What's wrong with native speakers?

At some point in the past, we decided on a “native speaker” model of English. We recruited millions of “native speakers” as teachers. We recorded and played thousands of “listening's” featuring other “native speakers”. And we forgot about all the other English accents in the world. Now, we have millions of students who can understand American English and British English. But what about the other Englishes?

A few months ago I was sitting in a lecture hall next to Rachel, a Chinese school manager. We were listening to Eduardo, a Brazilian lecturer give training on “making effective presentations”. All the Chinese in the room had studied English for a decade or more. Most of them spoke English every day at work. Several of them managed staff in English. But none of them could understand Eduardo's Brazilian English.

Where did we go wrong?

Here’s the problem: the majority of conversations in English are now between two “non-native speakers” (Harmer, 2015); German and Italian schoolchildren chatting to each other on exchange trips; Koreans doing business with Japanese; Rachel listening to Eduardo. Yet our classrooms feature “native speaker” teachers and “native speaker” listening and reading materials.

How can we help our students communicate with the world?

  1. Replace some American or British listening activities with authentic examples of Japanese English, Indian English, and German English.
  2. Include some written and spoken examples of “non-standard” Englishes in course books.
  3. Seek out teachers with non-standard accents as co-teachers. Students need to understand them every bit as much as they do Americans, and Brits.

What do we want for our EFL students?

We’re not teaching our students how to communicate with us. We’re not teaching our students how to communicate with each other. We’re teaching our students how to communicate to the world. Stop teaching English. Start teaching Englishes.