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Overcoming the Divide Between Native English as a Second Language (NESL) Teachers and Non-native English as a Second Language (NNESL) Students

Frederick Cecil Yarquah

Department of English, Shane English School, Tokyo, Japan


Studies have shown that second language learning is influenced by factors like race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and social class, impacting discussions on fairness in English teaching. This article discusses ways to address these challenges and promote a positive learning environment by avoiding discrimination and fostering cooperation between instructors and students.

Keywords: English language teaching, cultural reference, barriers, non-native English students, native, English teachers

How to Cite: Yarquah, F. C. (2024, May 7). Overcoming the divide between native English as a second language (NESL) teachers and non-native English as a second language (NNESL) students. Grandomastery.


According to Selvi, Yazan, & Mahboob, (2024) starting in the mid-1970s, researchers began to analyze the worldwide expansion of the English language and its various functions and applications in different sociocultural settings. This examination prompted a greater focus on the concept of (teacher) identity, specifically about English language teaching (ELT) and applied linguistics. The differentiation between English-speaking teachers who are "native" and those who are not is intricate and has many aspects. Studies have demonstrated that this differentiation is based on dominant knowledge, has colonial roots, and is influenced by the specific circumstances in which it occurs. It also intersects with other aspects of identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and social class, and affects discussions about fairness, advantages, exclusion, and unfair treatment in English language teaching.

To ensure a positive learning experience, it is important to avoid any form of discrimination or unfair treatment towards non-native English students based on their proficiency level. It is crucial to disregard the perception that these students are less competent or intelligent. Instead, Native English teachers should actively facilitate interactions that benefit the learning process and foster a cooperative environment between instructors and students. This will provide non-native students with opportunities to engage with their teachers. Although language barriers may cause hesitation, non-native students still have the desire to communicate and establish relationships with their teachers, creating favorable conditions for learning (Liu, Wang, & Wang, 2022).


Overcoming the Challenge

The way students view a teacher's abilities and identity can influence their motivation in the classroom. Factors such as how confident students feel in their second language skills play a significant role in their interactions with native English teachers. This can determine whether they actively participate in breaking down barriers between themselves and the teacher. It is crucial to acknowledge the complexity of language teaching barriers and to promote fair practices in English as a Second Language (ESL) education (Su, 2021, Arzumanyan, 2016).

How can we encourage collaboration in the classroom between native English teachers (NETs) and non-native English learners (NNELs)?

1.     To combat stereotypes and biases, start by examining any biases you may have towards non-native English students. Then, challenge these stereotypes by encouraging both yourself and your students to look beyond labels and appreciate the various ways of learning and teaching. To promote inclusivity, actively participate in their projects or discussions, foster language exchange and create opportunities for students to share their culture with you as you learn from each other.

2.     Foster opportunities for interaction by considering the language barriers that may cause hesitation among non-native English students. Meet them at their level of interest and engage in conversations about common communication topics based on location, age, and current trends.

3.     Gain awareness of your strengths compared to non-native English students, such as fluency, understanding of cultural nuances, and accurate pronunciation. This will help you comprehend students' first language and cultural norms, allowing you to empathize with their language learning difficulties.

4.     Collaborate and co-teach with non-native English teachers during grammar lessons to provide students with the benefits of both perspectives. By sharing responsibilities and demonstrating cooperation and mutual respect, you will influence students' perception of the learning process, along with the native English teacher.


To ensure that this is beneficial, reflect on what is effective and how to enhance cooperation, ensuring a supportive and collaborative classroom environment. Remember that it is important to be aware of and respectful towards different cultures when interacting with non-native English students. Take the time to understand the cultural norms surrounding communication styles, personal boundaries, and gestures. Also, try to speak clearly and avoid speaking too quickly to prevent misunderstandings (Arous, 2023).

Do not make assumptions that everything has been comprehended accurately. Instead, try to motivate them to seek clarification if they are unsure about what you said. I politely request clarification to demonstrate the process. To ensure understanding, you can verify by restating what you have heard and utilize open-ended questions such as, "In your own words, how do you understand...?" rather than simply asking, "I hope you understand?" Cultural references are often associated with idioms and jargon, so it is best to avoid them to avoid confusing non-native speakers. It is better to use clear and simple language rather than complex expressions (Berardo, 2007).


These practices are crucial because frequently there is a lack of effective classroom connections that facilitate the learning process. Although students may exhibit a positive overall attitude, their actual learning may be lacking. This is why experienced educators widely agree that non-native English language teachers (NNELTs) have an advantage due to their shared experience of learning English as a second language. This shared experience enables them to empathize with learners and comprehend their difficulties. If an individual has personally learned a language other than their native tongue, they may find the concept of overcoming barriers and cultural stereotypes significant. The assumption that a native English speaker would be a superior teacher is often proven incorrect, as many non-native speakers who are dedicated and skilled practitioners are a joy to collaborate with. Their insights into teaching and language acquisition are invaluable for students in enhancing their proficiency.


Arous, A. (2023, September 12). Breaking down language barriers: What they are & how to overcome them. KomunIKON. Retrieved from

Arzumanyan, A. (2016, March 8). Fighting the “Native-speaker fallacy”? Let’s hack it. [Video]. TEDxSSTU. Retrieved from

Berardo, K. (2007). 10 Strategies for Overcoming Language Barriers. EUROPARC Federation. Retrieved from

Liu, J., Wang, Q., & Wang, S. (2022). Breaking language barriers: Supporting non-native English-speaking students. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from

Selvi, A. F., Yazan, B., & Mahboob, A. (2024). Research on “native” and “non-native” English-speaking teachers: Past developments, current status, and future directions. Language Teaching, 57(1), 1–41. doi:10.1017/S0261444823000137

Su, W. (2021). Two heads better than one? Exploring the co-teaching of intercultural competence by NES and NNS teachers. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 31, 297-306.

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