Do I need to Speak the Local Language to Teach Abroad?

One common question asked by people wanting to teach English abroad is, “Do I need to speak the local language?”

“I’m going to teach English in Koreado I need to speak Korean?”
“I’m going to teach English in Greecedo I need to speak Greek?”
“I’m going to teach English in Mexicodo I need to speak Spanish?”
“I’m going to teach English in Brazildo I need to speak Portuguese?”

The simple answer is, “No.”

In the Classroom

To actually teach you don’t need to know the local language. These days classes are taught almost entirely in the target language‏‎ which means you introduce, explain and practice in English.

This is basically trying emulate the full immersion‏‎ technique; essentially you are trying to put the student in the same kind of linguistic environment that child would learn its own language.

Occasionally it can help to be able to translate into the local language, but this is by no means a necessity. In some schools they will have a local teacher taking the total beginners‏‎ classes and some grammar classes to explain the intricacies and fun of grammar and syntax whilst the “foreign” teacher merely takes conversation classes and the upper level students.

Having said this, it is certainly by no means unusual for a beginner class with no English whatsoever to be given to a new English teacher fresh from college and with no local language at all.

In fact, it does the students good. To communicate they MUST speak English and that’s what it’s all about.

Teacher Tip: Many teachers have a strict policy of English Only‏‎ in their classrooms and make up a sign for the wall saying as much. As long as your class are speaking English they are practicing and learning but the moment a student resorts to their mother tongue‏‎ simply point to the sign and wait for them to change back into English.

Mother Tongue Influence

Sometimes it does help, however, if you do speak the local language. This can often aid in understanding why your students make certain types of errors.For example, while in English adjectives‏‎ normally come before nouns, in many languages the opposite happens:

{noun} + {adjective}

If you know this when your students say something like:

* the ball red

you will understand why and be able to correct it easily and explain it to the class.

Outside School

Of course if you’re living overseas it is helpful to understand the local language just to get around town and buy your shopping.

In most places this won’t take long to get the basics. It may seem daunting at first, but with a little application you will soon learn how to order a beer or tell a taxi driver where to go – and if all else fails there aren’t many places around the world where there are no speakers of English (however poor) to help out.

Useful Links
Culture Shock‏‎ – the ins and outs of living abroad.

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Posted in Finding TEFL Jobs, Foreign Languages vs English, Teaching Around The World.

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