Native and non-native speaker language teachers

Sihong Chen (Blog post 2)

In China, English native speakers seem to have overwhelming advantage over Chinese ESL teachers. When I interned in New Oriental (an English Institution in China), there were some foreign teachers whose teaching experience and teaching methodology are not as good as Chinese English teachers, but they were more welcome by students and parents. When I was an undergraduate, there were also many foreign teachers in my university’s English department. However, there is a phenomenon and that is that most foreign teachers do not have much teaching experience and what they teach is just the language itself. Conversely, these Chinese professors not only have enough teaching experience but also have deeper understanding of language construct and better research background. After I came to Montreal, I wanted to learn some French so I began to think about the question again. Native or non-native FSL teachers, who is better? Finally I choose the non-native speakers because I think they are more familiar with my cultural background and are easier for me to understand. In different contexts, we may have different opinions about native and nonnative language teachers. My experience in Educational institutions, in both my university and in Montreal, makes me rethink about the identity and ethnicity of native and non-native speaker teachers.

Actually, both native speaker and nonnative speakers have their strength and weakness. Native-speaker language teachers are always considered to be the model. In contrast, non-native speaker language teachers are always discriminated because of the stereotype that native-speaker language teachers are more accomplished language users and more capable of teaching accurate, correct and natural language. However, the identity of nonnative speaker language teachers is not fixed but is developed and accentuated by being compared with native-speaker language teachers (Hogg & Abrams, 1990). Nonnative speaker teachers are given more and more attention. Here, I want to mention that non-native speaker teachers who share the same first language with students may also benefit student in a different way. Their source language and their status as L2 learners are considered to be the advantages to being nonnative speaker language teachers (Norton & Tang, 1997). For example, they may better understand students’ situation and make more suitable plan for their language learning. Their previous L2 learning experience offers them a privileged understanding of the weakness of their students. Furthermore, “their familiarity with local society promises them a unique identity as agents of change in language policy and facilitators of the administrative mechanism in schools” (Norton & Tang, 1997, p. 579). To some extent, they become more empowered and respected but we need admit that it is hard for them to attain the same level of proficiency of native-speaker language teacher which is the root cause of why they are always in a disadvantaged status.

Nevertheless, we should treat the native and nonnative speaker teachers objectively and we need to increase awareness for the equity of native speaker teachers and nonnative speaker teachers in the classroom. In China, it seems that we overvalue native speaker teachers but neglect some other important aspects of language learning and the shortcomings of native speaker teachers. For instance, in some international schools in China, only English native speakers are recruited as English teacher and nonnative speaker will not be given any chance. I am wondering if other countries where English is also the second language also have the similar problem in China, such as Japan and Korea.



Hogg, M. A., & Abrams, D. (1990). Social identifications: A social psychology relations and group processes. New York:

NORTON, B. and TANG, C. (1997). The Identity of the Nonnative ESL Teacher on the Power   and Status of Nonnative ESL Teachers. TESOL Quarterly, 31: 577–580. doi:10.2307/3587840



4 thoughts on “Native and non-native speaker language teachers”

  1. Thank you, Sihong, for this balanced response to the NS/ NNS debate. You’ve done a really great job of highlighting the important strengths that NNS language teachers can bring.

    This article might interest you: It is a case study of 6 teachers in Canada who do not fit into either NS or NNS category. As you wrote, the idea of NS is still very strong in some educational contexts, such as China. Counter-examples, such as this article, can help us see that things are not always as simple as this NS-NNS dichotomy suggests. As we challenge the status quo binary, then we can move closer towards equity.

    This article, too:


  2. Yerim Lee

    Hello Sihong,
    The topic you chose for this blog is one of the subjects that I’d also like to study more.
    I also feel that there is a bit of unfair treatment toward native English speaking teachers and non-native English speaking teachers in Korean classrooms.
    In Korea, many people think speaking, listening, and writing skills of English must be taught by native English speaking teachers, while non-native English speaking teachers are believed to be appropriate for teaching reading and grammar. In some aspects, I somewhat agree with this point of view since native English speaking teachers might have better English proficiency compared to non-native English speaking teachers.
    However, as you mentioned, strengths and weakness of native English speaking teachers and non-native English teachers should be viewed more objectively. This objective point of view regarding native and non-native English speaking teachers’ strengths and weakness will help us to develop more effective teacher-education programs. Also, it will lead us to give fair job opportunities for both groups of the teachers, thus offer effective teaching and learning environments in classroom.


  3. Hi Sihong,

    Thanks for sharing your internship experience in New Oriental. I think I have some similar experience. When I worked in Northeast Feiyue International Training School in China,the HR manager always prefer the person with a ‘standard’ American accent and Western face. And interestingly,they put more emphasis on the face than the accent. Therefore,I have a Russian colleague who also learns English as her second language but her salary is higher than me.

    It is really hard for me to say which one is better between native speaker teachers and non-native speaker teachers. Maybe we could enable these teachers combine to give classes to students. As I learned French in Canada College,I had teachers both from France and China. The Chinese teacher taught us grammar and French teacher taught us pronunciation. I think that is fantastic!Actually,instead of thinking native vs. non-native,would it be better if we consider native & non-native and to make the best use of the advantages of each.


    1. Hi Yuting,
      I love your reframing of the NS vs. NNS dichotomy – rather than either/or, we should focus on both/ and. Indeed every teacher, regardless of background, will bring different strengths to the class.
      Thank you!


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