One controversy in the ELT profession has been about how native speakers
and non native speakers differ – or whether the term "native speaker" can be said to have
In 1991 Alan Davies considered this issue from varied linguistic angles, concluding that the dichotomy between native speakers of English (NS) and nonnative speakers (NNS) may be of theoretical interest, but it has limited applied validity. His 181-page work presents many intriguing models of what being a NS might imply. A relative lack of empirical studies in his text is perhaps its major weakness.
Davies points out the term "native speaker" has at least three meanings: (1) being a speaker of ones own idiolect, (2) being a speaker of an uncodified dialect, or (3) being part of a group adhering to a codified norm in a standard language. He acknowledges that NNSs can become NSs, though it's much more difficult for adults to do so than children. He further notes that it's possible to be a NS of more than one language, though this is rare. Another possibility: that native speakers can some how lose their "nativeness" over time is not considered.
One of the more interesting parts of Davies' book concerns how NSs usually recognize NNSs. NNSs are often recognized in three ways: (1) for using forms which don't exist, (2) for sociolinguistic errors, or (3) when using terms that NSs somehow consider their "property". For instance, many NSs react unfavorably if NNSs use highly idiomatic slang. A paradox is that the more nativelike in accent and grammar NNSs becomes, the more stringent NSs tend to be about sociolinguistic violations. This may explain why some NNSs prefer not to seem too nativelike, as it impinges on their identity.
In a prophetic way Davies concludes this work by suggesting:
The debate about the native speaker will go on. In that debate it will continue to be necessary to distinguish between the two senses of native speaker, the flesh and blood and the ideal; and if others choose to dismiss, as I have, the flesh and blood of the native speaker as having no clothes, I believe they still have use for the ideal. That indeed is a myth but an useful myth. (p. 167)
In 1994 Peter Medgyes, a native speaker of Hungarian,
produced a 128-page work relating the NS/NNS theme to the classroom and
ELT profession as a whole. His book has four basic premises –
Listing the relative merits of NS teachers, Medgyes comments that they tend
to be less textbook-dependent and tolerant of student errors. NNS teachers,
however, are often able to provide better role models, teach learning strategies
more effectively, supply learners with more explicit information than NS teachers.
Medgyes acknowledges that NNS teachers have difficult roles. They are "at junction between two languages and several cultures." (p. 39) and often feel unsure whether to establish rules based on their native culture or not. He adds that many NNS teachers find it difficult to separate their L1 and L2 identities, emphasizing that teaching is a craft which requires well-honed acting skills.
|"Of these three works, Medgyes' is undoubtedly the most useful for EFL teachers."|
– Reviewed by Tim NewfieldsReferences
Braine, G. (Ed).
(1999). Non-native educators in English language teaching. Lawrence
Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied linguistics. Edinburgh University Press.
Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native yeacher. MacMillian.