Debunking native-speaker supremacy

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I read this interesting article by
Brenda Townsend Hall
from 'ESL school'
Check it out below!!

Debunking native-speaker supremacy
June 06, 2009

Hello again,

The native English speaker seems to have all the advantages when it comes to finding teaching posts. A native speaker with few or even no qualifications to teach English often has greater credibility with employers than a highly qualified non-native speaker. To understand ...

...this situation we have to know what students’ expectations are. Many students have had poor teaching in their earlier schooling by ill-prepared non-native speakers. They want the chance to learn from a “real” English speaker and may reject any other type of teacher. To be honest, I don’t see attitudes like this changing.

However, we need to ask a few questions about the native English speaker. If employers believe that all native speakers use a uniform and highly educated pronunciation that are very much mistaken. The range of accents is enormous and I am not simply referring to American, British, South African etc. Within the various English-speaking countries accents vary tremendously. So is a Manchester or a Kentucky or a Canberra accent really superior to a non-native accent?

Perhaps employers and students believe that native speakers have an innate understanding of how their own language works. Consider this comment in a recent article: “A report in the UK criticises the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills among school leavers. The report was based on a survey of 140 companies with a total of more than 900,000 full-time employees. The report shows that one in three businesses has to send staff for remedial lessons in basic literacy and numeracy skills.” The truth is that unless a native speaker has studied English grammar, he or she is unlikely even to know the basic grammatical terms, let alone understand how the language works.

Is it believed that native speakers make no errors? Perhaps native-speaker errors are different from those of L2 learners but I hear and read errors in grammar, pronunciation and meaning all the time. A common native-speaker grammatical error is to use the verb form for third-person singular with plural pronouns. Thus I frequently hear “we/you/they was”. Or people often use a past participle instead of a simple past form: “she done it”. You may say that such errors are made by uneducated people who would not try to teach. But less obvious errors are made even by the educated. I read in a newspaper the other day that somebody was wearing a “broach”. I heard a BBC broadcaster say that somebody was “partially naked”. Presumably he meant “partially clothed” since you can no more be “partially naked” than “partially pregnant.”

In truth, the native English speaker is by no means infallible and a non-native speaker with the right qualifications is likely to be a much more reliable teacher than an untrained native English speaker. But still the prejudice remains. So what should schools do? I suggest one way forward is to have a mixed teaching staff. Well-qualified teachers should be given their opportunity, no matter what their mother tongue. But schools could employ unqualified native speakers as teaching assistants, giving students practice in conversation.
Interesting post.
I have grown up in Fiji but have lived in New Zealand for the past 5 years. Even though I can get a NZ passport, I choose to retain my Fiji passport. I am proud of the country I was born and bred in.
However, this does pose problems when I apply for jobs. Some people have even asked me how I got a bachelor's in Comp. Sci. and Info. Sys. when Fiji does not have electricity!
Mind you, these are the same people that think Zimbabwe is part of South Africa and regularly refer to Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean people as Chinese.
It is quite entertaining and educational speaking with them.

As a side note, in a spur-of-the-moment statement or conversation, it may be quite natural for people to use a logically inconsistent phrase like "partially naked".
When someone heard a phrase like that, they most probably would sub-consciously translate it to mean someone not fully clothed.
In Fijian-Indian, you would say "adha nange" meaning "half naked" primarily because it is easier than saying "adha kapra nahi paynis" which loosely translated means "half clothed".

The wise learn something new everyday,
the fool knows everything. :-)