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Compensating for the Disadvantages of Being a Non-native English Teacher
Cinara Elisa Petrini

My memory of the room crowded of teachers, eager to listen to some hints of how to compensate for their possible disadvantages, showed me the importance of this subject. The original paper that gave birth to this presentation is very long, and impossible to be published in its full length. However, in order not to leave teachers that could not attend the presentation without at least knowing something about this very significant paper, I have decided to write a summary of it. I hope it can help you!

One of the complaints non-NESTs(non-native English speaking teachers) make is the fact that they feel they are not good teachers. Joan Morley (1999) states the importance of helping teachers realize they can be good teachers of English:

One essential thing is to help teachers realize, first of all that it is a myth that non-native teachers cannot be good teachers of English. It is wrong. The fact is that probably 90% of the teaching of English in the world is done by non-native speakers. So, this is important and we have to help teachers to reach the best that they can, so that they are comfortable and have confidence.

This statement has highly motivated me to search and write about this issue. As most of the teaching of English in the world is done by non-native speakers, it is important to raise the awareness of the characteristics of non-NESTs’ to help them develop and improve their way of teaching by enhancing the positive aspects, on one hand, and by trying to reduce the negative ones, on the other, in order to try to compensate for any possible existing disadvantages.

In brief, this paper (1) shows who a native speaker is, (2) points out the characteristics of non-NESTs according to three areas, namely (2.1) proficiency and knowledge about the language, (2.2) psychological attitudes and (2.3) teaching style and behavior, (3) shows the important characteristics for a good language teacher from different points of view, (4) presents the changing role of the teacher and finally, (5) gives some suggestions to try to compensate for some of the disadvantages non-NESTs may have, by enhancing the positive aspects and by minimizing the negative ones.

It can be noticed that non-NESTs are aware of their condition of non-native speakers and also of the differences that may exist between them and NESTs(native English speaking teachers). Although some of the characteristics of non-NESTs’ that are pointed out can be considered not so good if compared to NESTs, it is interesting to highlight that the positive characteristics of non-NESTs’ outnumber the negative ones, and many of those positive features can be found in the important traits for a good language teacher regardless of nationality. Considering the constantly changing role of the teacher, teachers need to be open-minded to face these changes and to choose which of them are worthwhile in terms of their reality and, thus, they will be able to bring effectiveness to their teaching.

As a result, regarding the three aspects mentioned as possible disadvantages of non-NESTs, namely (1) non-NESTs’ lower proficiency, (2) their knowledge and use of L1 and (3) inferiority complex, some suggestions are given aiming at making non-NESTs take more advantage of some of their characteristics. Although these suggestions cannot assure non-NESTs will become better teachers, they try, as much as possible, to raise non-NESTs’ awareness of some of their own positive characteristics.

The paper also attempts to make non-NESTs aware of their condition as non-native speakers and teachers, their characteristics and their role as teachers. Self-awareness is very important because it may help non-NESTs become more conscious of their own strong and weak points as teachers in order to begin working to build a better professional self-image and, in this manner, it may help them see how they can develop their own individual teaching style.

To finish, a quotation from Marcel Proust has enriched the paper; he says, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” This paper could show non-NESTs that it is possible to have new eyes in order to see how important they are in ELT, how they can help themselves to improve and even realize that they do not need to be NESTs in order to be good language teachers. As has been seen, non-NESTs already have most of the characteristics that have been presented for good language teachers and they may be able to achieve all of them, if they so wish. The most important thing is not to run away from the difficulties but to face them and be sure that a good professional can always do something to improve his or her career.


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