Teach English in ZhAngzhai Zhen - Xuzhou Shi

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A first language is the mother tongue or native language of a person while a second language is a language a person learns in order to communicate with other speakers of that language. In other words, first language is the language we acquire in the very early stages of our life through the people we live with and other people around us. Thus, first language is acquired naturally without any time dedicated to learning it. It is part of the upbringing of a child; the language is picked up as the child goes through the different stages of the upbringing. In other words, the first language acquisition is always natural and there is no need for instruction or teaching in acquiring it. On the other hand, second language acquisition is not natural, and it needs continuous guidance and instruction. Also, one can choose the second language he/she wishes to learn according to some personal interests. The same is not true as far as first language is concerned; it just comes to us. Hence, in general, linguists maintain that a first language is acquired, i.e. that knowledge is stored unconsciously, and that a second language is learned, i.e. that knowledge is gained by a conscious study of the second language's structure. From the aforesaid statement, one may argue that people are generally, more fluent and knowledgeable in their first language as it is acquired so naturally that we don’t need to put any effort into acquiring it. Hence, speaking it and using it should also come as natural as its acquisition. This is where the misconception is created about first language; it is believed to be the language in which one is more skillful and productive as compared to second language. However, in order to be fluent and proficient in any given language, one needs to be exposed to it and use it on a daily basis whether at the workplace, home, schools, malls, coffee shops… Any such language that you master and speak every day in most situations — is your primary language. In other words, a primary language is the language in which you have a much better proficiency, fluency and productivity over any other language, be it your first or second language. Therefore, the differences that exist in the acquisition of first language and second language does not determine which one will be the primary language. As mentioned earlier, first language is often called native language or mother tongue, but it cannot be called primary language, just because of its natural and effortless acquisition. Thus, first language/native language can be somebody’s primary language while someone else’s second language could be his/her primary language. After clarifying some misconceptions about first language/native language, second language and primary language and given the statement that the form of acquisition of a language does not determine its being the primary language of a person, let us now take on other misconceptions/discrimination in ESL teachers recruitment. Almost every day when we go job hunting (teaching jobs) on the internet, we often come across various job announcements where it is loudly and clearly stated that only native English speakers can apply. In other words, non-native speakers, please, do not apply; this job is not for you. Hence, all potential and deserving candidates who happen to be non-native speakers are being put aside right from the start. Subsequently, some schools or language centers find themselves trapped in this belief that native speakers are always better teachers than non-native. So, let us analyze the following questions: 1. Does being a native speaker necessarily make a person a more deserving or better teacher than another person who is non-native? 2. What if a non-native had a much better exposure to the English language (from the workplace, higher education, teaching experience…) than a native speaker? 3. Does being a native speaker mean a person will be much better in building a good rapport with students than a non-native? 4. Why not let in all potential candidates and select the best ones based on demo classes, credentials…? 5. How do we call a person (with regard to being a native or non-native speaker) who was born in France from French parents who moved to the USA or England later on when that person was just 8 years old until the age of 30? 6. Should such a person (in question 5) abstain from applying for a job that clearly says: only native speakers can apply? 7. Should native speakers always have a higher paycheque than non-natives based solely on their being natives? 8. If we agree that a second language can be someone’s primary language, why can’t a non-native English speaker be a better teacher than a native speaker based on other factors? Experience has proved wrong various times all those schools or recruiters who favor native speakers over non-native under any circumstances when it comes to employing teachers. Their judgment is based on the natural form and easiness in which the first language is acquired regardless of other factors. Hence, they fail to recruit good teachers among non-natives. Once again, let us keep in mind that, the acquisition form of a first and second language does not in all circumstances make one better than another one when it comes to the primary language. Many other factors should be considered. As such, in terms of English being one’s primary language, a non-native can be more knowledgeable and a better teacher than a native depending on the exposure to the language. In conclusion, there are significant differences in the acquisition of first language and second language. However, I think it is high time, schools, language centers or recruiters learned these concepts (first language and second language acquisition and what is a primary language) so as to reach out to all the potential and deserving English teachers out there, for the own good of their students.