Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Let me get this straight

I hadn’t planned to write about this, I swear I was in a good mood. But this morning, as I was browsing Facebook and Twitter, my attention was caught by this simple sentence “want to speak like a native speaker?” and that was enough to set me on fire.

You can’t speak like a native speaker that easily.

Unless you are a speech therapist (and a good one), you can’t and you won’t change anybody’s way of talking. You may a great student, but you are not going to sound like you had spent twelve years in a British prep school after twenty, or fifty, or a hundred lessons. Same idea, you might be an amazing teacher, but you don’t have superpowers. This is FALSE ADVERTISEMENT, people.

Not everybody wants to speak English like a native speaker.

Believe it or not, not everybody wants to sound like an American or a British person. Having an accent is a part of your identity, and tampering it, or purely ignoring it is an attack against that identity. The reasons our students need English are numerous, but sounding like a native is rarely number one. Unless you are teaching spies, of course.

More non-native speakers are actually speaking in English

It is indeed proven that non-native speakers are way more than native speakers. As well, we know that most conversations in English are between two non-natives. So, again, why the whole supremacy of the native speaker? Let me say it out loudly once again: MARKETING. It makes non-native speakers sound like a fraud before they even start talking. And a lot of people can master fully two languages, that’s called bilingualism and it’s actually the norm (not monolingualism!)

We need real teachers, qualified teachers, more than native speakers.

You probably spend a few hours on the internet, like I do, and you probably encounter native speakers who are writing despicable English. This is not an insult in any way, I have received yesterday an email in French from a native French student and that was gibberish. Nothing made sense. Not everybody has the same command of the language, that’s just a fact. So, obviously, we need people who have a decent command of the English language to teach, not someone who was born in Liverpool and decided that was good enough (it’s an example, of course, I have nothing against people from Liverpool, and I loved discovering the city). The fact that it’s your first language doesn’t mean you have a decent command of it, sorry not sorry.

Find out why your students need English for

In this century, our students always have a reason to learn English: for exams such as Cambridge or IELTS, for their jobs (ESP), for university, to follow a specific course online, to understand what the hell Sheldon is talking about on The Big Bang Theory, whatever reason is a good one. But understanding this reason (or these reasons) is way more important than the rest. And way more important than sounding like a native speaker.

I really do hope that one day people are going to understand that being a native or a non-native doesn’t matter, and that the only thing really important is being a good teacher. It’s very naive of me, I am aware of this. But I guess it’s better than just accepting the situation, and think of myself as a second-rate teacher.


  1. I totally agree with your thoughts.
    Best wishes,

  2. Oh girl, I just wrote you another comment in connection to another of your posts, but I have to comment here too. You are right again! I’m an American living in Sweden, and a professional, trained ESOL teacher. My best Swedish teachers have all been non-Swedish. Period. The native language does NOT make the teacher. It’s the teaching. Good on you for putting the truth out there, AGAIN!

  3. Carol Duarte

    2022-02-09 at 8:02 PM

    Hi! I was curious about something: what is the difference from having a decent to having an excellent command of English (or languages in general)?
    Thank you!

    • hcombe

      2022-03-11 at 10:56 AM

      Hi! I am sorry, I didn’t see the message sooner! The CERL scale helps a lot to understand the difference : decent would be B2 (independent user) and excellent would be C1+/C2 (proficiency), but that is my point of view here 🙂

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