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How Learning A Foreign Language Made Me a Better ESL Teacher

I’ve taken four years of college Russian. Throughout my time at my university, I learned a few things about both learning and teaching a language that have helped me become a better ESL teacher.

This post was written by our ITTT graduate Leif O.

Creating a Comfortable Classroom Environment

One crucial aspect of learning a language is making sure that everyone in the class is comfortable. While this is true with young learners, this is especially true for adults. Adults don’t want to make mistakes. Business professionals have devoted their lives to one of the hardest areas in which one can make money, and if they are doing it as a career, they are most likely succeeding at it. This means that the business professionals may very well be unaccustomed to failing or falling short of goals, especially not in front of their peers. It’s important to be sympathetic to these businesspeople because they are doing the best that they can. It’s humbling to be successful at one thing and not have that success translate to another skillset. Being mindful of that fact is one-way teachers can establish a classroom that is comfortable and conducive to learning.

The teacher doesn’t know everything.

It's also very important to remember that you are not the authority on the subject matter which you are teaching. When we had a music unit in my college Russian class, our professor didn’t pretend that he was an expert in music. Instead, he let the musically-inclined students (a trombone player and a violin player) lead the class discussions so that their knowledge could be utilized in a useful and meaningful way. This aids learning, helps the memory, and engages students. When I teach business professionals, I will be sure to understand that I am not an expert in business, but the expert in English.

Using a Variety of Teaching Aids and Materials

In a similar vein, it is important to utilize all of the knowledge in the classroom. Some business professionals may be good at making charts, graphs, and reports; those students may benefit from making diagrams with unit-specific English vocabulary. Other businesspeople may succeed at giving presentations and speeches; perhaps these people should be allowed to give analyses and speeches on various English texts and films. Some professionals may be good at sales; they might flourish under a position of team leader in a weekly class debate or discussion. Even if every person is from the same department, their skills can still be utilized; perhaps you have an activity for your class full of accountants where they run the numbers on a multi-million dollar American business. This way the group, even if they are all from the same department, can utilize and sharpen their existing skillset in a safe environment. One must not forget that there are key specializations in the room and those can be utilized easier than one might think to aid language learning.

Always Be Respectful and Use the Right Language

Of course, one of the most important things to do is to treat these business professionals how you would want to be treated. You want to make sure that you are professional, culturally sensitive, and speaking in an appropriate tone. These professionals want to speak English in the business world, and it would be a disservice to them if one created a classroom that was vastly different than how you’d imagine a business meeting in English may be held. Prepare them for the world they will experience outside of the classroom and they will thank you later for it.

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