- On 12 September 2019
- Tags TEFL Florence
While an EFL teacher can get started without knowing the local language of the country they are teaching in, not knowing it will eventually present its limitations. As someone who has experienced moving abroad and teaching English, I can share some insight on why it is a good idea to start learning a little of the language before you embark on your international adventure.
During my first year teaching in Italy, I taught on my own and offered private lessons in my small town. I initially found that I didn’t need much Italian with my students because I was using the full-immersion teaching method, but I did often need it to speak with my students’ parents. These parents had no real reason to speak English with me because they weren’t the ones trying to learn it and fortunately I knew enough Italian to cover the basics: schedule, cost, and needs. Believe me when I tell you that my Italian was flawed, but we managed.
Logistics aside, one of the best things about knowing the language of your students is that it helps you navigate what they are trying to say in English because they are translating directly from their language. So, when an Italian student says “I have lost the bus” you know that they didn’t actually misplace the bus but that they missed it, and if they say what sounds like “my cat has 5 ears” you know that they are actually saying that their cat is 5 years old. By knowing your students’ language, you start to anticipate trouble areas and become a much more intuitive and understanding teacher. As an added bonus, you learn more of their language by observing how they translate something from their language to English and then reversing it. For example, with my student who said she “lost” the bus, I now understand that in Italian we use the verb to lose and not to miss in this scenario.
If you are interested in developing long-lasting relationships with your students, learning their language fosters a much more meaningful connection. Students are flattered when you take an interest in their language and are always curious about your language-learning challenges so they can compare them to their own. Understanding their language also means that you absorb what is happening around you outside of the classroom, leading to more enriching conversations in the classroom.