Lesson 4: Class Culture

Non-Native Language Teachers

On non-native language teachers.

Duration: 01:41


One of the difficulties that language teachers in institutions of higher education and elsewhere have faced is rooted in the perception among learners, heritage and non-heritage alike, that their abilities and qualifications as language teachers are diminished if they are non-native speakers of the target language. This perception has occasionally translated into difficulties in classroom management due to instructor anxiety and real or perceived challenges from students. The advantages and disadvantages of non-native language teachers and the perceptions of both students and teachers regarding those have been discussed and documented for decades--Enric Llurda's edited volume Non-Native Language Teachers: Perceptions, Challenges, and Contributions to the Profession provides a broad picture of the discourse on these issues. In the context of classroom management, I would like to suggest that most problems are, after all, what we make them out to be, and the perceived weakness of non-native language teachers has much to do with the way teachers perceive themselves and project their insecurities. I would like to defer in that matter to my colleague Elaine Horwitz, a leading expert on foreign language anxiety among students and instructors. Let's look at what Elaine said in an interview for Greta, a Journal for Teachers of English, about this issue.

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Elaine Horowitz, a leading expert on foreign language anxiety among students and instructors, in an interview for Greta, a Journal for Teachers of English writes:

"Many people suggest that our goal as language teachers, whether we stated it or not, has been a monolingual native speaker. That's our goal. And that's a crazy goal. None of our students can possibly ever grow up to be monolingual native speakers. Students in the U.S. won't be monolingual because they speak English already and they're not going to be native speakers of whatever languages they are studying...Teachers probably have this in their mind, that they want to sound like native speakers. Well, there're so many different types of native speakers. You take native speakers and you take them out of the country for a long time and they don't sound like native speakers anymore. Teachers need to learn to value the language proficiency that they have rather than to punish themselves for the language proficiency that they don't have. I sometimes say in workshops with teachers, "Do you give your students permission to make mistakes in class?" And they say, "Of course we know that if we corrected every mistake, our students would go crazy; of course we give them permission to make mistakes." And then I say, "Do you give yourselves permission?"...I think that we, as language teachers, need to give ourselves the same permission that we give to our students, permission to be less than perfect in the target language."

Take a couple of minutes to think about Horwitz's argument in the context of your own experience as a teacher or a learner. Has the issue of non-native language teachers come up in your experience in the context of classroom management?

Class Culture: Respect for the Non-Native Speaker

Taking Horwitz's argument to the realm of class culture, I would argue that respect for the non-native speaker is one of the essential ideological and cultural components of what we aim for and advocate as language teachers. In order to demand it we must project it, and our students will follow our example as long as we choose to lead them in that direction.