I won’t teach you any language…

…but I will teach you how to learn it

This post is based on a NaBloPoMo prompt: What is something you know that you could teach another person if given the chance?

Been there, done that

The first answer that crossed my mind was, unsurprisingly, languages – but to be honest, it is something I have already taught. In college, concurrently with my studies, I tutored a few kids and teens who struggled with English at school. One of them needed help with his homework and grammar in general; a science student needed to get a grasp of scientific English; a girl had changed schools so many times that she had never properly learnt the basics.

One thing they had in common was an amazing capacity to disregard any assignment I gave them, no matter how easy or quick to get done. They would always “forget” to learn the small vocabulary lists I had prepared on my own time, read the texts I had sought and printed out just for them, send me a quick e-mail telling me about their week so that I could correct it, or review what we had done the previous week. And parents weren’t much help.

After a while, it became clear that I didn’t enjoy it. As much as I liked those kids, they didn’t take me seriously and our weekly one-hour or two-hour sessions had little use if they didn’t make any effort the rest of the week. Of course, they had English classes at school, but no more than twice per week, and clearly, that wasn’t enough. Given how little I was paid and how much time it took me, including preparation and transport, I eventually dropped teaching.

An alternative

For a while I considered teaching English to adults, either one on one or in small groups. I thought I wouldn’t have the same issues as grown-ups know better than to waste their own time and money on language classes. In addition, they would have concrete motivations: working or travelling abroad, getting a job or a promotion, setting an example for their kids, etc. They would actually care and stack all the odds in their favour, right?

It didn’t take me long to realise how naive I had been. Virtually every person I talked to had an excuse. Some had to learn English for their job but didn’t want to and bluntly admitted that they only wanted to get certified at the lowest possible level and be done with it. Others saw in English a useful communication tool but were allegedly too busy to give it the attention it required – conversation guides to be read in country would have to suffice.

A new hope

When I started taking part in language exchanges over Skype to improve my German skills, the people I met online gave me hope: even those who took language classes in groups or with tutors showed great motivation and made time for language practice. Many learned on their own with books and/or apps, and some had made foreign languages part of their daily lives – they watched films, listened to music, read books, etc. in their target language to get as much practice as they could.

I briefly considered online tutoring, but somehow teaching had lost its appeal. I remembered the bad more than the good and decided it was more trouble than it was worth. I was still in college and interested in a lot of things, so it was better to focus on learning than teaching anyway. After all, I was going to be a translator and didn’t have to worry about other paths any more.

Teaching language learning

But when I started working on a website for my translation business and thought hard about the kind of services I wanted to provide, the need to teach French, English, and even German arose again. In addition, I had another idea, one that wouldn’t restrict me to the languages I knew. I didn’t have to teach languages to help people learn languages; I could coach them.

I had read and been through enough to advise, assist, guide and support fellow language learners. I could help them define their objectives and get started, recommend resources to them, help them assess their progress, keep them accountable and motivated. That way I would transfer the knowledge I had acquired as a learner and keep learning about languages. And this is something I would now really like to do.

Featured image: european-union-flags-olga by Olga Lednichenko on Flickr, resized and cropped by me.

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One thought on “I won’t teach you any language…

  1. Pingback: New to the neighbourhood – First-week NaBloPoMo roundup | Keeping Track

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