In this paper, I would like to address the issue of non-native English-speakers vs. native English-speakers as teachers of English, which is raised by R. Quirk in his article Language Varieties and Standard Language. In this paper, Quirk emphasizes the lack of attention towards specialized teacher training in today’s widespread demand for native English-speakers for teaching English in the countries where it is a foreign language. At the same time, Quirk is pointing at the “deficit” of language proficiency in non-native speakers of English. His whole article, as I perceive it, tries to make a claim that a native English-speaker with specialized teacher training is by no means a better teacher of English than a qualified teacher who is not a native English-speaker. Furthermore, he makes this claim not only with reference to the Inner and Outer Circles but also to the Expanding circle where English is a foreign language.
This issue deserves to be discussed with reference to the Armenian EFL context where a native speaker of English is considered to be undoubtedly a “better” teacher of English regardless of his/her experience in foreign language teaching. Furthermore, this belief has led to a “fashionable” tendency to regard the usage of the Armenian language as an obstacle to foreign language fluency based on the assumption that NS teachers of English are successful in teaching the language without the knowledge of learners’ target language. As a result, some teachers absolutely reject the use of the native language in the EFL classroom in Armenia and thus derive themselves of the advantage of knowing and using (of course, judiciously) the learners’ native language to facilitate the process of learning English.
It is important to clarify that I am not trying to argue about and I do not think the issue should be in who’s the best in general but rather what makes one better in a particular setting. For example, a NS teacher may be successful in teaching English in an ESL environment where the learners do not share the same native language. At the same time, knowing the native language of the learner should not be considered a disadvantage in a setting, such as the Armenian EFL classroom, where students share the same mother tongue. In fact, my experience of both as a learner and as a teacher of English has given me an opportunity to come to a conclusion that absolute rejection of Armenian leads to decrease in students’ motivation to learn English. This may be due to the unconditional rejection of Armenian in learning situations where the use of it is absolutely necessary and justified. Although I try to teach my students to avoid doing a word-for-word translation I find that in some cases it is more important for my students to understand a concept clearly than it is for that concept to be explained exclusively in English. At times a simple translation is the most effective and the least time consuming way of conveying the meaning of an unknown word. For example, it is extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible to convey abstract concepts through definitions, gestures and pictures. In such situations the use of Armenian can help students to enhance the comprehension of difficult concepts. At the same time, by referring to Armenian while explaining complex grammar points, I try to help my students become more aware of the differences and similarities between the two languages giving them an opportunity to see that what works Armenian may not work in English.
To conclude, it is hard to predict whether a NS of English would be more successful in teaching my students English. In fact, as an NNS teacher of English I may not be as proficient in English as a NS of English. However, we need to realize that being NNS teachers of English does not qualify us as “worse” since teaching a language is not solely about being proficient in that language. Thus, I try to make use of the advantages I have, such as shared knowledge of Armenian and Russian, familiarity with problems and needs of the students, as well as familiarity with students language learning background in terms of secondary school language learning curricula, “traditions” in foreign language teaching, and societal values with reference to foreign language knowledge in Armenia. I am not sure that all of these qualify me as a better teacher. In fact, I strongly believe that we should not worry about being better but rather try to do our best as teachers..