Last Updated 07 Jul 2020

Critical Review of Cook,  V. (1999). Going Beyond the Native Speaker in Language Teaching

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Critical Review #1 Review: Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185. In his article, Cook argues that the emphasis or dependence of native speaker model(NSM) in language teaching is not necessary. It is time to adopt non-native models both for language learning and teaching, and he provides some possible teaching methods. Firstly, Cook defines the native speaker and L2 users.

Then he discusses the slight but salient differences between monolingual native speakers and multilingual native speakers in terms of “multicompetence” so that there is no stable NSM. He also argues NSM is implicit and L2 users are actually using L2 differently instead of deficiently from monolingual bias perspective, which means native-speaker level is not a must, even impractical, to most of L2 users because they do not need to proclaim their identity through the L2 and only few L2 users have achieved native-speaker proficiency.

After this series of arguments, Cook proposes some practical suggestions of successful L2 user as models and applying L1 for teaching methods. Cook concludes that more emphasis should be added on the skillful L2 users and on using L1, and teaching language is not to imitate native speakers but to help learners so that L2 learners are successful in terms of multicompetent. In general this article is refreshing, especially 14 years ago. I absolutely agree with Cook that successful L2 learners are “successful multicompetent speakers, not failed native speakers” (p. 04). In non-English-speaking countries like China where English is neither an official language nor a lingua franca, a simple English native speaker, without teaching experiences or educational professional background, can be admired as a language specialist or an English authority only because he speaks so-called “pure English”. It is the time, 14 years later after this article has been published, to establish a positive image of nonnative-speaker teachers for the sake of both themselves and their students and for the fanatics of NSM to wake up.

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While in other places where English is adopted as a lingua franca, the reduction of NSM is more meaningful in the way of being equal, due to the speakers’ various lingual preferences and cultural backgrounds. Actually, nine years before this article, Rampton (1990) had called on the professionals to label native speakers as language experts in order to shift “the emphasis from ‘who you are’ to ‘what you know’” (p. 99). So in this sense, Cook affords L2 users agency on learning to use L2 instead of to transform their identity into native speakers. However, uncertainties still remain.

First, although the author offers the definition of L2 users and even distinguished it from L2 learners, he does not make it specific what kind of languages one uses can be considered L2s in his statement. For example, languages learned at what age or for what reason can be one’s L2? Or can one who learns L2 as an adult in order to stay alive in English-speaking countries be the same as one who simply uses L2 to serve foreigners in his own country? Second, the author observes that “students may feel overwhelmed by native-speaker teachers who have achieved a perfection that is out of the students’ reach. ” (p. 00) I think the author slightly overstates the students’ fear of native speakers. The author himself admits that some L2 users could pass for native speakers, so why should all L2 learners be taken as not extraordinary in the first place? Also, the NS teachers do not only symbolize fluent target-language speakers, but also a bridge that connects two different cultures, which is cherished by students as well. Furthermore, according to Derrida (1998), language itself is essentially “oppressive”, thus both native speaker and L2 users are oppressed by language and nonnative-speaker teachers could also be overwhelming to the students.

Third, since research supports the idea that teachers tend to teach the way they learn (Stitt-Gohdes, 2001), the nonnative-speaker teachers can be a distinguished example of successful L2 user, because such teachers are not only “fallible” as Cook states or “presents a more achievable model” (p. 200) but also they can share or deliver their knowledge, experience and strategies of becoming a successful L2 user. Fourth, the author mentions “successful L2 users” several times but does not give a definition or standard of it.

Thus it makes me confused because is a successful L2 user one who is infinitely close to the native speakers? 733 words Reference Derrida, J. (1998). Monolingualism of the other: or, the prosthesis of origins. Standford, CA: Stanford University Press. Rampton, M. (1990). Displacing the "native speaker": Expertise, affiliation, and inheritance. ELT Journal, 44(2), 97-101. Stitt-Gohdes, W. (2001). Business education students' preferred learning styles and their teachers' preferred instructional styles: Do they match? Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 43(3), 137-151.

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