Skip to main content

Pros and cons of being a native speaker MFL teacher

As the supply of "home grown" language teachers continues to dry up the UK is depending more and more, as in other fields of employment, on imported labour. I don't know if anyone keeps records on these things, but it is fair to say that a very significant and increasing minority of our French, German and Spanish teachers were born outside the UK.

Although not a new phenomenon, free movement of labour in the EU guarantees a reasonable supply of native speaker teachers and in general this is to be welcomed.

Native speakers have the enormous and obvious advantage of being fluent speakers and writers. This should not be under-estimated. Fluency makes the job of language teaching easier and students are exposed to excellent models of language. At A-level in particular, where great exposure to comprehensible input becomes possible, native speakers really come into their own. Fluency also encourages a teacher not to rely excessively on teaching about the language rather than through it. Some non native teachers are forced into dubious methodologies because they just don't have the language skills they need to do better.

Furthermore native speakers bring a detailed and usually up to date knowledge of their cultures to our classrooms and are able to share this not only with students but with their non-native colleagues.

But being a native speaker is not without its issues. If the teacher's command of English is suspect, this can cause issues with relationships and classroom control. Children require clarity and can be quick to pick on weakness.

In addition, not having gone through the process of learning the target language as a non-native may mean that it is harder to put yourself into the shoes of the learner. This may be exacerbated if the teacher has not had a grounding in the grammar of their own language. Fortunately, for teachers from mainland Europe, this not usually the case. French natives will have learned their "passé composé" in a not dissimilar way to British children.

Furthermore, native speakers will be less familiar with the routines and traditions of schooling in the UK. This counts. In all sorts of ways teachers are working within a long-standing educational culture the rules of which it is useful to know: ways of marking, common teaching methodologies, school behaviour policies, the tradition of collegiate working in the UK, staffing hierarchies, homework policies and general expectations. Understanding the fine detail of these is vital for any teacher and if a native speaker fails to adapt to these students' progress may be harmed.

On the other hand, native speakers bring a fresh and somewhat more objective view to UK school practices. Some may find some of our teaching less rigorous than they would like, for example.

As teachers we are formed to a considerable extent by our own school experience. I, like many, learned a lot about teaching languages from my own teachers who, as luck would have it, were strong on methodology. Native speakers may, I stress may, have a different background in that regard and have a narrower, more traditional methodology. Effective training through PGCE, Teach First or other means is meant to give students a sound methodological foundation. Evidence suggests this is inconsistent, however, so native speakers, along with non natives, may not have a full repertoire of effective techniques.

I was fortunate to work alongside a number of very good native speaker practitioners who brought a lot to our departments. One or two struggled somewhat, as did non-natives. I believe we should try to put to one side any possible prejudices we may hold in this area. Headteachers can be reluctant to employ native speakers as they are something of an unknown quantity, but these days we need to welcome them with open arms, help and encourage them as much as possible. Without them we are sunk.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Assuming that native speakers will not know as much about their school policies as non native speakers, or that their English might not be good enough is rather patronising, to say the least.

  2. Not at all. I wrote "if" and "may". These can be real issues. But thanks for reading. The whole tone of my post was balanced and not, I believe, patronising.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.


An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.

Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …