Published 23rd March 2016
As teachers of English as a foreign language, we are usually focused on teaching our students English. We’re the teachers, after all. But a lot of us are TEFL teachers largely for the travel opportunities, which means many TEFL teachers live and work abroad, possibly in a country that speaks a language they don’t. If you are living in a foreign country where English is not the main language of communication, perhaps you want to try and learn the local language.
Though it is not necessary to be able to speak the local language in order to teach English there, there are many benefits to learning a foreign language, especially if you are living in that country.
Firstly, and most obviously, being able to communicate in the local language means that your daily life will be much easier because you will be able to go about your daily business with ease. You will know how to talk to shop assistants, taxi drivers, waitrons – anyone you come into contact with who may or may not be able to speak English. Being bombarded all the time with signs and messages and conversations in a language you don’t understand is overwhelming and exhausting; understanding the language will help you cope a lot more easily.
Then, speaking the local language will help you integrate into the community. People appreciate the fact that you are trying to learn their language – even if you are not very good! It will be easier for you to make friends, and forging relationships in the community will open you up to experiences that tourists will never enjoy.
Learning another language is beneficial to you on a personal level too. Knowing another language helps you with problem-solving, especially when it comes to logic or analytical problems. It improves your memory, concentration, and multitasking skills. It even helps you become more open-minded, as you will understand a foreign culture better. Plus, it looks good on your CV.
Finally, learning a foreign language will make you a better teacher. You will understand first-hand the challenges and frustrations learners face when learning a foreign language. This will give you empathy when teaching your students and help you to be more understanding of their mistakes – and more patient!
But as you (and your students!) know, learning a language is not easy for all of us. Sure some of us might be natural language learners, but for many of us, it takes hard work, motivation, and dedication.
But don’t let that put you off! Here are 3 things you can do to help you in your quest to learn a foreign language.
Spend some time on the other side of the desk and become a student. Find a language school that offers classes and sign yourself up. Learning a language in a class setting gives structure to your learning. You will probably enjoy the fact that you don’t have to think about lesson planning and can just show up and your teacher will give you everything you need to learn. Besides, if you are paying for lessons you are more likely to attend!
Not only will it improve your language skills, though, it will also actually help your teaching. Being a student is not easy and if we haven’t been a student for some time we tend to forget that. Being a learner again will give you insight into the difficulties of being a student and what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. This is especially helpful if you are teaching adults as you are directly mirroring their situation.
Find a private tutor
If you’d rather not spend your free time in a classroom, find a local friend who would be happy to give you lessons or do a language exchange. You should find there are plenty of people who are willing to have a cup of coffee or a beer once or twice a week and chat to you in their language in exchange for chatting in English.
Have a look on local community boards or local websites to find like-minded people who are keen on language exchange. Though these people may not be qualified teachers, you can use what you discover with them as the basis for further study on your own. What’s more, you’ll be able to find out more about the local culture and perhaps even find a new group of friends who can show you around town.
Use it or lose it
You know all that advice you give to your students about learning English – using sticky-notes, talking to waiters, making friends? Well the same applies to you. The cool thing is, all those revision games you do with your students in the classroom will work for you too. Use Quizlet to test yourself or use spaced repetition to ensure that your retention is as high as possible. There are loads of different apps you can use to help you learn. And you’ll easily be able to take advantage of all the authentic texts surrounding you to maximise your learning.
Then, take advantage of being constantly surrounded by the language to expose yourself to it as much as possible and practice speaking at every opportunity. Now is not the time to be shy! You should find the locals appreciate any attempt at speaking their language and will be very helpful in helping you learn. What’s more, there is no better way to learn a language than by living in a place that speaks that language so you would be silly not to take advantage of it.
Read more: Spaced Repetition: What Is It And Why Do We Need To Know about It?
While not everyone is a natural language learner, just trying to pick up some of the local language will be appreciated by the local community. Try these tips and you may be surprised just how much of the language you pick up.