Who is Likely to Handle Grammar better:
Native or Non-Native Teachers?
By Carmen Hurtado
There is a lot of interesting research in this area, specifically comparing the grammar skills of native speakers’ vs. the ones of non-native speakers of a given language. You have probably heard expressions like, ‘If you really want to learn a language you’d better be taught by a native speaker,’ or ‘There’s nothing like learning a language from a native speaker,’ or so. Well, the truth is that is not necessarily truth. You can learn either from a native or an assimilated speaker as long as they are well prepared or had become specialists; that is, someone who had studied the language properly as a career, for instance.
Alternatively, you might have noticed some unthinkable expressions such as: ‘I didn’t see nothing’, ‘There’s many people around here,’ ¿There were less than 20 people in the show last night’? ‘I’ve went to Brazil two times’, and the list goes on. Indeed, these expressions belong to native English speakers, or to those who have acquired the language and still lack grammar accuracy when using their mother tongue to convey messages orally or in the written form. So, where’s the mistake? What prevents natives from becoming proficient in managing their own language? Why is it hard for natives to be aware of those common mistakes? Let’s review briefly what Noam Chomsky states in his research which has contributed to linguistics, and especially to language acquisition, establishing four key concepts that support the objective of the article.
Noam Chomsky is acknowledged as the best known and influential linguist of the second half of the Twentieth Century, who has made a number of strong claims about language. In particular, he suggests that language is an innate faculty -- that is to say that we are born with a set of rules about language in our minds, which he refers to as 'Universal Grammar.'
The ‘Universal Grammar’
The Universal Grammar is the basis upon which all human languages are formed. If a Martian linguist were to visit the Earth, he would deduce that there was only one language, with a number of local variants. He would be able to study the language and determine the rules based on the patterns he hears and the patterns of other languages.
Children do not simply copy the language they hear around them. They deduce rules from it, which they can then use to make sentences that they have never heard before. They do not learn a repertoire of phrases and sayings, as the behaviorists believe, but a grammar that generates an infinite number of new sentences. Have you ever been around a toddler as they are acquiring new language? They suddenly change from “I play.” to “I’m playing.” without any formal instruction. Children are born, then, with the Universal Grammar wired into their brains.
Language rules are complex. If there is not a Universal Grammar, how do children make sense of it all? When a child begins to listen to his parents, he will unconsciously recognize which kind of a language he is dealing with, and he will set his grammar to the correct one -- this is known as 'setting the parameters.' It is as if the child were offered at birth a certain number of hypotheses, which he or she then matches with what is happening around him. The child knows intuitively that there are some words that feel like verbs and others that sound like nouns; and there is a limited set of possibilities to fit them within any sentence. This is not information that the child is spoon-fed directly by adults, but rather offered to the child to interpret. That set of language learning tools provided at birth is referred by Chomsky as the “Language Acquisition Device”.
Generally, this disparity challenges linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of a Universal Grammar by suggesting that being a native speaker does not mean that you’re automatically a master of your own grammar.
Why aren’t some native English speakers good at grammar?
Over the years, we have noticed this as a common aspect among native English speakers. Very often, they disregard the simplest rules, or lack the essential/appropriate usage of their own language. The opposite is seen among people who learn the language as a foreign one, they usually strive to master these aspects better than native speakers do. One reason for doing it might be the need to study the language to master its use either for educational or professional purposes. Nonetheless, these learners will frequently have the same problem in their own language, particularly when using it in everyday conversations and for communicative purposes.
What do YOU think?
If you are thinking of learning another language:
If you are thinking of learning another language:
Would you like to learn it with a native or non-native speaker?
What would be the advantages and disadvantages in one or the other scenario?
Leave your comments and keep following us… more to come to the fascinating world of languages in the next articles.
Noam Chomsky and Language Acquisition Theory
4.1 child language acquisition theory – Chomsky, Crystal, Aitchison & Piaget
Noam Chomsky on Universal Grammar and the Genetics of Language with Captioning
What is language acquisition device?
Carmen Hurtado, graduated in the educational field; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Science, and the title of Licenciada en Educación by Universidad Nacional de Educación. She has also finished her master’s studies in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Universidad de Piura, and taken some specializations in the EFL and Spanish fields. She has taught English and Spanish for over 20 years. She currently works teaching fully online courses. A lecturer in the late Annual Congresses at CIDUP, she works as a Pedagogical Specialist, Teacher Trainer and is a member of the Research Area at Universidad del Pacifico Language Center.