It’s a question we’re asked on a daily basis: do I need to speak another language to TEFL? Surely, if you’re teaching English you would need to be able to speak your students’ native language? How else do you effectively communicate?
Actually, it’s one of the biggest misconceptions about TEFL! Though being multilingual – or a polyglot, if you prefer – can have major advantages, it’s not a requirement to get started on your TEFL journey.
However, if you are able to learn another language, it can certainly help; and a TEFL course will even give you pointers on how to do just that.
Let’s get into it.
Do I need to speak a foreign language to TEFL?
The good news for you monolinguals out there is that speaking another language isn’t necessary for TEFL. Not having foreign language skills won’t prevent you from finding a TEFL job abroad or online.
All you need to teach English is fluency in English (obviously!), a TEFL certificate, and, in some cases, a degree as well. You’ll find that few jobs will list a requirement for other languages – those that do are typically bilingual institutions.
If you’re worried about needing a second or even third language, don’t worry. For TEFL purposes, English is all you need.
How does TEFL work if I can’t speak my students’ language?
The best way of learning a language is to be immersed in it, and your role as an EFL teacher is to provide that opportunity for your students. Your value is in your ability to speak English fluently, so using your students’ mother tongue in the classroom would actually undermine this.
It might be hard to wrap your head around the idea of teaching students using a language they’re still learning. What if they’re beginners and know very little English? But that’s where your TEFL course comes in. You’ll learn techniques for communicating non-verbally and how to help students understand without reverting to their first language.
And when it comes to the recruitment process this will all be done in English, so there’s no need to worry about translating your CV.
Teaching abroad is a great way to learn a new language
You might not speak another language right now but teaching English abroad can be a great way of picking one up! While it’s not necessary for the job, being able to speak the local lingo will make navigating day-to-day life a whole lot easier.
Some teachers can find themselves working in an area where few people speak English, which can be really conducive to language learning. If one of your motivations for teaching abroad is to learn a language then consider options a bit off the beaten track where you’re more likely to find yourself needing to pick up a language out of necessity.
You’ll find that some jobs will even offer free language lessons as part of your teaching contract. And you shouldn’t find it hard to find someone willing to pair up for a language exchange, where you teach them English and they teach you their mother tongue.
By living and working in a foreign country you’ll find yourself able to pick up a language so much more easily than you ever did in school. It’s a great opportunity, so make the most of it!
The benefits of having another language
Learning another language comes with a wealth of benefits. Some of these can help you become a better teacher and others will open you up to more opportunities and experiences! Here are just a three of them:
You can empathise with students
If you’ve learnt a language yourself then you’ll be able to empathise with your students as they go through the same process.
What’s more, you’ll be able to share techniques that helped you learn a language and better understand the anxieties and worries your students might have.
It opens up more experiences
If you’re teaching abroad in a big city with a large ex-pat community then it’s possible you can get by without needing to pick up the local language. But sticking only to ex-pat communities and not meeting and socialising with locals arguably means you’re missing out on what that country uniquely has to offer.
Picking up the language opens you up to more experiences and socialising opportunities. Your social pool massively expands and you’re more likely to pick up great tips for places to visit, where to eat, and more.
Having another language looks great on your CV
Having foreign language skills can help you stand out in the job market. Not everyone is in TEFL for life, many go abroad with the intention of returning home to settle in a different career. The great thing about TEFL is that it equips you with a whole range of transferable skills that will help you move into different lines of work.
Two-thirds of businesses in the UK value foreign language skills according to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry). Even if you aren’t completely fluent in the language it still looks great to employers – it shows an ability to learn something difficult as an adult as well as a level of cultural awareness.
If your intention is to come home after a few years of teaching then it would be in the interest of your CV to put the work into learning a new language while you’re abroad!
How to learn another language while you TEFL
Let’s say you’re keen to learn another language while you teach English abroad. How would you go about doing that?
From the obvious solutions to the less well-tread paths, let’s have a look at how you’d go about learning the native language while you’re teaching English.
To really get the most out of your TEFL experience, It’s as simple as reading train station maps, ordering food, going out for drinks or asking for directions. Initially, you’ll find yourself well-versed in the phrases you need for everyday living.
Saying “please” and “thank you” at the supermarket, getting around in a taxi or bus, reading information at tourist sites; all these things add up.
Even if you arrive somewhere with no language skills in your back pocket, you’ll be forced to pick up words and phrases over a short period of time. Those initial steps will give you the confidence to learn conversational language, and from then on, your bank of local language knowledge will only grow.
Take language classes
When you’re negotiating your contract with an employer abroad, you might be able to sort out language classes as part of your employment. Especially, that is, if it’s a school, college or University.
For employers, depending on what your role is, having some skill in the native language could be imperative. Therefore, they should be willing to offer access to language classes.
If not, it’s likely that language learning facilities will be available locally. It’s worth looking online before you embark on your TEFL journey to see if in-person language classes are conducted where you’re teaching. If not, there are plenty of online resources to get you started.
Make friends with locals, not just expats
This one’s simple; make friends with locals!
Like moving anywhere, it can be difficult to find social groups and commonalities with the people who live in the city or town around you. However, joining local clubs, getting involved in a local arts scene, playing or watching sports and myriad other activities can really help.
For the majority of people, helping someone integrate into their local community is a source of pride and excitement. No doubt before long, you’ll be able to seamlessly transition to life in new surroundings – all you’ve got to do is get yourself out there!
That way, you’ll be able to forge friendships, explore the hidden spots of your new locality, enjoy the best food and drink and get a local’s perspective on your new home. The memories will last a lifetime.
Before you know it, you’ll have picked up essential words and phrases, and you’ll be holding conversations in another language.
Learning another language might not be a necessity. However, it’ll help shape your overall experience when you live and teach English abroad.
Embrace foreign media
It sounds simple, but when you move somewhere new, watch some TV and listen to the radio.
Even if you don’t know much, or any, of the native language, you’ll hear phrases repeatedly, and you’ll get an idea of the grammar and syntax of a foreign language. Alternatively, streaming devices provide subtitles, so watching a native programme with English subtitles might help to get used to the flow of a new language.
Does it work? Well, it has done in reverse.
Liverpool Football Club manager Jürgen Klopp, for example, revealed that the TV hit Friends helped him learn English! Soap operas, comedies, radio talk shows – all these things can help when you’re trying to learn a foreign language.
So, as well as immersing yourself in person, it’s always a good idea to get watching the telly, or you can listen to the radio or podcasts.
Ultimately, being able to speak another language isn’t a requirement for TEFL. The opportunity to pick one up can be one of the perks of the job, though! Are you interested in teaching abroad so you can learn another language? Have you done this already? Let us know in the comments!