Deputy Minister Tan Dri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Minister of Education, said that the English language proficiency of Malaysian students is deteriorating. Should Malaysia hire more foreign ESL teachers?
Mr Yassin, a former English teacher himself, is looking to introduce more effective language programs. Mr. Yassin, however, does not think that bringing foreign teachers is the solution. There are many TESOL certified local teachers whose level of English is at par with native speakers. These local teachers have many years of experience and choosing them over foreign teachers would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in recruitment fees, accommodation, airfare, and benefits.
Claudia Bertotto, the Director of Studies at Coventry House International-Ontesol, agrees to some extent. Ms. Bertotto has more than 30 years of experience as an ESL teacher and more than 20 years as a teacher trainer. She has served as Director of Studies at international ESL schools in Canada and abroad. The TESOL certification courses that she developed have received recognition from Trinity College London, TESL Canada, and ACTDEC UK.
‘In my experience, non-native English speakers can be as good as native speakers of English’ , says Ms. Bertotto. ‘Many non-native English teachers started studying ESL when they were kids. They have an excellent understanding of the English grammar and many of them have taken immersion programs in North America or the UK to improve their English proficiency and reduce their accents. Some have even completed university in a native English speaking country before returning home, so their English is superb. And also, they understand the challenges of learning a foreign language’.
More importantly, non-native English speakers tend to choose a career in ESL instruction over a gap-year experience and the majority of them pursue advanced TESOL certification or a degree in TESOL. In contrast, ‘Most native-speakers go abroad for a year or two, which is a great experience, but they need to take the job more seriously. Many native-speakers take quick seminar courses or other unaccredited courses that do not teach proper lesson planning skills. Maybe gap-year teachers don’t know what to look for in a TESOL course, or maybe it’s that they want something quick and easy. The point is that many non-native English teachers have higher qualifications and they show a great deal of professionalism in the classroom; especially those who are local and feel the impact that they have in their community’, adds Ms. Bertotto.
The right formula is not that clear-cut. ‘Native speakers who are qualified for the job bring a lot of good energy into language programs’ concludes Ms. Bertotto. They share their culture and expose students to language authenticity. Language teaching is about teaching communication skills and this involves cutting through cultural barriers, so meeting people from English-speaking countries is very beneficial for ESL students.