Learning a Language Improves Teaching

One of the big perks of living abroad is the chance to study and fully immerse yourself in a foreign language.  And while you probably won’t directly use your new knowledge of your students’ language in ESL class, there are a lot of reasons why learning a language improves teaching, they are as follows

Mary classYou are more patient with your students

If you’ve been studying another language, you know how frustrating it can be to try over and over again to pronounce certain words and still have them come out all mangled, or to struggle with a grammar point that just doesn’t make any sense to you. When you find your students doing this, it’s hard to be frustrated or impatient with them when you are having the exact same struggles learning their language.

You are better at breaking down grammar

For most of us, we haven’t really thought about formal grammar since grade school. We just know what works and what doesn’t when we are speaking and writing. Learning a new language forces you to look at grammar anew, from the ground up, and learning the nuts and bolts of how sentences and phrases are formed in a foreign language gives you a lot of insights into how they are formed in your own language.

You get a glimpse into your students’ thought processes

Our first language is very deeply ingrained in us, and its structures, patterns, and logic tend to color every other language that we learn, and the way that we think about the world in general. When you spend some time learning your students’ language, you’ll start to understand more and more why they consistently mix up a certain sentence structure, or struggle so much with past tense.

You can make some sense of their conversations

Often, you will find your students going off on conversations in their native tongue during break times, in the hallways, or even during class.  Being able to pick up the gist of the conversations isn’t about eavesdropping on them; you can sometimes glean some very useful information about your students, their interactions, and the class dynamics as a whole, based on what they say when they think you can’t understand.

You appreciate how terrifying it can be to speak out in a new language

It takes a lot of courage and boldness to speak up in front of a group in an unfamiliar language. But as teachers, we often forget how difficult this can be for our students until we are in a position of having to do it ourselves.

When you’ve made a fool of yourself with garbled sentences and horribly mispronounced words in front of your language class, you’ll be a lot more sympathetic to those students who are terrified to speak out loud, and a lot more supportive of them when they find the courage to make that step.

You know what it’s like to be a beginner

We were all beginners at something once, but through our adult lives, we often forget what it feels like. We avoid things that we are not good at, because we don’t like that feeling of uncertainty and complete ignorance that comes with being a beginner at something.

But that is probably how your students feel about learning English. Being able to not only remember, but relive and re-experience what being a total beginner feels like is a great way to step into your students’ world, and to figure out what they need from a teacher and how you can better provide it.

You have more respect for your students as human beings

Learning a language opens the doorway to understand a different culture, a different way of thinking about the world, and it lets you get a glimpse of who your students are. You’re tearing the language barriers down both ways, and it’s deeply humbling to see your students breezing through the things that you are struggling with.

If you’ve ever, for example, watched a 10-year-old pull out his homework and effortlessly fill a page or two with the same Chinese characters you’ve been wracking your brain for months to remember, you’ll know what it feels like to be completely overcome with awe and respect for how much your students know that you don’t.

Your students pick up on that respect, and reflect it back to you.

Have you ever learnt the language of the country that you are teaching in? Did you have similar thoughts and feelings towards your students? Or any new ones to add? Let us know about it in the comments section below. 

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