Do I need another language to TEFL?

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! Let’s get into it.

Do I need to speak the local language?

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.

'Thank you' written in several different languages

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!

A teacher with students

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. 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 expat community then it’s possible you can get by without needing to pick up the local language. But sticking only to expat 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 jobs 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 business 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!

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!

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