When It Comes to Teaching English, Are Native Speakers Always the Best?

Rosyid Nurul Hakim is jetting off to London later this year to start studying at Brunel University, but he’s already getting a head start on what could be his biggest challenge there — the language.

“I’m currently attending an English course twice a week as a preparation for my studies in London,” he says.

“I need to be fluent and confident when speaking in English, especially because I’m going there to study.”

Rosyid has enrolled in a conversation class at a South Jakarta branch of English First, which touts itself as “the world’s largest private education company that specializes in language training, educational tours and cultural exchange.”

He says he sometimes practices English with his Indonesian friends, but talk always tends to veer back into Indonesian.

“I need a formal class where I’m encouraged to always speak in English,” he says.

It’s a similar story with Daniella Marni, who is preparing to pursue her master’s degree in broadcast studies in Melbourne.

“I need to be able to communicate well in English since I’m going to live for a while in an English-speaking country,” she says.

She says she can easily practice her writing skills with books, but believes a formal conversation class is much more effective in helping her improve her speaking skills.

“That way, I’d know immediately if I made a mistake while speaking,” says Daniella, who is taking conversation classes at LIA Pramuka, another popular language institute.

Diana Chandrawira, senior operations manager at EF, says language institutes like hers have seen a surge in demand for English courses. It’s a trend that she attributes in part to a growing demand among employers that current and prospective employees be fluent in English.

“We’re going to open a new branch at the Kuningan Epicentrum this September so that more employees can study English,” she says.

But the institute’s core clientele is not from the corporate world. Around 70 percent of those who enroll for classes at EF are school-age children, from 7 to 18 years old.

The Indonesian-based LIA also relies mainly on children and teenagers for its business. But where the two institutes differ is over the issue of teachers.

Seventy percent of the teachers at EF are native English speakers, while 30 percent are Indonesians. But Diana says that is changing as more Indonesians, many of whom studied abroad, now have a good command of English and are being hired by EF.

At LIA, says Romanti, head of the institute’s Bintaro branch, all the teachers are Indonesian.

“We do have [foreign] native speakers, but they’re only guest teachers because we believe that Indonesian teachers have a better understanding of Indonesian students’ behavior and how to handle them,” she says.

Arief Rachman, a prominent education expert, agrees that Indonesia has enough qualified English teachers, thus obviating to a large extent the need for foreign teachers.

“But we still need some native speakers because they’re the ones who speak that language best,” he says.

“It’s the same with Australians who study Bahasa Indonesia at Australian universities. The best way to study it is with an Indonesian teacher, even though there are Australian teachers who can speak Bahasa Indonesian.”

Arief says that the proliferation of native English speakers in the country, many of whom have no formal teaching qualifications, is because teaching conversational English does not require much work.

“All they have to do is tell their Indonesian students about the culture or traditions that they have in their home countries in English,” he says. “That’s an effective way of teaching Indonesian students how to communicate in English.”

The wide availability of English courses has been a boon for students.

Santi Kurnia, a reporter at a national newspaper, says she has benefitted greatly from her general English classes at the British Institute in South Jakarta, which she takes in addition to her part-time studies in international relations at Paramadina University.

“I need to improve my vocabulary because I have to write my assignments and thesis in English, so I need to take an English course,” she says.



About Pak Liam

Living, teaching and traveling in Asia.
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