The NS-teacher myth

In the entry before the last one, I talked about the blind faith of some parents in Hong Kong in the native-speaker teacher and in the “Standard Accent.” Icy Lee then sent me a link to a recent interview with Andy Kirkpatrick by Ana Wu: (blogpost of September 25, 2009)

Those who are familiar with the work of Andy Kirkpatrick will know that he is an outspoken critic of the “native-speaker myth”, especially as it is manifested in second language teaching. Andy argues that native speaker teachers do not necessarily make better L2 teachers. On the contrary, plurilingual teachers who have experienced second language learning themselves, and especially those who share the learners’ mother-tongue and so understand their difficulties, can also become highly effective L2 teachers.

Andy laments that often in Asian societies, those who are the most prejudiced against non-native ESL teachers are non-native speakers themselves. I couldn’t agree more. ‘

Interestingly, about a year and a half ago, when Andy wrote about the merits of plurilingual NNS teachers over NS ones in the English press in Hong Kong, the most nasty retaliations came from some NETs in Hong Kong.

As an NNS myself, I sometimes find it difficult to engage in a substantive discussion of the relative merits of NS and NNS teachers. The misconception that native speakers are always better ESL teachers is so deeply ingrained in HK people’s minds that they will think I’m talking through my hat if I am to challenge this misbelief. NS teachers might think that I’m fanning anti-foreigner sentiments. (The analogy is simple: I’m a native speaker of Chinese, but does that automatically make me a good Chinese-as-a-second-language teacher?)

 My take is simple: there are good teachers and there are bad teachers. Certainly there are good NS teachers, and there are aspects of the teaching and learning process where NS teachers can make unique contributions, but to think that all NS teachers are superior to NNS teachers (or to put it more mildly, “to think that in general NS teachers are better teachers than NNS teachers”) is definitely a delusion.

I have two pleas to make: first, EDB should make the NET policy more flexible: for the same staff cost, some schools will benefit more from hiring two local teachers than from signing on one NET. Second, school principals and administrators should base their hiring decisions on educational principles and not publicity considerations (for example, they should avoid favouring untrained or incompetent NS teachers over better-qualified and more competent local ones;  favouring white NS teachers over other coloured NS teachers …).

I copy below an article in today’s Ta Kung Pao:

 英師薪酬高 合資格者少 2009-9-28 【大公報訊】前香港大學助理教授和直資李國寶中學前校長龐永欣認為,NET薪酬高,但真正符合資歷者未必多,「部分應徵者擁有『教授英語作為第二語言』等一大堆證書,但臨場一試,要編一小節課,或批改學生作業,馬腳就露出來了。」 龐永欣對本報記者說,對教育局表示近年平均聘得九百名NET存疑,不知道是否勉強湊合著請。「一名NET的薪酬相當於兩名本地英語教師,但對學校歸屬感和貢獻,恐怕要重新檢討。」 龐永欣去年十一月在報章撰文,批評部分NET只想到香港過一段「悠長假期」。他曾帶同會考班英文教師去澳洲面試應徵者,發現應徵者「有些文法不熟識,有些不辨對錯,有些無法了解學生犯錯的原因,也有些看過(功課)『樣板』,知道教學要求嚴謹,不是玩玩拼音串字遊戲之後,便退堂求去。」 有應邀協助教育局遴選NET的資深英語教師向本報記者抱怨,NET計劃未真正發揮效用,一來未必聘到恰當人選,其薪酬偏高,工作表現尤其參差。教聯會主席黃均瑜早前在本報發表「教育觀點」,直指「一個外籍英語教師的成本,差不多等於兩個本地教師的成本。」「既然並非每間學校都能受惠於有關計劃,倒不如予以放寬,讓學校靈活使用這筆資源,方法可以很多樣化,包括讓學校選擇沿用現時模式,繼續聘請外籍英語教師,或以時薪、兼職等方式招聘。」


5 thoughts on “The NS-teacher myth

  1. Icy Lee

    Non-native speaking teachers definitely have advantages over their native-speaking counterparts. When I prepaer lessons on topics that are usually considered diffiuclt by local students, such as spoken nd written discourse, I try to approach them from the perspective of an average learner and ask myself what I should teach and how best I should teach in order to make my students understand the difficult concepts. I also recall my own learning experience and focus on the areas that I myself found particularly problematic before. Becuase I am a non-native speaker born and educated in HK, I have a strong undersetanding of my students’ needs and expectations.

    I feel very strongly that my non-nativeness is an asset rather than a limitation.


  2. Steph

    Hi, Paul. Long time no see, this is steph! I agree that there are good and bad teachers. I’ve met some real good NS teachers and NNS teachers. However, as you said, many Hong Kong people think that NS is better ELT teachers. Many parents think that the schools with more NS teachers are the better schools!

    Apart from the excellent advice of getting well-trained NS teachers and making the scheme more flexible, I think the school should have a clear idea of what is the purpose for them to have NETs in their schools, so that they can allocate the resource in the best way, without wasting anything.

    Both NS and NNS have their potential of being good ELT teachers. We should work and learn from each others.

    I have watched an interesting programme about NET in Pearl Report. Let’s share~

    NET: working? Not working?

    1. Thanks Steph, for alerting me to the TV programme. I’ll definitely have a look. You’re right that we should clarify the role of NS teachers in a school so that they can make their best contribution. I’m sure that most NETS, if they can also see how they can best contribute to a school, will be more excited about their work, too.

  3. Ana Wu

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for mentioning Andy’s interview at the NNEST of the Month blog and promoting the discussion of the relative merits of NS and NNS teachers (though not very pleasant sometimes). I agree with Steph that we should learn from each other and think we should continue doing research and finding ways to educate misinformed parents and administration.

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