Native TEFL Teachers – Here’s The Problem

I have a huge bug bear when it comes to TEFL teaching, and that’s how much native speaking teachers are valued over bilingual ones. Most language academies and private schools will hire a native speaker over someone who has learned English as a second language. But more often than not, it’s not the fault of the institution. Students, and parents of students, are much more likely to choose a place that boasts native speakers on the payroll. The often mistaken belief that natives are better than bilingual speakers makes it very difficult for these highly qualified teachers to get jobs, which is quite depressing really..

So what are the common problems with us so called ‘natives’? Here’s my quick list!

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Wrong Motivations

Some people come into teaching English because it’s what they really want to do. But a lot of others have a myriad of different reasons for moving abroad and teaching. Here’s a few.

  1. They fell in love and moved abroad with their partner, I see a lot of these!
  2. It’s a gap year job, just to make a quick buck.
  3. It was a gap year, but turned into moving from country to country, nomad style.
  4. Bored of their jobs at home, so come to another country to start over.

All of these motivations are great ones! But often indicate a complete lack of training and awareness of what teaching a language really is. As it’s usually one of the only jobs they can get, depending on the country and how much of the local language they speak, they fall into the mistaken belief that it’s a piece of cake!

Our Own Language Education

Is usually not good enough. The education that we are given at school, especially when it comes to grammatical knowledge, is nowhere near good enough to then go and teach it. In fact, the quality of the teaching that we experienced at school means that we don’t understand how our own language works. Asking a native what the present perfect progressive is, will often be met by blank expressions.

Bilingual teachers have a huge advantage because of this. They know what it’s like to be an English student, they have struggled through grammar classes and drilled down into the tough vocabulary that even we are unsure about. So in terms of explanations and helping other learners, they have a lot of fantastically relevant experience.

Conversation Class Pitfalls

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A lot of newbie native teachers like conversation based classes, because they require less grammar explanation and there aren’t any exercises, etc. However, a conversation class can bring its own perils. Usually, bilingual teachers are more aware of these.

  • However unconsciously, a teacher might be tempted to keep bringing the conversation back to something that they are familiar with, or like talking about. I once knew a teacher that used to favour engineering topics, because that’s what he studied.

Putting themselves into the conversation too much robs the students of their opportunity to talk. It might also bore students to constantly talk about the same topics all the time.

  •  Talking about inappropriate topics is super common. Whether that particular subject is sensitive only in that area, or the world over, sometimes teachers might be a little blind to upsetting students with controversial topics.

My rule is this: Never talk about religion, politics, or sex!

Range Of Vocabulary

Having probably gone through exams and level tests and vocabulary cramming sessions themselves, a bilingual teacher might be better able to tailor their vocabulary and grade their language to the specific level they a©©re teaching. Whereas this takes a lot of practice for a native speaker. We find it more difficult to recognise language that students might have problems with, and subsequently end up confusing them unnecessarily.

Any thoughts about native or bilingual teachers? Let me know in the comments below!

© Image Scott Thornbury – An A-Z of EFL




3 thoughts on “Native TEFL Teachers – Here’s The Problem

  1. Great post!

    I’m a native speaker who volunteers as an ESL instructor, and I’ve heard of institutions abroad favoring native speakers because of their accent. I think students worry too much about accent, and at the expense of more important topics like like preposition use, contractions and idioms, but there you go.

    I see pros and cons to non-native speakers as instructors, especially ones who share their L1 with their students. One big pro is being able to explain concepts in a way those students will get, as they have the insight into the student language and struggles that can give them an effective approach. The con is the temptation to use L1 with students rather than challenging them by forcing conversation in English. Although my L1 is English, I am bilingual, and I’ve fallen into this trap with students who speak my L2.


    1. Interesting perspective, thank you! It’s such a shame when I see bilingual teachers not being given a fair chance when it comes to hiring teachers. Either because students demand it or because the institutions themselves have the wrong idea! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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