Does learning a foreign language help teachers teach? – An #ELTchat summary (03/10/2012)

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Does learning a foreign language help teachers teach? – An #ELTchat summary (03/10/2012)

This summary was contributed by Sue Annan @sueannan on her blog and is reposted here with her kind permission.


The people present were ably moderated by @Marisa_C, @theteacherjames and @BrunoELT.


Taking part were: @shaznosel, @teachertom, @Marialva, @stephenburrows, @Noreen_Lam, @leoselivan, @SueAnnan, @sandymillin, @hmbaba, @Mo_Americanoid, @InglesnaRede, @anna_whitcher, @dianatremayne, @knolinfos, @elawassell, @Notyetlanguage, @inkscriblr, @AnnLoseva, @MarjorieRosenbe, @SahalZyad, and a number of lurkers.

Marisa started us off by asking how many of us had undertaken to learn a language recently. Bruno wanted to know whether we had struggled.
@Marisa_C has only done a bit of an online lesson in Portuguese recently, while @sandymillin has been learning Chinese. @hmbaba learned a language for her DipTESOL, but more in order to analyse the teaching techniques. @Marisa_C one of the things I remember as a beginning learner of Turkish is how difficult the step to reading paragraphs/texts was.


There were many questions:


Are NESTS taught grammar at school?


If not, as seems to be the case, certainly in the UK and the US, then learning a foreign language can only be of benefit- as they will learn about their own language through comparison with the structure of the new one, although James said that he learned more about students than about the language. Many of us agreed with Bruno that our L2 students often have a better understanding of English grammar than UK or US students.


Both the Trinity CertTESOL and the CELTA offer lessons in a foreign language to trainee teachers. The comparative element is important, and being a student in a class where techniques can be tried out and their soundness (as good teaching methods for beginners) can be assessed, is invaluable.


@BrunoElt Am I too off if I say that learning a foreign language is a step to becoming a better ELT teacher? The answer was a resounding NO!


How do our students benefit?


The key word here is EMPATHY. We are all in agreement that knowing how difficult it is to learn a language ourselves helps us to empathise with our own students. The point was raised that it can help with recognising L1 interference problems and with finding strategies to encourage our students. We are also able to employ techniques and theories from 2nd language acquisition which we have experienced ourselves, and know which methods and ideas work well. Teachers who have lived in another country appear to be more sympathetic to learners, too. @sandymillin says that having other languages reminds her that she has been in the same shoes as her students, which struck a chord with all of us.
Do teachers make good students, or are we hypercritical?
We were honest enough to suggest that maybe we are not all good students. Marisa looks at how the teacher teaches, and I am much more critical of teachers who use techniques which don’t meet my learning style. There was a debate about whether that was an issue of ego, a little ‘I would have done that better/differently’. Perhaps we should just put ourselves in the teachers’ shoes and be open to different techniques. Stephen believes that he is a good student who can recognise when a teacher is making an effort, even if the activity is not successful.


@stephenburrows: being on the other side of the fence is a rewarding but frustrating experience.


Others have had poor teachers who are badly prepared, or simply boring.


@theteacherjames: I’d love to have just one good teacher, just one.


@sandymillin: I know I’m a bad student. I speak too much English and only do my homework the night before the lesson J I prefer 1-2-1 classes so that I have some control in what the teacher does.


@AnnLoseva borrowed ideas from her teacher at University. However she makes the point that it was before she became a teacher herself, and that now she has more knowledge she would be more critical.


@leoselivan: I’m a bad student, I never do my homework, yet I make my students do it J


Is learning something, no matter what, also valuable?


A resounding yes for this one! It appears that it doesn’t actually matter whether what you are learning is a language, or edtech, or something else. By involving themselves in the learning process, the teacher can understand some of the frustration, and highs, that their students experience.


@Marisa_C If we take it a step sideways, any learner feels good about having a T who is learning something all the time.


@Mo_Americanoid I was growing impatient with my students- until I took up playing the piano!


As a language learner, which techniques used by the teacher did you like/love/hate?


@Marisa_C: Love: grammar


@stephenburrows: Love; Vocab and speaking, Hate; Grammar (Portuguese) and teacher translating words all the time


@SueAnnan: Like: enough drilling of pronunciation and structure (but hate teaching it)


@teachertom: one of my Japanese teachers used glove puppets- interesting!


@sandymillin: in Chinese lessons Like: repetition, and listening practice Dislike: teachers who talk to the board and don’t allow time to answer questions.


@theteacherjames Hate: endless grammar explanations. Teachers who interrupt to correct errors during fluency activities


@leoselivan: Hate: lists of vocabulary, or explaining every word in a reading text


@Mo_Americanoid Dislike: vocabulary lists Love: role-playing or reading dialogues


@BrunoElt: Dislike: reading aloud


Some of us don’t enjoy role-plays, or perhaps have to be in the right mood. Others love/hate reading aloud. It just proves that we are all individuals, as are our students. There was a question about edtech, which may /not be used in class, but it didn’t make any difference to our decision as to whether the teacher was good or not.
Is it an advantage if the teacher has learned another language?


@shaznosel Guess the answer lies in how she learnt it.


What insights did you gain from learning a foreign language?


@MarjorieRosenbe it helps with rapport when you tell sts about your own language learning mistakes.


@MarjorieRosenbe It helps me to teach English. When I learned a new word it was everywhere!


@leoselivan survival techniques (making the language you know fit the concept you need)


@ellawassell English is simpler than Polish –it takes longer to prepare a Polish lesson!


Many comments were along the lines of ‘you appreciate your language more’


@Noreen_Lam it’s all about being a good role model for sts. We can show them how we incorpotate the FL into our life which might motivate them to do the same.


@anna_whitcher Just because we love languages doesn’t mean our students do. WE have to engage them…


@leoselivan I can use examples of my learning to show how knowledge of lexical items develop over time. I am more aware of grammar, chunks in English


@sandymillin I think my L2 learning has benefitted from my teaching


@theteacherjames I learned more by teaching the language than by learning one


@anna_whitcher it’s important to start from scratch, to remember how hard it is for our students who really struggle.


@hmbaba it’s not about the teaching, but the sharing of study skills and knowing what students need to do to practise and succeed.


So, to sum up……


You may gain insights into the workings of your own language- or it may just help you be more aware of the needs of your students in the classroom. Whatever, learning another language can be seen to add value to the development of the teacher.


@Marisa_C offered to teach us some Greek. This opened the floodgates to other offers. @Notyetlanguage offered to teach Croatian

@ellawassell offered Polish lessons

@AnnLoseva promised Russian at some point in the future

@leoselivan suggested Modern Hebrew.


Wow! We are really fortunate in the number of languages on offer, and the generosity of spirit of our world-wide #ELTchatters.




The Neurochemistry of Empathy, #Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc, Animated

Ann Loseva’s story of a language learner


Theteacherjames’s language learning experiences


Ken Wilson’s German lessons


Language Highs


Old #eltchat summary  ‘How does your Language Learning influence your teaching?’