Thursday, January 05, 2006

My teacher doesn't speak my language - good or bad?

Many students of English have teachers who do not do speak the native language of the country in which they work. The English teaching business is largely populated by young graduates who want to see the world before settling down to their chosen career at home. Teaching English is the best way to finance these stays in exotic countries. But if a young person only intends to stay one year in Japan for example, he has little or no motivation to learn Japanese. In addition, the latest trend in language teaching is "immersion", that is, we only use the target language (in our case English).

So what are the advantages or disadvantages of having a teacher who only speaks English? The benefits to you, the student, are numerous. You have no choice but to communicate in English. You therefore maximise your opportunities to speak and actually learn something. This is very good practice for the real world where you may have to make yourself understood with no help from a dictionary or someone to translate.

My big problem with this however, is how competent is your teacher? We have a negative proverb about people who become teachers: those who can, do. those who can't, teach. This is saying those with the ability to do a certain job will do that job, while those who have little or no ability will try to teach others. I don't agree with this of course, being a teacher myself(!), but there is an element of truth to it when it comes to language teachers. Someone who teaches maths should be good at maths, shouldn't he? If someone got fired for being incompetent, would he make a good teacher of his trade? So how can someone teach a foreign language if they are not able to learn one? The least they can do is make an effort.

Sometimes it is quicker and more effective to tell a student what a word means in his own language. This is especially true for basic words. What's the point in spending ages trying to explain that it is an instrument one uses to write with in ink...what's ink?... it's the liquid that goes in this instrument to write with... when you can say "stylo"?

On the other hand, teacher who speaks your first language fluently has to be really discipline to insist on only speaking English in the classroom. But I'm sure you that would rather be taught by someone who has set the right example by showing that he practises what he preaches!

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