One common concern that non-native English speakers have when they think about taking a TESOL course, is whether or not they are qualified to teach a language that is not their first language. When it comes to teaching English, you need to be knowledgeable about the language – the grammar, spelling and pronunciation rules, vocabulary and even punctuation. That’s a lot of knowledge, even for native English speakers to possess. Many second language speakers of English worry that they are at a disadvantage because English isn’t their native tongue, and worry that they may have trouble finding an English language school that will hire them.

However, as a second language speaker of English, you have some distinct advantages when it comes to helping others learn English, which native speakers don’t have. In this blog entry, we will take a look at some of these advantages to help you determine if you’re prepared to teach English, if it is the right career goal for you, and whether you should take a TESOL course.

First of all, in order to teach English, you have to know English. This is part of the job scope. The good news here is, that you already know English, and possibly a great deal more about the English language than most native speakers of English know. This is because you yourself have learned English in an English language school. Whether you’ve taken one of the many types of English courses available to the English learner – a general English course, Business English course, English writing course or English conversation course – you have consciously studied English in a controlled English learning environment.

Native speakers learned their first language at home, without any formal instruction. That is, native speakers know how to use the language, but they can rarely explain how the language works; even though they do consciously study the language in school, they don’t often get the same intensive focus on areas like grammar and pronunciation, which of course English language students specifically study. You learned the language, whereas native speakers acquired the language, and these two processes are very different. Your knowledge of English is conscious knowledge, while native speakers use their first language at a subconscious level.

Another significant advantage you have over native speaking teachers is that because you’ve taken English courses to learn English, you have a better grasp of the challenges students have learning English, again in all areas – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling, as well as listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. For native speakers, their acquisition of these language skills came naturally, easily, and again, subconsciously. You were able to think about the rules, practice and produce the language with an understanding of the rule system; but native speaking children of a language don’t consider when to use the present perfect, or even why for that matter. As a TESOL teacher, you have a better perspective of the language as it will be taught to the students than native speakers have.

A third advantage you have as a TESOL teacher is that if your students share your first language, then you are in a unique position, because you understand the critical differences between English and the first language that will cause problems and confusion for those learning English, and can predict these difficulties in advance.

For example, if you are a Korean speaker, and you teach English to Korean students, you will know that your students will have difficulty with some sounds of English pronunciation – like /p/ and /f/, for example. And if you can predict where your students will have challenges learning English, you can better prepare to help them overcome those difficulties. Every non-native English speaker will have certain difficulties with English, based on what is called first language interference. Sharing the same first language means you experienced the same language interference your students will. Knowing that gives you an edge over native speaking teachers.

A final advantage you have over native English speaking teachers is appreciation: having faced the challenges of taking an English language course, and faced the frustration of English grammar learning, and practicing English conversation in a teacher controlled environment, you are in a position to fully understand and empathize with your students – you’ve already been there! You can offer your students the kind of encouragement and motivation that only comes through having experienced the same challenges yourself. Students might look at a native speaking English teacher and think, “You don’t understand what I’m going through.” As a TESOL teacher, you know exactly what they are facing as they learn English. They will be able to relate to you more easily.

There are certainly challenges a TESOL teacher faces when teaching English; native-speaking English teachers may know their language deep in their soul, but as a non-native English teacher, you know how to learn the language, and that is definitely something your students will appreciate about you in English courses.

Michael Bunyak

English Teacher at Canadian Education College, Singapore