Monday, 16 September 2013

6 Things That Learning a Second Language Has Taught Me About Teaching English.

As teachers of English a lot of us are in the very fortunate position of living in a foreign country. I, like I'm sure a lot of you have done, have used this fantastic opportunity to get involved in the local culture and also to try to learn the local language. As well being incredibly useful in my daily life, I believe it has also made me a better and specifically a more understanding teacher. Here is a list of things that I believe learning a second language has taught me about teaching English.

1. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are completely different skills.
If only I could say half the things I can read in Korean I may be able to have a semi decent conversation. But unfortunately it is much easier to read a difficult text than it is to say it. By trying to learn a second language I now know that even though some of my students can read really impressive articles and texts, the speaking sections of my lessons have to be a lot easier.

2. Be patient when waiting for a student to reply.
This has happened to me too many times to count. I will be on the street, in a shop or at my school and someone will say something to me in Korean. I will hear the sentence and semi understand some of it. Unfortunately it's not enough so I will just give the person a confused look and mumble something in English. Then about 30 seconds later I will realise what they asked me, and then 30 seconds after that I will have come up with the perfect reply, which if said a minute earlier would have blown their mind (or at least answered their question..). Ever since this started happening, I have become much more patient with my students, realising that their silence is probably not them blindly ignoring me, but in fact just the time it takes them to process what I have said and try to come up with an answer. I now try and avoid this situation by giving the whole class some questions, and then giving them a few minutes to think of some answers before asking the questions again.

3. Vocabulary can take a lonnnng time to sink in.
I swear there are some words I see/hear almost every day, but I still don't know what they mean. Like the phrase 'to eat in or take out'. I hear that every morning when I buy my coffee and every time it sounds like they are asking me a different question. This has taught me that just because I have introduced some vocabulary or phrases at the start of the lesson, does NOT mean that the students are going to instantly remember. In my classes I now make sure to review the new vocabulary throughout the lesson so that the students have a better chance of understanding it.

4. Confidence is key.
I wrote an article on the importance of instilling confidence in your students and how to do it here, so I will just sum up what I wrote. Basically if the students don't have the confidence to speak loudly and clearly in English, it is going to be significantly harder for them to be understood and therefore learn English.

5. Give the students as many chances to speak as possible.
What is the most exciting thing about learning a new language? For me and I'm sure for many other language learners it is putting what you have learnt into use through speaking. However even as someone living in a country that speaks the language I am learning, I sometimes find it hard to find real chances to practice what I have learnt. So imagine how frustrating it must seem for your students whose only chance to use what they learn is in your lesson! In my classes I now do as many speaking activities as possible and more importantly, I try to speak normally to my students as often as I can. Whether before/after class or just speaking to them about the activity they are doing during class, I think that this natural conversation practice will really boost their English ability.

6. Basically, language learning is a very long, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately very rewarding process.
Potentially the most important thing I have learnt is that learning a language is very hard. It's always a bit frustrating when my students forget something a week/day/hour/minute after I taught it, but then I realise I can't count the number of times I have instantly forgotten something after learning it. I can now recognise that whilst my students will forget some things, they will also be slowly picking things up. As long as my students English ability keep going up, even if it is a slow process, they will get there in the end!


  1. Hello there, your writing is very awesome and as a author you're quite brilliant at writing inspiring words. I really enjoyed this particular blog post and will looking forward to start learning a foreign language. Thanks.

  2. Hi, your composition is exceptionally great and as a writer you're very splendid at composing moving words. I truly appreciated this specific blog entry and will anticipating begin taking in an outside dialect. Much obliged.


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