I have recently found an opinion paper with the title “The privilege of the nonnative Speaker” which I read with much interest, as it discusses several interesting concepts related to language learning. It challenges, from the perspective of linguistic travel, traditional assumptions which have rendered an idealized authority to the figure of the “native speaker”.
I kind of liked the deidealization of this fuzzy character I have always looked up to as a learner of a foreign language. Maybe this paper simply relieves some of the frustration I have often felt not being able to “sound native” after decades of serious and conscious study of English as my first foreign language. Perhaps it simply provides me with a fair and educated justification for my occasional failure to fully follow some native speakers (all the while a bell rings at the back of my mind saying “all these years of study for nothing”).
Anyway, I figure I’m not the only language learner often confronted with the native speaker ideal. So I thought I will share some interesting paragraphs of this paper with other language learners. As it is a bit long, I will do so in several posts.
“The study of foreign languages and literatures is predicated, explicitly or implicitly, on the notion of the native speaker. In language pedagogy, the premium put on spoken communicative competence since the 1970s has endowed native speakers with a prestige they did not necessarily have in the 1950s and 1960s, when the grammar-translation and then the audiolingual methods of language teaching prevailed; today foreign language students are expected to emulate the communicative skills of native speakers. …Foreign language study acquires credibility and legitimacy from being backed by national communities of native speakers, who set the standards for the use of their national languages… this idealization of the native speaker, has not been put into question. But native speakers do not always speak according to the rules of their standard national languages; they display regional, occupational, generational, class-related ways of talking that render the notion of a unitary native speaker artificial.”
If you wish so, you can read the full paper by downloading the PDF from the Educational Resources Information Centre.