In my most recent group of students on an international Pathway programme, there were a few native speakers of English (NES) – from India, Nigeria, Singapore. I am a non-native speaker of English (NNES), and I was their teacher (NNEST).
Does this matter?
The recent discussion on the BALEAP list made me think.
I am a native speaker teacher of German. And I think this is important. I used to teach low-level German classes here in England, and I was a “gateway” for my students not only to my native language, but also to my culture. We talked about food, geography, public transport, festival traditions etc. I am sure that having me as a native German speaker added real value to my students’ experience.
However, “nobody is a native speaker of Academic English” (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1994 – Thanks Deborah for pointing me towards this). So are we all equal? With a certain level of English language competence, should we assume that everyone, whether NES or NNES, starts to “acquire” academic English, say, around the start of their University career? Or earlier, depending on schooling – and again, does this include NNESs?
Going back to being a “gateway” for my students, I think I am a pretty appropriate gateway to academic English for my EAP students. I have done successful postgraduate study/research in two different subjects, I have been involved in academic publishing for a long time, and I seem to be able to function well in all sorts of academic English situations.
My students can’t usually tell that I’m not English. Until well into the second semester of the course, no one ever questioned me (not regarding my language “authority” anyway), at least I don’t remember noticing anything. Then, in an informal chat about bilingualism, I let it slip in front of two of my NES-students – that my children are bilingual and we speak a different language at home. A few questions later (yes, it took a while, they were so convinced of my Englishness), we had established that I’m actually German.
After that, I think things changed, even if only a little bit. Now that the whole class knew, I was questioned more often. One high-level student opted to “disagree” with the corrections on his writing paper. “But the correction you made doesn’t sound right to me,” he would say, even after I had explained why in this context and in academic writing this is definitely the right way to express whatever it was. (Go on, accuse me of imperialism – let’s assume that that’s a different issue.) Others would ask “Really?” more often. The difference was not massive, and I am not even sure whether it was the students’ actions that were different or just my perception. But one of them changed, either the students did question me or I was simply more self-conscious.
Other NNESTs of EAP, have you noticed anything similar? It makes me wonder whether I should try and conceal my nationality, just for convenience and just because I can (it would be much more difficult for my Chinese colleague to pretend that they’re English). At the moment, I do it for fun, and of course I never lie about it, just “let’s see how long it takes my students to figure out”.
(Having published this post, this may be a void question if students google their teacher’s name and read this…)