This is a very frequent assumption that I've heard on numerous occasions from teachers, students and recruiters: 'native speakers' are better at teaching pronunciation. Whenever you start discussing the 'native speaker' fallacy, this argument is bound to come up.

You know, 'native speakers' have the right, the natural accent.

They speak with the correct pronunciation.

And students can learn bad pronunciation from 'non-native speakers'.

As one of the students I interviewed for my PhD research project put it: "If a 'native speaker teaches me, I can hear the accent as it's supposed to be, and not as it was artificially learned".

And I imagine that the student believes that by listening to the accent, they'll be able to pick it up and improve their own pronunciation.

You might intuitively feel that there's something wrong with this assumption, but what arguments would you use to question it?

Or maybe you feel that there's a (substantial) grain of truth behind it, and that indeed 'native speakers' are better suited to teach pronunciation.

So let's look at this assumption in a bit more detail, OK?

Before we go any further, I'd like you to reflect on a few things yourself. Take a piece of paper and a pen (or a screen and keyboard for the techies reading this) and make some notes on the questions below:

  1. Is there something such as right or correct English pronunciation? If so, what is it?
  2. Are all 'native speakers' better models of pronunciation? Why(not)?
  3. Are students going to improve their pronunciation more with a 'native speaker' teacher? Why(not)?
  4. Is having a foreign accent a bad thing? Why(not)?

Ready with your notes?

Great :)

Below is a short extract from a talk I gave at BBELT conference in Mexico where I addressed the assumption that 'native speakers' are better pronunciation teachers. Watch the video and compare with what you've noted down.

Over to you

When you're finished watching the video, think about the 4 questions above and the notes you made. Are 'native speaker' teachers better at teaching pronunciation?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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