When learning English, is it "Do What The Natives Do"?

Studying to improve your English language reading, speaking, and writing skills constitutes an adventure in language and is a noble goal. As you pursue your mission, it's imperative you consider your course of study, whether formal or informal, and who is charting your course. With that in mind, is it more desirable to learn the English language from a native English speaker teacher?  Should they be the captain of the ship that is the English language?

Any captain on any voyage has a clear understanding of their destination (goal). They know why they are heading in that direction, knowledge of all the intricacies of their task, how to communicate effectively to achieve desired goals, and the best way to get there. Your English language captain (teacher) must incorporate these elements into their mission to help you learn English.

A teacher of English must know your goals – your desire to learn English so you can speak, write, and read the language better. They must know the reason you desire to improve your English language skills - whether for business use, personal use, academic purposes or to pass that scary English exam, or maybeall of the above. They must have the knowledge that will help you achieve your goal, and of the intricacies of the language; its slang, idiosyncrasies, turns of phrase, and of course the building blocks of the language and its proper use. Most importantly, they must be able to communicate all of this to you effectively. Their formal and informal speech, their way of turning a phrase, their use of slang, their idiosyncratic way of speaking the language is essential to you to take in different aspects of the English language. Finally, they must have a course charted to help you reach your goal, your destination, of being comfortable in the language and at ease when using it. So, you might think a native speaker will be your best option for learning the English language – but that's not the fact in all cases.

So, what makes a native speaker?

A native speaker is someone who has gained knowledge of a language from birth, as his or her first language. It is the language they first learnt to speak, read, and write – the language they primarily used at home, school, play, and work. Any other language that they may have learned, but used significantly less in life, would be their second language.

Being a native speaker of English, doesn't mean they are of English descent; you don't have to have been born in England or America to be considered a native speaker, it simply means the English language defines their method of communicating; it is the language that is the essence of their ability to communicate - any other language knowledge coming later and used less, is a subordinate language, so-to-speak.

Do English learners need to learn from native speaker teachers?

Learning from a native speaker may be perceived to be the best way to learn, but that's not always the case. Some people couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag, and a non-native English teacher well versed in the language through study and maybe living and working in an English culture for some time, can serve your purposes just as well. They will typically have an excellent grasp of the language, including many of its subtleties, and they may possess fine teaching skills that will impart the essence of the English language to you easily and naturally. If you want to learn English to pass an exam, they may well have taken that exam personally, especially if it's a local exam, and will know some of the tricks and tips of getting a good grade. Non-native speakers may well be able to understand the sticking points, and difficulties faced by ESL learners better than someone who has been speaking the language all their life, and simply take it for granted. You could gain much from working with a non native teacher..

That being said, there's nothing like learning from those whose entire being is the English language, inbred in them since they drew their first breath (and as science has shown, probably before that). However, that doesn't mean they are the best teachers; they only benefit you in as much as they can "get the message out" concerning all the elements of the English language.

Really, it all boils down to quality of teaching. With the advent of the internet, there is much more choice out there. More and more teachers are discovering the joys of teaching online, and learners are no longer restricted to attending a local language school, with the one size fits all approach. Learners now have access to hundreds, if not thousands of independent teachers, there are websites that have been set up simply to put you in touch with them, or you can just search for their own personal site, or profile in the ever growing social networks out there. Of course this also makes it more difficult for learners to find the right teacher, so much choice can be confusing, but if after asking for references and recommendations you end up with two choices: non-native speaker vs native speaker, check who is the most adept at teaching, and who you think you can get on with the best. Sometimes I think that choosing a teacher is as important as choosing a life partner, it's going to be a long and rocky road, and you need to at least like each other.

Is wanting to "speak like a native" a realistic goal for English learners?

It can be. First, consider these questions: Do you need to be able to speak like a native English speaker for your purposes? Will you get by just fine, using the English language at a quality level, while not exactly communicating as if you were born with a Webster's Dictionary stuck to your tongue?

There's absolutely no reason to put a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to reach this lofty goal if it's not necessary for your purposes. Feeling pressure to achieve this level may cause you to avoid your studies. The joy of learning the English language may become a tedious chore to you.
However, if this is something you desire, go for it. Embrace the challenge and find the best instructor suited to the task. Then get at it and be patient with your progress, remember - the voyage is half the fun.

Consider the above points as you embark on your voyage to discover the joys of the English language. Consider your unique reasons for studying English, whether mainly for business use, personal use, or both. Then decide on an appropriate teaching method, and teacher, to help you achieve your specific goals.

You want a well-rounded knowledge of the English language in all its complexities. It may mean learning from a non-native speaker teacher who can instruct you in the essentials of the language to suit your needs. It may mean learning from a native English speaker. Typically, they will impart to you the ethereal nuances of the language, which they have absorbed into their being since birth.

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