CELTA and non-native speakers of English

After publishing the first edition of  The Ultimate Guide to CELTA and getting some feedback from readers it became clear that we had forgotten one major character and that was a non-native speaker of English.  All of our CELTA courses in Munich have been attended by non-native English speakers and sometimes native speakers have been in the minority.  We have recently revised The Ultimate Guide to CELTA and have included a non-native character – Anxious Ana.

Anxious Ana
©TUGtoC

We interviewed a few of our previous trainees to find out their experiences and whether they encountered any problems.

Victoria, Ilaria and Henning completed the part-time course and Antonio completed our full-time course.  They were all kind enough to answer a few questions:

1. As a non-native speaker, did you have any reservations about applying to do the

CELTA course? If so, what?

Henning: Having read a few posts and articles, I was slightly worried about the majority of participants being native speakers.  However, I figured that the assessment prior to the course would ensure that I had the overall qualification to pass the course.

Antonio: No, I didn’t.

Victoria: I didn’t as I knew several non-native CELTA alumni who recommended this course to me.

Ilaria: Yes, I did.  I was not sure if my English proficiency would be enough and if it would have prevented me from being a good teacher.

 2. You chose to take the part-time option rather than the full-time option, why?

HenningI was originally planning on taking the full-time course.  Reading more about it, I figured I’d not be able to dedicate 100% of my time to the class.  After all a good choice because even the part-time option certainly wasn’t a piece of cake.  Having more time usually means you invest more time, so I probably put more hours into the part-time course than I could have invested into the full-time option.

Antonio: Not applicable

Victoria: I had heard that the full-time option was extremely tough and I was afraid that I, as a non-native speaker, would need much more time than the native speakers for lesson preparation. Also, I was unsure if I would cope with the stress of a full-time course.

Ilaria: Because I had a child at that time…. and my husband has a full-time job, so he could not support me 110% during the 4 weeks of the full-time course.  Moreover, I think you can learn more and better during the part-time course because you have time to absorb the new concepts /theories/feedback…..

3. When you met the native-speaker trainees did you feel you would be at a disadvantage on the course? If so, why?

HenningInitially I felt a bit like being at the bottom of the food chain.  However, I was expecting this feeling due to my additional lack of past teaching experience.  At that stage I was actually proud to even qualify for a course that mainly native speakers take,.

AntonioNo, I didn’t.

Victoria: Yes, as they intrinsically know the right collocations and always realise when students make mistakes and know how to correct them.  On the other hand, I have a better knowledge of BE grammar.

Ilaria: Yes, because they are the “experts” of the language compared to me.

4. Once you got into the swing of the course, did you feel there were any areas in which you struggled because you are a non-native English speaker?

Henning: I was surprised there were little or no disadvantages being a non-native speaker.  The few disadvantages mainly ranged around my choice of vocabulary or a few slight grammar glitches here and there.

AntonioDuring my TPs I sometimes provided the students with unnatural models while teaching pronunciation and intonation. Besides, as a non-native speaker, my vocabulary was obviously more limited compared to the one native-speaker trainees could rely upon.

Victoria: I think I needed much more time to write my lesson plans and additional texts for students and I always tried to get a native speaker to proofread my own texts I used in the classroom to avoid any mistakes.

Ilaria: Sometimes I felt that I had to stress my pronunciation in order to make it “more English”.  I felt I had to put more effort in to my pronunciation because obviously it was not (and will never be) perfect in any case.  (But what is a perfect pronunciation?  British? American? Australian?)

5. Do you feel that there were any advantages for you being a non-native speaker? If so, what?

Henning: Absolutely, especially when it comes to understanding grammar and during teaching practices in lower level classes.  Apparently, it was easier for me to grade my language to different student levels than it was for many native speakers who often had a harder time reflecting on their choice of words.

AntonioI believe that, as a non-native speaker who has studied English, I basically had two advantages: first, my language awareness was strong, second, I was able to predict what language aspects students were going to struggle with during the lesson.

Victoria: I have a better knowledge of BE grammar and I know how students learn English and what is needed to facilitate their learning, as I learnt the language myself.

Ilaria: As an English student I studied a lot of grammar rules and I did tons of exercises, so I am more familiar with grammar than my fellow natives.  Because I was a student before being a teacher, I know where and when I struggled, I know what can create confusion and what can be difficult for students to understand, therefore I was able to anticipate problems that native-speakers probably wouldn’t consider.

Having witnessed a large number of non-native speakers successfully complete the CELTA course, I feel that they are equally capable of doing well and they do have an obvious advantage with their knowledge of how English works having learned it in the same way themselves.  It might be that they have to spend longer on written assignments to make sure their language is free of errors but this is balanced by the fact that they don’t generally need to spend as much time on language analysis as native speakers do.

So, whether you are a native or non-native speaker of English, if you feel like teaching is your calling then why not apply for a CELTA course.  Please note, non-native speakers should be able to show that their English is at native-speaker level.

 Are you a non-native speaker of English thinking about taking the CELTA course?  What are your concerns?

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Author: Emma Jones

A CELTA Tutor based in Munich and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

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