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What is a native speaker?

Discussion in 'Teaching abroad' started by iskamdazamina, Jan 16, 2019.


What is a native speaker?

  1. Born in the country

  2. Both parents speak the language

  3. One parent speaks the language

  4. Went to school in the country

  5. Lived whole adult life in the country

  6. Became a citizen of the country

  7. Went to university in the country

  8. Earned a PGCE in the country

    0 vote(s)
  9. Is a practising qualified teacher in the country

  10. Other

Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. iskamdazamina

    iskamdazamina New commenter

    Curious in how people define a native speaker. The options are not exhaustive but many students and teachers in the international scene will be some combination of those below so please offer your views.
    Also, in international teaching what would you say is more important- being a native speaker or being experienced with QTS?
  2. blue451

    blue451 Lead commenter

    Oh, it's true that being a native speaker doesn't necessarily mean you speak the language well or correctly and it certainly doesn't automatically make you a good teacher of that language. Lots of native English speakers would struggle to teach the grammar.

    But often the parents, who are after all the paying customers, want native speakers.
    And sometimes, sadly, it's actually a white face they're after. The way I look at it, you're best off out of those kind of schools anyway. AND, in my personal experience, the best and most international schools are those which are happy to employ non-native speakers provided they can teach.

    Let it work as a kind of selection system to weed out the schools you wouldn't want to work in anyway.
  3. yasf

    yasf Established commenter

    Your native tongue is usually the language that was spoken at home as a child, and in which you were also educated. I'd say that both are required to be a true native speaker, although others can come very close.

    If you only spoke a language at home, and weren't educated in it, you'd lack a lot of academic language and skills - important for a teacher.

    If you were educated in it from a very young age and had friends that only used that language, but didn't speak it at home, then you are also probably also pretty close to being a native speaker.

    Most of the rest on your list isn't terribly pertinent.

    Depends what you teach. If you're a Physics teacher, I wouldn't imagine that being a native speaker is super important, as long as you have a good level of English. If you're an English Lit. teacher, schools will be more fussy. As an ESL teacher the better schools generally prefer a mix of native and non native teachers.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2019
    clovispoint likes this.
  4. iskamdazamina

    iskamdazamina New commenter

    Very interesting, thank you!
  5. T0nyGT

    T0nyGT Lead commenter

    I would have said the language you grew up speaking as your main language
    Kartoshka likes this.
  6. miketribe

    miketribe Established commenter

    It’s an odd question. I’m sure we’ve all taught students whom we considered to be at “native speaker” level but whose parents aren’t and who have never lived in the country concerned. I think it’s more about skills and knowledge possessed than any of the factors listed....
    rideemcowboy likes this.
  7. february31st

    february31st Established commenter

    In China an Natural English Speaker for teacher visa requirements is defined as someone who has completed a 3 year degree in one of the following countries;
    New Zealand
    (South Africa and Philippines)
    iskamdazamina likes this.
  8. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    According to David Crystal, the linguist 'guru':

    A NS (native speaker) is someone who has learned a language (or languages) through the normal processes of child language acquisition. This means having an intuition about such things as nursery rhymes, babytalk, family slang, the regional accent and dialect of the home community (and nearby communities), language play (of a childlike kind), the rituals of child-related cultural events (such as Christmas carols, Easter, birthday chants…), and so on – as well as the interaction between these early variables in different languages in cases of bilingualism, trilingualism, etc. A NNS (non-native speaker) lacks all this. Most come to learn a foreign language ‘top down’, usually beginning with the adult standard dialect and prestige accent of that language, and focusing on the formal and informal varieties felt to be most useful to their communicative needs. Note that this focus on child language acquisition means that there can never be a sharp distinction between NS and NNS. It is possible to begin learning a language at any age, obviously, so that a child beginning to learn English at age 3, 5, 7, 9… will acquire different amounts of NS intuition.

    If a job advert states 'native English speaker' I would assume it means 'speaks English from birth', but how would you actually prove or disprove that if asked to? Just because you were born in England it doesn't mean you've been speaking English since birth - that would depend on your parents/carers. You could be from France or India and speak English from birth.

    There are many more NNS than NS in the world, so in a business sense perhaps NS are rarer (comparatively) therefore more prized if a school is trying to be ahead of the competition?
    mermy and tb9605 like this.
  9. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    If this is true then many Chinese people are not native speakers of Mandarin, as they often speak their provincial language at home/in the community from birth, and Mandarin (the country's lingua franca - common language, language of government) at school. Could say the same of Pakistan, India...
  10. gulfgolf

    gulfgolf Established commenter

    In the context of job adverts, “native speaker” is an inappropriate and prejudiced way of winnowing candidates.
    In the context of students, it’s usually but not always an unhelpful and inexact way of designating a student’s presumed level of skill.
    So it’s not a term I’m fond of.
    Perhaps if we had an agreed definition, the term would have some use. But I’ve given up that quest and moved on.
  11. amysdad

    amysdad Established commenter

    feb31 - I thought it was the case that the Chinese government still didn't include South Africans as native English speakers?

    The way things are going, it wouldn't surprise me if they exclude Canadians from this list too soon...!
  12. february31st

    february31st Established commenter

    The South African government did a big trade deal with China so imagine the decision to allow SA teachers to work in China was part of the agreement.

    Three years ago SA trained teachers where not on the Natural English Speakers list, but there is a bit of a shortage of western teachers willing to work in China. The Rand/RMB ex-rate means there is no shortage of eager recruits from SA willing to come and work in China.

    Also the Chinese and Philippines did a big trade deal and 10,000 English teachers will now be given work visas to be allowed to work in China.
  13. Teachallover

    Teachallover Occasional commenter

    I suppose the real question is; how does a country perceive somebody to be a ‘native English speaker’ for the purpose of obtaining a work visa against who is an actual native English speaker...?
    iskamdazamina likes this.
  14. clovispoint

    clovispoint Occasional commenter

    I teach children who have English as their first (and for some only) language. They have been taught English from birth by parents who learned English at school. They are fluent in poor English.

    Blueskydreaming: If this is true then many Chinese people are not native speakers of Mandarin, as they often speak their provincial language at home/in the community from birth, and Mandarin (the country's lingua franca - common language, language of government) at school. Could say the same of Pakistan, India...

    This is definitely the case. Native Mandarin speakers I know are scornful of regional variants of Mandarin.
    yasf and iskamdazamina like this.
  15. february31st

    february31st Established commenter

    As I mentioned before China regards someone who has obtained a 3 yr degree in an English speaking country as their litmus test for English Language proficiency.

    If a person can understand a degree course carried out in an English language medium, then you can obtain a work visa in China as a teacher.

    In England I had to hand over my English Language O Level as proof I was a Native English Speaker for teacher training.
    iskamdazamina likes this.
  16. tjh102

    tjh102 Occasional commenter

    This is a really interesting conversation for me! I am half British, but only hold a British passport. I would consider myself a native speaker and, in fact, have an English twang when I speak my other language. But by the definitions on here, I wouldn't class as native speaker of either language, as I lack some of the identifiers in each!

    I really don't think native speaker is all that clear cut.
    lardprao and iskamdazamina like this.
  17. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Yes, China is full of snobs. Provincial language is synonymous with 'poor'.

    I disagree with the term 'regional variants of Mandarin' though; in my husband's province (he's Chinese) it is not a variation of Mandarin, it's a completely different language with different grammar. Then within the province there are variations of that language.
    clovispoint likes this.
  18. clovispoint

    clovispoint Occasional commenter

    Sorry, I wasn't clear- I meant, for example, Cantonese speaking Mandarin. Cantonese is unintelligible to Mandarin speakers and a language unto itself. However, I have a native (Beijing born) friend who hates to hear Hong Kongers speaking Mandarin. They are not native speakers despite learning it from an early age.
  19. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Really?! That's funny. Once when we were in HK a local said my husband's Cantonese sounded good, and asked if he was Taiwanese. My husband took it as a compliment!
  20. bobbingtoncrescent

    bobbingtoncrescent New commenter

    At the moment ‘Born in the country’ is leading the votes. Yet I was born in Germany, and “entschuldigung, do you speak English?” is my go to phrase when visiting the country. So that can’t be right!
    lardprao likes this.

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