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Foreign Language Experience in The Teaching Practice

Foreign Language Experience in The Teaching Practice | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Although many ESL teachers do have foreign language experience, many are not aware of how much this experience benefits them. Sure, if they are teaching English in Japan, having Japanese language experience is helpful for daily life situations, but how could it bleed into the classroom as well? And the language experience doesn’t necessarily have to involve the first language of the students, either. Having foreign language experiences allows the teacher to understand just how hard learning a language is, can understand where certain errors may come from, see English from a different perspective, and gives them a stronger grasp on English grammar.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Sarah D.

Having better understanding

Firstly, learning another language allows the teacher to have empathy for his/her students as they understand the difficulties that come with language learning. Learning a new language is extremely difficult and requires a lot of time and effort. For example, if the teacher understands how hard memorizing vocabulary is, they will have a better idea of how many terms to include on exams so the students don’t feel overwhelmed. They also learn different language study skills and can recommend methods that work (such as Quizlet, reading authentic materials, and keeping a daily language journal). By having empathy for the students, the teacher better understands how the students feel and can communicate their understanding via their lessons.

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Knowing students’ native tongue features

Next, the teacher can see why students are making certain errors if they have studied the language of the students. For example, if a teacher is teaching Russian students beginner English, they might notice that students write their ‘R’s backward. If the teacher had learned Russian in the past, they would understand that the Cyrillic alphabet has a letter ‘Я’, which student might use if they aren’t paying close attention. If the teacher is aware of this prior to teaching the alphabet, they can highlight this difference during the lesson. They will also be on alert to search for these mistakes in their work so it will be harder to miss during corrections.

Considering cultural differences

Additionally, learning a second language would allow the teacher to view things from a different perspective. When people read in their native language, they will interpret reading material with information such as personal experiences and cultural knowledge. However, when reading in their second language, they will depend more so on the linguistic information presented in front of them, which will give them a different interpretation than the native reader (Zeeland, 2012). If a teacher has experience interpreting material in this manner, they can view reading material in a different way. An example of this is perhaps why their students may not understand a certain text when it contains idioms that with no background knowledge make no sense. Having learned a second language and having understood how sensitive second language readers are, the teacher will have a different perspective on how their students will read a text.

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Understanding how to teach English as a foreign language

Lastly, learning a second language would allow one to in effect better understand English grammar. Native English speakers are taught grammar rules when they are young, and often have difficulty explaining grammar rules. In my experience learning Spanish (my first foreign language), I didn’t know the different tenses of verbs before learning them in Spanish-I simply just used them. However, by learning Spanish, I was forced to learn what the perfect and continuous tenses were, along with past participles and how they were used. I had to think more carefully when deciding between to use the past perfect or regular past tenses, which therefore reinforced the English grammar rules that I had forgotten about. Thanks to Spanish, I learned a lot about my own native language, even though I was learning a totally different language!

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Do you want to teach English as a foreign language abroad?

All in all, it is extremely helpful for a teacher to have experience learning a foreign language so that it may benefit their classroom. Although more helpful if the teacher is experienced with the first language of their students, it isn’t necessary to gain access to these benefits. Since the teacher can better understand the difficulty of language learning, plan for specific mistakes to arise during lessons can see language from a non-native perspective and allows the teacher to (re)learn English grammar, even the smallest amount of foreign language study can help. These are only a few of the reasons why an EFL teacher should dive into a new language, and teachers should always be in the mindset that there is always something new to learn.

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