Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Can I Teach English?

Do ESL teachers need to know the native language of the person to whom they are teaching English? I'm often asked by other native English speakers if I know Korean, Chinese, Russian, Chinese, etc. They are curious about how a person can teach another person if they don't speak the same language. As it turns out, I do speak some Spanish, but I try to use it very, very little with my native Spanish speaking students.

The short answer to whether someone needs to speak the native language of the non-English-speaking person when teaching them English is "no." In fact, it is often better if the the ESL teacher or EFL teacher does not speak the non-English language because it is very tempting to use the non-English language.

Current language acquisition theory and practice for adults (at least in the U.S.) is to speak to the English student solely in English. Theoretically (and in practice) this helps the student to learn the language faster.

This should be noted that this particular approach to teaching English as a Second Language applies only to teaching ESL or EFL. That is, this approach applies when the target goal of the student is to learn English. It does not necessarily apply when students have to learn another subject matter as well as English. This case happens, for example, when a child who is a new immigrant comes to the U.S. and is put in school to learn the subjects appropriate for his or her grade level, as well as English. In this case, the more reasonable approach is bilingual education.

So if you want to be an English as a Second/Foreign Language teacher, you don't need to know your students' languages, although it may be helpful in some instances.

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