Would you be wary of having a foreign language teacher who isn’t native in that language?

I can recount three stories about this—so you can judge for yourself.

At my high school in Jerusalem in the 1970s, there were two English teachers: one was from Russia, the other one hailed from Austro-Hungary (gives you an idea how old she was).

As a result, half the school learned English with a Russian accent, and the other half with a strong Viennese accent. Neither half could understand each other in English.

One day, the Austro-Hungarian teacher invited me, as a native English speaker, to come in and recite a passage from Shakespeare before the class.

When I finished, there was complete silence in the room. Finally, someone raised their hand at the back.

“Teacher—what language was that?”

My accent, as a native English speaker, had  thrown them completely, and they couldn’t understand a word I had said.

A few years later, as a student in London, I started dating a young Italian woman who was majoring in Arabic at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Her minor subject was Hebrew, so I offered to help her with her homework.

Looking at her work and at the corrections that her teacher had made, I discovered that her Hebrew teacher was not an Israeli, but a young Jewish English woman who had spent a couple of years there, and had a highly imperfect command of Hebrew—so bad so that she made mistakes in the corrections she made to my friends’ homework. (Shame on you, SOAS! I hope their teacher selection process has improved since then…). Amusingly, my friend and I had only just started going out, and she didn’t know that I was Israeli (judging from from my accent, she thought I was just an ordinary English Jewish guy), so she didn’t know whether to believe me or her teacher…

Two years later, I had a spare room in my flat, and I decided to rent it out at a discount to a native French speaker, on condition that they speak French to me (to improve my French). A young woman answered my advert, told me she was Belgian and her native language was French. I took her at her word, but a couple of weeks into the tenancy I caught her making errors that even I knew were wrong, so I confronted her, and she admitted that her native language was Flemish. I let her go, and a young woman from Lyon took her place, which made all the difference.

Bottom line: go with someone native—or as near as dammit.


(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.