The Language of the Heart
by David Broersma
One of the best ways to legitimize your own teaching is by being a learner yourself. The task of teaching someone a second language is a task that is extraordinarily complex for both teacher and learner, but sometimes as teachers we can lose sight of just what an accomplishment it is to become intelligible in another language. For this reason, and many others, if we are teaching English as a Second Language, we should also consider learning a second language ourselves.
Language learning for teachers communicates some powerful messages to the community around us:
- It shows that we want to learn from them as well as teach them. Everyone loves to be a mentor—why not give someone else the opportunity to mentor you? Humility is very attractive.
- It shows that we care about and value the language and culture that our students have mastered already.
- It demonstrates that we do not imagine that there is something inherently more valuable about the English language.
- It communicates that we are available for relationships. They do not have to master our language to be a candidate for friendship.
- For those who teach outside an English-speaking community, it also communicates that we are available for relationship with people who do not have the money or time or inclination to learn English, and as a result, we can be enriched by the lives and contributions of people who do not need anything from us.
If you have decided to learn a second language, how do you begin? The following are some suggestions:
- Be the student that you dream of having—positive, committed, self-directed, self-aware.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. If you are teaching full-time, you will only be able to fit a fairly small amount of language learning into your routine, but fit it in anyway and stay true to the plan.
- Get a language helper who is NOT one of your students and pay him or her to practice the language with you. This should not be an exchange of time in English for time in the other language because you want the relationship with this person to develop only in the second language. Pay your helper a reasonable fee—because listening to a low-level student speak their language is annoying. You know this.
- Experiment with different language learning techniques. Try things that you are asking your own learners to do and see how they feel for you.
- Make use of all of the resources available to you: classes, paid language helpers, books about the language, the community of native speakers around you, materials on the internet, and so on.
- Recognize that discouragement is a part of language learning, and overcome it by turning it into empathy for your own students’ struggles.
One of the most astonishing characteristics of the Master Teacher is that he does not ask us to endure things that He did not endure himself. Learning language when we are language teachers can be a useful way to follow in his footsteps.
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