According to IELTS Cambridge books, an expert user of English is someone who has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate, and fluent with complete understanding. This user gets the score of 9 in the IELTS speaking test which is the highest score in this English proficiency exam.
According to this definition, it is not necessary to be a native speaker to be considered an expert user. So, that raises a question! As English teachers, either native or non-native, should we set our students up for speaking English like a native speaker or an expert user?
A difference in the PROCESS
One point to mention is that although the final product of both native and non-native language users is the same, the whole process is very different. As we know, native speakers go through the process of first-language acquisition which is unconscious, while non-natives learn the language consciously. Therefore, as the process and mechanism for the ultimate language use is different, maybe we as English teachers need to be a little more cautious when promoting the idea of speaking English like a native speaker.
Native speakers own the language, and this ownership has been effortless. Language ownership makes its users feel confident to use it in almost any context without the fear of being misunderstood. Another bonus is developing the authentic accent which increases their linguistic confidence even more. So, they are hardly ever concerned about communication breakdown in their encounters irrespective of what level of education they have.
Non-native speakers, however, are involved in a completely conscious language learning process which forms their language competence and performance differently. Almost all language users are in this game for the purpose of making effective communications with people they don’t share a first language with. This puts the whole focus of their linguistic endeavor on “communication,” and therefore they are more interested in using whatever linguistic tools they have at their disposal to avoid communication breakdown. It implies that they might not need to be fascinated by knowing as many vocabularies as a native speaker, or develop a native-like accent. What is really important here for them is how to use this second language for effective communication with fluency and accuracy.
Language ownership might make its users less concerned about “accurate language use” as native speakers of all languages generally possess a high level of linguistic accuracy— at least in their speaking skill. However, one thing can’t be overlooked! Native speakers differ in their language competence and they also make language mistakes. But as expert users have always been aware of language rules and regulations, they are very careful about their mistakes as they try to express the most refined version of language.
The linguistic process which native and non-native speakers go through differs greatly. Maybe we should encourage our learners be less concerned about speaking English like a native speaker and more on building effective communication with both natives and non-natives of English.
2 thoughts on “Speaking English like a native speaker or an expert user?”
Thanks for bringing to light the differences between a native language speaker and an expert language speaker. Ultimately, the most effective instructors help language learners focus on communication skills and strategies within the context of learning the language.
I have had students in class who want to “speak like a native English speaker.” After uncovering what they mean by this, it often comes down to how they perceive others’ (native speakers?) perception of them through their language ability. Possibly some people want to sound like a native speaker because they want to blend in. On the other hand, I have had students who are quite proud of their accent in English and it is part of their identity.
Either way, I remind people in my class that communication is the important point of language and each of us need many and varied tools to improve our communication ability.
Thank you very much for your comment. Actually I think ESL learners’ desire to speak English like a native speaker should be acting like an effective tool to enhance their communication skills.
Again, thanks for sharing your experiences about this issue.
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