I have had the privilege of teaching English and Spanish as well as have learned those languages from different teachers. In this article, I want to give tips to be the best language teacher possible.
I mainly teach English, but I have taught a few Spanish classes. I recognize that the majority of language teachers are either native English speakers teaching English or native Spanish teachers speaking Spanish, but there are a few non-native speaking teachers of English and Spanish, specifically.
I have learned Spanish and, at the time of writing, I am learning French. From both my student experiences and my teaching experience, I have come across a few tips that might help you be the best language teacher possible! If you are also interested, please see additional tips on how to be a better worker!
Treat your students as smart humans
One of the worse things as a language learner is to be treated like you are a child. This attitude is normally associated with language learners communicating with people in the street. This is a bit more excusable because the people in the street aren’t familiar with language learners.
However, as a student, I have experienced teachers treating grown adult students as children when it comes to language. As a student, I felt completely disrespected.
As a teacher, I have to remind myself that I might not know their language or that I am not fluent in their language. If I was speaking their native language, I am sure I would sound even more of a child than they do in English.
Many students in my French class, with me, are engineers. They are smart humans, they just don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves fully.
Study another language
A way to eliminate the mentality that someone who speaks your language at a lower level should be treated more as a child is to learn another language.
Having the experience of learning a language yourself really helps you understand what your student is going through.
Many English teachers go straight into English teaching. They have not learned another language before. When I was getting my TEFL certification, they made us take Czech lessons at the same time so we could be the best language teacher we could be.
As a general rule, it is better to only speak the language you are teaching during class and don’t translate into the language of the student (if you know how to speak it). However, knowing the native language of your student will help you understand why they make certain mistakes or pronounce words differently.
Talk to the students not the board
One of the first lessons I learned in my TEFL certification course was to talk towards the students not the board. As a student, having a teacher facing the board and speaking to the board is frustrating.
Language learners need body language, they need to see the mouth of the speaker, they need a higher volume, they need many things that talking to the board will not give them.
If you need to write on the board a lot, make sure to give them instructions before writing on the board or afterwards. The best language teacher is one that gives their full attention to the student, not the board.
Make connections with your students
As a student, I really appreciated when my teachers tried to make connections with us. See this article on how to build relationships. They introduced themselves, talked about what they are interested in and their families, etc. As a teacher, I try to replicate this as well.
Language learning is intimidating and nerve-wracking. You don’t want people to make fun of you and you don’t want to sound stupid either. Having a connection with the teacher will enable the student to relax more.
As a teacher, this process can be a simple 5 minute presentation at the beginning of the course. This 5 minutes can make you the best language teacher possible. Rather, I have had teachers that blew off this portion and it made many of the students uncomfortable and disinterested in learning.
Teach the level of the student
One of the final things to help you be the best language teacher possible is to teach at the level of the student. This might seem obvious, but many teachers seem to miss this.
As a teacher, it is good to push your students, but don’t make them jump over walls. Teach one grammar point or vocabulary theme at a time.
As a student, I have had teachers that started teaching multiple things at a time and when the students commented that many of the points were brand new, the teacher acted like we were slow, which ties into point one.
You might ask, how do you know when you are pushing your students and making them jump? The best rule of thumb, focus on one point at a time. If you see that you aren’t pushing them enough because they are getting it super easily, then you can add another point. Start off with one and slowly move up.
Language learning isn’t like math or science, there are “levels,” but each student progresses differently. There isn’t a standard test or formula, it isn’t black and white. Start slow, start with 2+2 and then maybe go into 2×2, but when you student is ready.
I hope this list of ways to be the best language teacher possible has helped you on your own teaching journey. As a teacher, I try to practice this as much as possible. As a student, I appreciate when teachers do these things. If you aren’t a teacher, these are also good ideas for when you encounter a language learner of your native language. Keep in mind, they are making efforts to speak YOUR language.
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