Can Anyone Teach a Language?

Today somebody asked about a school in Mexico that teaches Spanish via C.I., as the student very much likes her TPRS (etc) class. There were a bunch of responses and suggestions, and then the following.

OK, two points.

First, I havn’t said– or implied– anything Karen Rowan here says. No, language teachers are *not* replaceable “by any native speaker.” The teacher (native speaker or not) needs skills. A language teacher needs to be able to go slowly, repeat the words a lot, be interesting and restrict the vocab load. These are important skills.

Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion.  I’m not sure how that is relevant, and my opinion is not what Rowan here says. I generally prefer it when people don’t put words in my mouth. However, in one-on-one situations…

Second, today’s question:
Q: Can anyone teach a language?
A: With basic training, yes!

If you are a native speaker of ____, you need to do the following– in a one-on-one setting; classrooms are different– to teach a language. If you are a student of ____, all you have to do is tell (or get somebody to tell) your teacher to do these.

  1. Base instruction around whatever interests the student. If Johnny gets to China and wants to talk food, have at! When I was in Guatemala, I was interested in politics, food and the lives of migrant workers. Most of the vocab one needs to know– high-frequency– will come up naturally during conversation.
  2.  Limit vocabulary and recycle it. People need to hear the vocab over and over, in slightly varied contexts, to get to the automatic recognition stage of acquisition. Here is an example from a conversation I recall from Xela, Guatemala, in January of 1992:

Teacher: do you like Guatemalan food?
Me: Yes.
T: I like Guatemalan food. I also like Mexican food. I like Salvadorean food a bit. Do you like Mexican food?
M: Yes.  Tacos delicious.
T: Yes, tacos are delicious. In Guatemala, tostadas are like tacos.  They are also delicious.

The day we had this convo, we later went to the market and ordered tostadas. You can see here that the teacher used tacos, delicious, are and I/you like over and over.

My teachers were able to circle– repeat in Q&A form– whatever we both wanted to talk about. When we needed new vocab, they said it, I wrote it down, and we used it.  Daily, my understanding of my host family’s Spanish grew. I never in four weeks saw a vocab list, got grammar homework, or got asked to conjugate verbs.

Most of my teachers were Uni students, but not full-time professional teachers.

3. If I had a student going abroad, I would tell them to get the teacher to tell stories, talk with the student about whatever interests them, go slow,  and circle the vocab. I would also suggest they use any apps (eg LingQ, Duolingo) that don’t bore them, and read whatever they find interesting.

This is really all you need to be an effective  language teacher for one-on-one situationsIf it’s a class, you’ll need a method (TPRS, Movietalk, Picturetalk, Story Listening, reading) plus training in these plus novels etc, plus general knowledge about assessment, classroom management, etc.



One comment

  1. Actually, for centuries people have been acquiring language in exactly the way Chris explains. And it was no big deal. If you wanted your child to speak French, you hired a French nanny and presto! Your child soon spoke fluent French. Teaching a class in a classroom is an extremely artificial situation and teachers need specific skills to be able to teach. Perhaps the most essential of those skills is to be able to make the conversation with students feel authentic and genuine. So yes, teachers need training and you can never get enough training because you can always improve. So yes, a native speaker can help someone acquite their language by having simple but genuine conversations.But it might be useful to train them NOT to try to explain the grammar.

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