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6 reasons for EFL teachers to learn a second language

professional development Oct 25, 2021

You might have heard that it’s not necessary to speak your students’ L1 to be able to teach them, and while that’s certainly true, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn ANY language! Check out these 6 reasons you might want to learn another language as a teacher.

1. It’s going to give you a whole new perspective on your students’ efforts!

If you haven’t had the (frustrating, exhilarating, fascinating) experience of learning a second language, you owe it to yourself and your learners to give it a shot. Why?  Well, if we’re honest, the world is a bit easier to navigate as an English speaker, even when you’re monolingual. This gives us a different perspective of the world than the one our students might have!  And if you really want to understand more about the language learning process, this is a type of learning you should attempt yourself. You might fall in love with the L2 you choose and keep working to become fluent, but even if you decide it’s not for you, having given it an honest shot will help you identify with your learners more when they run into challenges in the classroom.  When they know their teacher also has some of the frustrations and obstacles in learning that they’re having with English, it’s a fact that can build rapport and help them feel more comfortable making mistakes and taking risks in class.  

2. You’ll become an expert problem-solver. 

Nobody knows how to communicate with a limited vocabulary, memorize tricky rules, or recognize patterns quite like a language learner! If you really want to tap into your cognitive superpowers, learning a language is a great pathway to do so.  You’ll start to find connections, draw comparisons, make word associations, and develop mnemonic devices on your own, whether you’re studying, washing your hair, or going for a run. That extra neural activity is going to pay off– your brain is going to start looking for useful relationships between ideas, details about how things work, and all types of other connections in other areas of your life, as well. The challenge of learning a language turns the average person into a creative problem-solver. 

3. Flexible communication will become your new superpower. 

If there’s one thing a language learner has to get good at early on in their learning, it’s communicating around knowledge gaps!  Your students may surprise you and even provoke a few laughs when they try to express an idea without having a few of the keywords they need. And yet, they still tried, and it’s possible that you still understood them! Finding creative ways to explain ideas with alternative words, descriptions, and perhaps even miming is a skill you’ll hone as you learn a second language. 

4. Your error anticipation game is going to be on point. 

While you can’t anticipate every error that your learners will make in class, you can anticipate some of them! Around half of the errors they make will have something to do with interference from their L1. If you find most of your students come from the same L1 background, it makes sense that you might choose that language as your L2. Learning that L1 can help you start to find relationships between the two languages that allow you a better understanding of why some parts of English are easier for your learners than others.  When you start to notice differences in pronunciation, structures, or word-formation, that’s where you’ll also start to notice some of your learners’ errors becoming repetitive.  If you learn these things as well in their L1, you’ll start to find you can anticipate a good chunk of the errors they’ll make in class, and prepare yourself to explain away the confusion in a few different ways. Imagine knowing the obstacles your learners will face before they come up in class.  That’s a game-changer! 

5. You’ll gain a new window to a different culture. 

Of course, there are cognitive benefits, and even career benefits, to be had from learning a language. But don’t forget one of the most beautiful reasons to learn a second language: it will open up a whole new world for you! Imagine being able to communicate with a whole new community of people– watching their movies, understanding the lyrics to their music, enjoying their memes. Thanks to the internet, you’ll be able to find chat partners to help you develop your L2 further, and you’ll have an unlimited number of authentic resources you can access to take your L2 skills for a test drive whenever you want.  Knowing more about a language and the people that speak it gives you a richer life, full stop.  

6. You can facilitate communication with students about your courses. 

If you happen to be a freelancer, or if setting up courses is part of your responsibility at your workplace, then you know sometimes it can be hard to explain the structure of a course or get input from your learners when they’re low-level English users. Imagine if you spoke the L1 of most of your learners– you could have a brief exchange in their L1 to discuss and agree upon the structure of the course, the schedule, and anything else you need to agree upon in a clear way. Of course, this step isn’t necessary and with the online tools we can all use to translate, draw, or otherwise communicate information, learning a language isn’t the fastest way to solve communication problems on the spot. However, if you know you’re going to work with students from a specific L1 background, learning more of that language will absolutely come in handy for your own marketing and admin purposes, not to mention questions that your students will likely have in class.  

Is it absolutely necessary to speak a second language to teach English? Of course not! But why would you let your learners have all the fun when you could be reaping so many multi-dimensional benefits from the learning experience yourself (and not to mention becoming a stronger linguist and teacher)? What language are you interested in learning?