From Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog: Why Native Speaker Programs Don’t Work

Scott Sommers’ blog recently featured his thoughts on why native English speaker programs don’t work. First of all, do keep in mind that he distinguishes between native English speaker teachers (individuals from a range of backgrounds, from no EFL qualification or degree to MA holders) and programs (country strategies that incorporate native English speakers mostly to teach conversation classes and generally not in the same role as local teachers). The second is what he is asserting does not work.

Briefly, I think this is an extremely interesting debate, and I can’t really capture the full scale of it in one post here – so please do check out first the follow-up post, and then the initial post about this topic on Scott Sommers’ blog.

One of his main points is to compare the level of English in different countries and regions and note that in, the countries with the “worst track record” for English language ability have the most native speaker teachers. Also, many people around the world attain a high level of English and have learned primarily from local teachers, so it’s not the case that having a local teacher is necessarily an impediment to learning.

He does also go into more detail on why native speaker teacher programs are not so effective, including teacher working conditions as well as the amount of authority they are given. In commercial schools and assistant language teacher positions – regardless of the skills and abilities teachers may well have – they are not really in the position to, for example, issue consequences which actually matter to students, and as such are limited in how much of a difference they can make.

My gut feeling is that there is something to the claim that focusing on conversation classes as a country strategy is not particularly effective (as opposed to, say, training the country’s own teachers well, or paying higher salaries to keep more qualified and experienced teachers), but I think there is an alternate way of looking at it: native speaker programs haven’t been around forever…could they be a response to the problem (albeit not a perfect one) rather than a cause of it? I do think many learners do benefit from and want increased practice and confidence.

While I would allow for the possibility that they don’t work, I don’t know if I’m convinced that the current state of things would necessarily be proof that they don’t.

Whatever your thoughts on this topic, I would encourage you to read the original post as well as the follow up.