At this time of the year, with the school teacher recruitment campaign in full swing, the issue is often mentioned under one's breath rather than tackled head-on: Have native speakers more to offer as language teachers?
Referring to "The Return of the native" article by Nick Morrison published on 09 February 2007 in The TES magazine, it is official: "Language teachers are no longer all home grown...
Now, many schools have at least one native speaking MFL teacher, and in some schools they make up a sizeable proportion of the department... And who makes the best language teacher: a native speaker fluent in their own tongue, or a non-native speaker who realises how difficult it is to learn the language?"
As a recently qualified teacher, I reflected on these issues in the introduction to an Action Research project with Canterbury ChristChurch University (Cantarnet network)
"Maria Sharratt, director of languages at Litherland High School, a specialist language college in Sefton, Liverpool, is in no doubt that the influx of native speakers has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I can only see advantages in having native speakers," she says. "It can take a while to adjust to the different education system, but if a school invests in that time it is more than repaid."
Two members of the eight-strong MFL department at Litherland are native speakers, although this has been as high as four in the past, and the school offers placements to Spanish nationals on the postgraduate teaching course at Liverpool Hope University.
"The teachers speak Spanish between themselves, so the children can see the language in action, and it is a distinct advantage for me to work with native speakers - if I have got any subject knowledge doubt I can get the answer straight away," Maria adds.
Jim Donnelly, headteacher at Litherland, ... says it is also important for the pupils to see that a native English speaker can become proficient in a foreign language. "One advantage of local teachers is they have gone to the same kind of school and they act as role models," he says. "A teacher from this country also has the advantage of having gone through our education system."