English is a universal language. While not the most widely spoken by population numbers, it is by number of countries and inclusive of second languages. It’s the language of commerce and the most common second language globally. The belief that English is difficult to learn does not stand up to scrutiny. It has some strange syntax and grammar rules, but there are far more complex languages out there than English. What are the most common myths about non-natives learning and teaching English?
The Education System Prefers Native Speakers
The belief that you will struggle to get TEFL jobs teaching to adults or children anywhere in the anglophone world is not true. The education system wants the brightest and the best; they will always take on the person with the best experience and education. Many prefer bilingual / multilingual teachers because of the different cognitive processes and the ability to think in different languages.
Also, if you are teaching fellow non-native speakers, you are likely to have already come up against the same problems they currently experience. Your personal experience will be vital to your teaching career. You are likely to have empathy for the students’ problems, especially if they are problems you also experienced.
The Cultural Aspect
This is a poor argument because there is no universal English language culture. Even between those countries where English is the official language such as the USA and the United Kingdom, there are always cultural and linguistic differences. There are even cultural differences between states and regions in each country. The outlook and approach to language can differ between the northern and southern states in the USA. When social attitudes to language and communication differ between California and Virginia, the idea that native speakers are more in tune with the culture simply falls apart.
Non-native speakers of any language are likely to have knowledge of the culture of that language. This is especially true if they have lived outside of their native country for any length of time. It’s likely they have lived in multiple locations, having been exposed to different regional or national cultures.
Native Speakers Do It Best
Evidence does not back up the belief that native speakers always do it best. In fact, evidence shows that bilingual and multilingual people think differently when they speak more languages. Multiple language affects their cognitive processes, leading to a different approach to everyday problem solving and even individual perception.
Undoubtedly, native speakers understand the subtle nuances of each language – dialect, pronunciation, syntax and exceptions that break the rules. However, unless they have an advanced education in their native language, they are unlikely to understand why certain rules exist or sentence composition.
Lack of Firsthand Experience Means No Classroom Immersion
Related to the last two highlighted issues, it presumes that a non-native speaking English teacher cannot “think on their feet”. This means children and adult learners alike cannot get the fully immersive experience. This, of course, is not true. Such teachers have not just a better technical knowledge of a language, but their own education would have given them the experience of interacting with native English speakers all the time.
Bilingual people never stop thinking in their second language and they never stop practicing their language. The modern language education system encourages (if not insists on) immersing oneself in a culture with native speakers to fully understand it.