport is.
Years ago, I knew a hairdresser called Kevin. He sold his hairdressing service under the name of Pierre. He thought a French name sounded more sophisticated. So did some of his customers. They all walked out thinking they got a French haircut. But it was a Kevin haircut. And a good one too. That’s what mattered.
I am a native English speaker with more than 25 years’ experience and let me share this with you. I had to train to become a teacher. I had to learn my own language again from the outside. I had to make an effort to empathise with students who were doing what I had never done. Not once did I give a better class, offer better advice, or provide more value because of where I was born.
When it comes to choosing a teacher, it’s the person, not the passport, that counts.