I often ask students if they prefer so-called native-speaker… ahh….I’m already doing what I complained about in my last post, sorry, let’s try: non-non-native speaker (NNNS!) teachers to non-native speaker (NNS) teachers. Some say that they don’t mind either way, but, rather sadly, the majority claim to prefer NNNS (yes, I’m going to run with it!) because they want to know about ‘real’, ‘natural’, ‘authentic’ English.
Similarly, universities and especially private language schools seem to prioritise the NNNS teacher in most EFL contexts around the world. A lot has been written about how this discriminates against NNS teachers who have the requisite language knowledge and teaching ability but not that all-elusive authenticity factor (the A-factor?!).
But do students really want true authenticity and do NNNS really provide them?
In my own position as a British English speaking teacher in a public university in Japan teaching mainly low-level compulsory English classes to undergraduates, I’m pretty sure that they don’t want it and I don’t give it!
I’ll teach: “How’s it going?” “Pretty good, yourself?” as a ‘natural’ alternative to the time-honoured textbook classic: “How are you?” “I’m fine thank you, and you?”. But I DON’T teach them “Geezer!, “Allright, mate”, or any number of British colloquialisms that are common to those of my age, gender, class and part of England and would be far more authentic (for me at least) than the standardised and universal “How’s it going?” that can be and is taught by NNNS and NNS teachers alike around the globe.
I DO help students with intonation patterns and work on eliminating those intrusive extra vowel sounds that is a natural product of the Japanese katakana system, but I DON’T teach them glottal stops and change their mid-word “th” to a “v” sound (“bruvva”), which is how I really speak – or, at least how I used to speak before I was an English teacher in Japan!
I suppose I could (and maybe I would if I was teaching in an ESL context to more advanced learners), but something in me feels that it is not quite appropriate. In one respect I feel I would be ramming my own particular British version of English down their throats when they haven’t asked for it, they are just studying ‘English’ (I’d be interested to know whether American English speaking NNNS teachers have any qualms about teaching phrases like “What’s up?”, which are just as culturally specific as “allright, mate” in my view). And the other reason is that my students don’t seem to want or need this type of authentically authentic English (I’ll dedicate a whole future post to the target language/culture myth). It might just be me, but I suspect that NNNS around the world are teaching exactly the same things as NNS, it’s just the fact that they are a NNNS there in the flesh that fools the students and employers into thinking they are getting something different and more authentic.
So, if I, as a supposedly highly-coveted NNNS teacher, teach a standardised version of English and am not providing an authentic language experience for my students and if my students don’t actually want or need this authentic experience that they think they want and need, what is my value as a NNNS teacher working in Japan? What is the return on investment for my employer and the thousands of employers around the world that are using their NNNS teachers as a mark of distinction and authenticity?
…well, I do LOOK the part, I suppose…