English Teaching Belongs to Everyone
Norton (1997, p 427) states that ‘English belongs to all people who speak it, whether native and non-native, whether ESL or EFL, whether standard or non- standard’. My argument specifies this statement in relation to teaching English properly where I strongly believe that the English language in the teaching world belongs to those who can use it in the right way. This short article narrates an incident that took place some time ago and gives me the opportunity to share this experience with you in order to give food for thought in relation to issues of quality teaching.
During an outing, I was having a drink with friends and some more people joined us that night. A gentleman sat next to me and introduced himself to me as being a judge. We stared chatting and when he realized that I was an English teacher he wanted to ‘ask my advice’ as he said regarding private teaching. He said that he had a daughter and he had sent her to a private coaching school ( frontistirio) to learn English and get prepared to sit for the First Certificate in English.
He said: ‘the teacher is a native Australian lady and that I don’t care what was her job in Australia before moving to Greece even if she was a cleaner’.
I was taken aback with this comment. I looked at him saying nothing and he said ‘What’s the matter?’ I said ‘It’s is up to you to what kind of education you want your daughter to acquire, but be aware that teaching is not a simple thing. Having the characteristic of being native and nothing else is not enough’. The judge nodded his head but his face expression indicated that he did not even pay attention to what I said. Asking for my advice for him simply meant saying what he thought quality English means; for him it meant being native!
Quality teaching is very important and there is a need to make parents and individuals realise that. Surveys in the literature have indicated that motivation when studying English is often affected by the teacher profile. A survey undertaken by Alseweed (2012) involved research in Qassim University with Saudi students who had been taught English by both native and non-native English speaking teachers. The findings revealed that there was significant statistical difference in the students’ perceptions in favour of native teachers of English especially as they go to higher levels. However, the study indicated that students had moderately favourable attitudes towards non-native teachers of English who respond to learner’s needs. The findings indicated that 73% of the Arabs believe that non-native speakers are more competent due to their awareness of the students’ culture and learning needs. In addition, 68% of the sample reported that non-native speakers know the English language difficulties of their students better than native speakers. The researcher suggested that based on the results, each group of teachers is not superior to the other since according to students’ responses both have intrinsic advantages and disadvantages.
There is also evidence in the literature that parents’ views on quality teacher competency are different. Research has shown that Taiwanese parents showed ignorance about the native foreign teachers’ qualifications. According to Chang (2008) the reason why parents seldom inquired about the teachers’ educational backgrounds may be partly because they trust that the language center has hired qualified teachers and partly because they lack abilities to judge teachers’ competence. The researcher suggested that the government in Taiwan should inform the public about the concept of teacher qualification so that parents can make the right choice when selecting the appropriate after-school language programme. However, other surveys indicated that parents are very much interested in teacher qualifications. According to Akiyoshi (2010) the majority of Japanese parents in an exploratory study placed importance on qualifications and being native or non-native was not their prime selection.
My discussion with the judge has shown that there is indeed a tendency to link good teaching with native speech reflecting some findings of the above surveys. This gentleman was a judge and his comments sounded at least unfair to me.
‘I don’t care’: A father should always care about his children’s education and the teachers he is trusting to teach them. This might also mean that he is not in a position to judge teaching competency.
‘Even if she was a cleaner’: This might have negative connotation. ‘Even if’ might imply that the profession of cleaning services is an intimidating profession. A father and a judge at the same time should be careful when ‘judging’ other people’s professional profile. His comments might also imply that this father selected this teacher because as a native speaker of English, her native accent would be an asset in her teaching. This might indicate that this father made a link between good teaching and pronunciation skills.
A survey undertaken by Sifakis & Sougari (2005) who surveyed 421 teachers from primary, lower secondary and upper secondary Greek state schools seeking among other things their views on pronunciation issues indicated that even teachers on their part think that good pronunciation helps to promote their teacher role. All teachers surveyed were university graduates with at least a BA in English language and literature or equivalent qualification. Teachers’ responses indicated that 50 % of them were proud or very proud of their accents striving to achieve a ‘good’ English accent in class as role models. Teachers who were less proud of their accent attributed this to the fact that they had less exposure to English.
My personal opinion is that fragmented evidence linked to some aspects of teaching English in the Greek context is not enough in order to get a clear picture of the situation and identify certain parameters that need to be elucidated and researched. Only when all perspectives are reviewed, will it be possible to suggest and implement measures to ameliorate negative effects of the failed system in the Greek private sector where some incompetent individuals are employed to teach English having their native nationality as their only qualification.
Akiyoshi, A. (2010). Questioning the rationale for native speakers only in hiring practice: from parents’ perspective. Polyglossia, 19, 13-25.
Alseweed, M. A. (2012). University students’ perceptions of the native and non-native teachers. English Language Teaching, 12(5), 42-53
Chang, Y. F. (2008). Parents’ attitude toward the English Education Policy in Taiwan. Asia Pacific Education Review, 9(4), 4223-435.
Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly 31(3), 409-429.