Learning a language can feel like a daunting task and a seemingly impossible achievement. Teaching a language, however, can seem even more intimidating. Most teachers will know that fluency in a language, while definitely important, is not enough to be an effective teacher.
So what stands out most about our most memorable teachers who helped us learn a language without resigning to hopelessness? Here are our top 10 characteristics that make the perfect language teacher!
Acknowledge your competence and remain patient
The first and foremost requirement of any teacher is to have mastered the subject they intend to teach – you would be unable to teach in the first place otherwise. However, it is vital to remember that, as a teacher, you are communicating your knowledge to someone who has very little, or no experience at all in the subject that you are highly competent in.
This is especially important in language teaching as many students may enter the course as complete newbies, or with very little notion of how to communicate in the language. As a teacher, remaining patient without getting frustrated throughout their learning is sometimes the most important quality you can possess.
Personalize the learning environment
Every individual learns differently. Changing the classroom environment in a manner to customize learning can be extremely beneficial to students and lead to increased motivation. Language learning can be a taxing task in itself – imagine trying to learn when the activities used to learn put you to sleep!
Connecting with your students to figure out what manner of learning – whether it is visual, audio or even kinesthetic – works best for them will definitely help.
Make sure students remain hopeful
There is only one sure way to accomplish this – remain hopeful and encouraging yourself. Your level of hopefulness is contagious and it inspires students to learn and believe that they can pick up the language. In addition to using appreciative dialog in the classroom (“Nice job!”; “Great point, can you further clarify?”; “Stick with it!”; “You’ll get it!”; “You learned that fast!”; “Well said!”), effective language teachers will be sensitive to students’ discouragement and readily appease and validate students’ feelings. A student noticing your hopefulness is crucial as it propels further learning, even when they feel demotivated themselves.
Be passionate and generate passion
You are obviously passionate about learning the language and communicating in it – it is important however that you bring this passion in full force when teaching it as well. If classes are drab and uninspiring they leave students in the same state. Sparking an interest in the language is imperative and this can be done by understanding your student’s motivation for learning the language in the first place or even communicating the benefits of learning the language.
The division between your knowledge of the language and your teaching skills is the ability to connect and form relationships with your students. Many of our least memorable teachers are usually those with who we had no personal connection or understanding with.
As an effective language teacher, your job is to discard the specialized language and learn to explain key language concepts, patterns and ideas in ways that students can relate to and enjoy. You can try using apps that are more student-friendly, activities that students personally connect to. It’s important to take the time out to understand why a student wants to learn the language and catering to their specific shortcomings.
Studies have shown that stimulating student participation directly causes successful language learning. Passive, quiet students most likely aren’t learning as much as those who participate actively and regularly. However, a more reserved student need not be a cause for worry – implementing a more collaborative approach of asking, understanding and encouraging can be enough. Again, the importance of being connectable cannot be overlooked, as students will participate more when they feel respected by you, and that it’s safe to make mistakes.
Be aware of your students’ development
Language learning classrooms are unique in that different learning stages will look very dissimilar from one another. Younger students, for example, will need more visual tools and playful activities rather than written ones. Language learning is challenging and can result in a lot of frustration during the unavoidable plateau stages. Understanding the language development stage of your students, therefore, offer you with a better idea of customizing teaching to suit their needs in an effective manner.
Be exploratory in teaching methods
With the rise of technology and incorporation of e-learning in classrooms, methods of language teaching have changed considerably. As an effective teacher, including the use of the technology available, is vital to creating an enhanced and more relatable classroom.
Trying to remain old-school and using only textbooks and a blackboard to teach, while not incorrect, may prove ineffective and unproductive when cheaper and more accessible alternatives exist.
Continuous improvement on your behalf
Lots of people stressed the importance of teachers continuously improving their own teaching and language abilities. Ways to do so include analyzing one’s own practices and learning from peers. Teachers ultimately also remain lifelong students, and effective tutors share what they are learning as well as show what it looks like to be a learner.
Hold students accountable
Finally, it is essential to remember that the most effective teachers can’t “make” a student learn or pass the class if the student doesn’t focus, engage with the language and put in the effort.
A student can only learn so much through teaching. Bringing a positive attitude and having the motivation to learn themselves is just as crucial to their learning process.