Editor’s Note: Originally published by VOXXI as Why you should not learn a language from a “native speaker”
Have you ever stopped to consider that the world is full of natives?
There are about 7000 million of them. And they are restless most of the time.
I often feel compelled to ask who wrote a letter, or a notice on a bulletin board, or a simple office sign, that is clearly full of mistakes. I am usually told that it was Mr. X, a native of the language. The few hairs I have left on my head, stand on end.
I cannot help it.
And then I understand why the “writing” has come out like that. It is the result of the work of a native speaker. A restless native, I may add.
- To practice medicine you need an M.D. degree.
- To keep accounts you must be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
- To teach at a university you need an M.A. or Ph.D. degree and some publications (publish or perish!).
- To become a language teacher you only need to be a native, to show a passport from any country, which seems to be more than enough to qualify you to teach its language.
Madrid is full of people who teach English and whose only qualification is that they were born in Dublin, or Boston, or London and who, oftentimes, have no idea about the Spanish language and little about theirs.
By the same token, there are professors of Spanish language at American universities who are lawyers, or historians or ornithologists, but they are native speakers, from Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico… And to boot, they set a bad example because their knowledge of English is imperfect, to put it mildly.
The word native linked to language has magic connotations. It seems that in war and language all is fair, especially if you are a “native.”
It must be something like this: The plumber is from Guatemala, so you ask him to write a sign in Spanish explaining this or that. That simple! No questions asked. You don´t wonder whether the sign will make Spanish speakers laugh because the spelling or the grammar is wrong.
Native speakers feel they own the language they learnt (you may prefer “learned”) as babies. They think they are always right on problems linguistic.
They cannot be contradicted.
Yet, being a noncomformist myself, I wonder.
An illiterate Londoner, the neighborhood dogcatcher, the High School drop out, the newspaper boy, the divorce lawyer, the parking valet, are all native speakers, but… would you hire them to teach you their “native language.”
They are all good in their line of work, but being natives does not qualify them to tutor anyone.
I often tell my students that their English is better than the English spoken by 85 percent of the British population.
They laugh in my face.
An average American can learn to speak Spanish better than the average Spaniard.
He will know the grammar, the literature and the history of Spain far better that the average Madrileño.
Take my word for it.
And certainly he will not say “mu” for “muy”, “pa” for “para”, “na” for “nada” or “naide” for “nadie.”
Just as a Spaniard will not say “them books,” “he ain’t here,” “he don’t know nothin’”…
Only native speakers utter such things.
So, I admonish you to beware of the natives bearing their language, as if they were Greeks bearing presents, and whenever you engage someone in conversation, don’t forget: that person has a “native” lurking in his brain, ready to pounce on you and correct your grammar, syntax, phraseology and phonology…
They are possessors of the truth and are always restless.
All natives, of all languages.