Native Speakers

I am rather perplexed at the fixation most educated intellectual people have regarding trying to learn a language from native speakers.

Firstly, native speakers are not necessarily the best teachers of their language. This is because most of them are probably monolingual, which means they have never learnt to speak a second language. Hence they are at a disadvantage to understand how someone can acquire a second language.

Secondly, taking English as an example, I question why you need to learn to speak English from a native speaker. You probably need to speak English with a variety of different people, most of whom are using English as a second language as well. Let me give you this example of a multinational company in China that wanted to enroll their representatives to learn English, insisting on having native English speakers as teachers. I asked them who their staff will be using English with. This was an engineering company, and their technology centers were in Sweden, Italy and Germany. Hence it did not really make sense for them to be taught English by an American, British or Australian. Even when you travel to places like London and New York, Sydney, I am quite sure that more than half the time you will be speaking English to people who are using English as a second language.

Lastly, there is no homogeneity among native English speakers. There is no such thing as a common American accent or dialect because different parts of the USA have different accents. Texas, New York and New Orleans all produce speakers with different accents. Within England itself, there is even a wider spectrum, such as Cockney, Yorkshire, Geordie, and Estuary just to name a few. In Australia and New Zealand, and Canada, the accents are also different. In Zimbabwe, the only medium of education is English, so are they native speakers too?

To further illustrate my point, please watch this video of a young man imitating different native accents:

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6 thoughts on “Native Speakers”

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  3. I find this quite a bit of a concern myself. I have a registered an account in a freelance work site and most of the employers are looking for applicants who have exceptional communication skills, like that of a native English speaker. And with this requirement, I cannot help but think that very few would actually qualify as even most Americans, British, Canadians or Australians are not exceptional with their communication skills themselves. Being a native English speaker is not an assurance in itself that you will be able to convey your ideas efficiently and effectively to another individual.

    I understand the need to learn English as it is considered one of the international languages for business. However, the fixation on learning it as a native can draw you away from understanding and enjoying the language. The concern should be on how to use it properly so that you can be understood clearly and completely.

  4. You’ve raised an incredibly important and real problem. Just because someone speaks a language does not make them automatically qualified to teach it as well. I myself speak 4 languages two of which are my native languages (Hazaragi and Urdu) and the other two are languages that I’ve learned (English and Dari).
    I can with certainty say that I don’t know my native languages as well as I know my learned languages. This is because I’ve invested my time and energy into learning these languages. I have spent hundreds of hours studying its correct usage, rules and proper pronunciation. Whereas for my native Languages, I know them and can speak them with ease because I’ve constantly heard them around me. However, being a native speaker of the language does give you the leverage of understanding the context, tone and phrases of the language due to the cultural familiarity of it. Yes, I can speak English and teach English more confidently then Hazaragi due to my strong knowledge and study over it. Nonetheless, I understand Hazaragi with more ease, I get its inside jokes and cultural references, all of which I have difficulty with in English. This is because of the cultural unfamiliarity/barrier. So, both of them have their advantages.
    Although when it comes to teaching a language, being a native speaker is not enough. One must have a study background of the language and thorough understanding of its grammar in order to be a teacher.

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