“I recently did the Celta online. I am a non-native and I am hoping to teach in my own country. What are the pros and cons of being the same nationality as one’s students?”

There are plenty of pros in being born in the same country as students and being a native speaker in their mother tongue.

Explaining idiomatic expressions: if translated literally, some won’t make sense of have the same impact, but when adapted or when compared to an expression in the students first language, they almost always make sense.

Contrasting the two cultures: comparing our native country to an English-speaking country can be fun and is always a good theme for debate in the classroom.

Adjusting language for beginners: a good teacher will carefully choose the vocabulary and pace to teach beginners (as they probably have had trouble when learning) and the empathy has good results in the classroom.

I strongly recommend teaching students until level B1, early B2 when you’re non-native. Afterwards (upper B2, C1, C2) it is possibly more effective being taught by native speakers.

Here are some of the cons that I have encountered along with some possible solutions:

  • Students may doubt your skills, especially when you use an expression that “doesn’t seem right” in English (maybe too similar to their native language). To counter this, bring to their attention that you are actually the perfect example of what they could achieve if they study hard. Make yourself credible in their eyes.
  • You may decide to “invent” words when you don’t know an equivalent in English and hopefully look for the correct one later. This can be a bit risky and it is probably best to use this as an opportunity to look up the word online together. I use Context Reverso, for example, where we can see the same word or expression in various different contexts – the exercise can then be to decide the translation that best matches our situation.
  • Students may not resist the urge to ask you to translate words and expressions creating a bad habit from the get go. It’s also way easier to talk to students (and depending on the context, more “fun”) when you share the same language. This may lead to a total chaos in the classroom that starts well and ends terribly when the students realize they’re not learning anything. I find that the solution to this is to set ground rules. When students ask you to translate words, do as I suggested in the previous point (i.e. with an online resource). Allocate a maximum of five minutes per lesson, when students can ask you for explanations in English, or can discuss some grammar point together in their own language. But make sure that they understand that five minutes is five minutes – no more.

So I would definitely not be worried about teaching people who speak the same language as you. You have already been on the journey that they are embarking on. You show it can be done. You also have a ton of knowledge that a native speaker probably doesn’t have about the two languages you are working with. It is also a lot of fun!

Victor Medeiros is 32 years old and has a degree in literature from the Universidade Bandeirante de São Paulo in Brazil. Victor started studying English when he was 11 years old. Until he started college in 2011, he taught himself English using video games and online chatrooms. He was 25 when taught his first English course. He is now self-employed and teaches via Google Meet.