Why Having Foreign Language Experience Makes You a Better Teacher
2019-03-27 Linda Dunsmore Alumni Experiences
When one begins to study a new language, they can often find themselves to be a bit overwhelmed. Language acquisition is not an easy task, and it comes with many challenges and difficulties attached. Although, as ESL teachers, we are trained to look out for common errors and given the best teaching ideas and methodologies to use in the classroom, it can sometimes feel as though something is missing. Teachers who have studied a foreign language and have had experience using the language possess that missing piece, and their foreign language experience makes them better teachers.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Gabrielle N.
"Teachers were once in their students’ shoes."
These ESL teachers were once in their students’ shoes; they, too, were foreign language students. Having studied a foreign language provides ESL teachers a deeper consciousness and understanding of what they are implementing in the classroom. Not to say that teaching English and teaching, for example, French, is done in the exact same way, however, they do share many similar teaching techniques, such as role-playing, drilling, and gap-fills.
For example, while an ESL teacher was studying a foreign language, he or she might have found that guided role-playing was a fun way to use new vocabulary while also applying a new language concept that they had just learned. They also might have found that authentic texts were much too challenging for their level and would have preferred to read material that contained language more suited for their abilities. This gives ESL teachers an opportunity to reflect and analyze how they were taught their foreign language and to select elements and activities that they found beneficial to their language acquisition and implement it in their lessons.
"Having foreign language experience helps teachers."
Having foreign language experience also enables ESL teachers to possess a unique perspective in the classroom that can make them more empathetic and understanding of some of the difficulties and challenges of learning a foreign language. If an ESL teacher had studied the language of his or her students, he or she would clearly understand why their students make certain errors.
For example, I have been studying Spanish for over five years, and I speak the language fluently. If my students were native Spanish-speakers, I would have a lot of insight as to why they may struggle with phonetics and pronunciation. Although English and Spanish have a very similar alphabet, not all sounds in English and in Spanish are articulated in the same manner or in the same location of the mouth. I would know exactly why they would have difficulties pronouncing certain letters and sounds and how to correct it. Due to my foreign language experience, I would be more understanding of why my students make certain errors, and I would be able to give better feedback.
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In summary, having foreign language experience can only benefit an ESL teacher and their students. It allows a greater consciousness and understanding of what the ESL teacher implements in the classroom based off of his or her past experiences as a foreign language student. It also enables them to be more empathetic and understanding of the difficulties of learning a foreign language. Carrying this unique perspective in the classroom and possessing a deep knowledge of their students’ native language enables ESL teachers to give better feedback and teach better lessons. All of these elements give ESL teachers with foreign language experience an edge, and overall, it makes them better teachers.
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