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What is a Native English Teacher?

By M. Haskins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A native English teacher, sometimes called a native English speaking teacher and abbreviated NEST, is an English teacher whose first language is English. The term native English teacher is most often used for English teachers who teach the language to non-native English speakers, either in a non-English speaking country or to immigrants who have moved to an English speaking country. A native English teacher can work as an English educator in her home country or abroad, and in both cases she can work either in private schools or in a state-run system. Often, a native English teacher will not only be teaching the language itself, but will also be teaching writing and literature, specifically English lit. Any variety of English, including Australian, British, Indian, or American English, can be spoken by a native English teacher.

The act of teaching English to students who do not have English as their first language is sometimes referred to as teaching English as a second language (ESL) or teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). Internationally, this kind of teaching is done both by native English teachers and by teachers who have a first language other than English. It is estimated that about 20% of English teachers worldwide speak English as their first language, meaning that the majority of English teachers are not native English teachers. The term non-native English speaking teacher (NNEST) is sometimes used to describe a person who is an English teacher, but whose first language is not English.

Some in the teaching profession argue that only a native English teacher can teach the language properly, because only those who have English as their first language are able to master all the nuances of the language, including idioms and grammar, as well as cultural and literary references. This emphasis on hiring native English teachers has meant that those who have English as their first language are sometimes favored for English teaching positions, even if they have no teaching credentials. This is considered problematic by some educators who argue that non-native English teachers can be equally skilled at teaching the language and that teaching qualifications are important for an English teacher.

Being a native English speaker is a requirement for English teachers in some countries, including Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, a program called the native English speaking teacher scheme (NET) was put in place in 1998. This program provides subsidies to government schools to employ native English teachers in primary and secondary classes.

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