Pros and Cons to Know Students' Native Language
Throughout the TEFL course, it is clear that teachers do not need to know the language of the host country to successfully teach English. I agree wholeheartedly with this assertion for various reasons. However, there are also certain advantages for teachers who know a foreign language have in the classroom. I will discuss the various ways that knowledge of a foreign language can help and hinder teachers in the EFL classroom.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Allison S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Pitfalls of Knowing Students’ Native Language
There are several ways in which knowing the L1 or native language of your students can hinder your teaching ability. It is often challenging to communicate with students who are just learning how to speak English. Therefore, it can be tempting at times to become impatient if the students are not understanding instructions or are not engaging as well as the teacher would hope. This impatience can lead teachers who are well versed in the native language of the students to rely on the use of that language to try to spark more interest or take shortcuts in explaining what the class should be doing.
Not only does this not help the students engage with the lesson, but it also disincentivizes the students from paying close attention to what the teacher says in English in future instances. This makes subsequent lessons ineffective and might hinder the motivation of the students and their ability to focus when English is being spoken. This is especially true for young learners who can be more easily distracted.
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Attention to Students
Further, a teacher needs to consider the time that they have with the students. If a course only lasts for a set number of lessons or the duration of an academic year, odds are that when they come to the English class, that is the only native English they are exposed to. Thus, when a teacher decides to use the students’ native language in class, their exposure to the language is diminished and they are worse off for it. Further, if a teacher is instructing a group of adult learners, it is quite likely that the individuals in the class want the maximum exposure and instruction of English for their money. For these reasons, TEFL teachers must avoid using the students’ native language at all costs in the classroom.
Benefits of Knowing Students’ Language
However, there is another side to this topic in which knowing the students’ native language could be an asset to the teacher. This is, of course, no excuse to ever use their native language in the classroom, but rather a tool that can be used to help refine and improve the level of instruction that a teacher gives.
For instance, I currently live in Germany where I hope to teach English. My husband is German, and when we met, I didn’t know any German at all. Because he was still in the process of developing a high level of English, sometimes he would make mistakes that I did not understand and wondered about. Since I moved to Germany and started learning more of the German language, I have been able to detect some of the common mistakes that native German speakers make when forming sentences because of the way German sentences are formed.
Therefore, knowing what I know now about the German sentence structure, I can better anticipate the problems that German speakers will have when they are taking English classes from me.
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In knowing a foreign language, it is also useful to consider the similarities between students' L1 and English to draw on those similarities while teaching. If a teacher can draw on the similarities either using cognates or grammar structures, it can help increase the confidence of language learners. Finally, knowing a foreign language implies that the teacher has had some training with language learning and can better understand and appreciate the way that students effectively acquire a new language.
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