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March 11, 2005

Workplace Issues - Can You Say Hola?

Or perhaps the better question is: Should you?

Hello again,

Recently, I was in one of my beginner classes—where I make it habit never to speak anything but English—and one of my students was having a difficult time understanding a particular point. Every single fiber of my being wanted to shout out the sentence in Spanish to make it easier for him. But I didn’t. You know why?

I have a theory. If my students knew that I spoke Spanish, I believe that their expectations of me would change immediately. No one wants to struggle to get a point—people naturally want do things the easy way—but that’s not necessarily best when it comes to learning a new language. And so if they knew that I spoke Spanish, they would expect me to use it in the classroom.

And so I fake it. I pretend that . . .

. . . I don’t understand anything they say to me in their mother tongue, and I make them work for every noun, verb and adjective that they acquire.

Is that just mean?

Perhaps, but they do pay me to learn English, and they seem to learn faster using this method. What do you think? Do you only speak English in your classroom, or do you sometimes use the student’s language?

People often ask me if it’s necessary to speak the language of the country where they’ll be teaching, and my answer is usually two-part. No for the classroom, but in order to enjoy a quality personal life…it definitely helps.

For example, I can’t imagine not being able to communicate with people in order to do my daily tasks. Being able to understand and get across my needs simply makes my life easier. In addition, it allows me to meet friends and have true friendships with the people in my city. But the problem with many ESL teachers is that they simply don’t have the time to learn the local language.

To be honest, it took me about a year to learn Spanish because, with my teaching schedule, I simply didn’t have the time for classes. And even though my first year in Mexico was full of rich experiences that I’m sure I’ll always think warmly of, quite frankly, it could have been a whole lot easier!

And so my advice to anyone considering taking off for another country to teach English? Don’t, under any circumstances, use the local language in the classroom (because once you do, you can’t undo it!), and above all, at least learn how to ask where the restroom is in the local language before you arrive!

One final note. Have you signed up for our new ESL Teacher’s Newsletter yet? It’s due out next week, and will be full of valuable information just for teachers!

Until next time,

Michelle

Posted by msimmons at March 11, 2005 12:19 AM

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