A NNEST is a non-native English-speaking teacher as opposed to a NEST, native English-speaking teacher. Currently, about 1.5 million people in the world speak English and of those, less than 400 million use it as their first language (L1) according to the World Economic Forum. Chances are most teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL) are not native speakers.

There has been ample debate on the value and efficacy of NNESTs. Some defend their participation in lower levels where grammar is the focus (*) and that NESTs should be given preference in higher levels where fluency and pronunciation are the focus (*). Students often openly state their preference for native speakers as teachers. More frequently than not, job ads seek for NESTs exclusively or even pay a higher wage to them when they do hire NNESTs.

Naturally, this comes from lack of knowledge of what constitutes a good teacher – of any kind. First of all, one needs to be certified to teach ESL. There are several institutions world-wide that provide training and certification to aspiring ESL teachers – regardless of their nationality or mother tongue. Second, one needs to have knowledge of the subject they teach – whatever it may be. Bear in mind that knowledge doesn’t simply equal nativeness: one must know rules, terminology, vocabulary and more. Being just a fluent speaker won’t do. Third and most importantly, there is vocation. Not everyone who checks the boxes above will succeed as a teacher, and it is not because they are not knowledgeable or qualified; they may not be cut out for it regardless of being native or non-native.

To put it simply, the way I see it, NNESTs are success stories. They should serve as inspiration to learners because they’ve made it. They have mastered a foreign language and have done so in such a way that they are now able to pass on that knowledge and help others achieve the same. It is somewhat like having a trainer at the gym who got themselves in shape; or a brilliant public speaker who used to stutter; or immigrants who make a life for themselves in a new country. In all honesty, we all want to be that person who proves it is possible, that person who inspires others to keep trying.

Are all NNESTs good teachers? No. In the same way there are terrible native-speaking teachers. A teacher is neither good or bad because they were born speaking this or that language. A teacher is good or bad based on their training, on their vocation, on their willingness to excel.

* Vertices does not subscribe to these specific beliefs. We believe grammar and vocabulary and fluency can be studied regardless of levels and can be taught by NESTs and NNESTs alike.

One thought on “Should ESL teachers (only) be native speakers?

  1. I am an English teacher and my L1 is Spanish. I totally agree with the idea of having educated teachers but it really does not matter whether they’re native speakers or not. Most importantly, I believe in those teachers who inspire every day.

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