Would you take piano lessons from a teacher who doesn’t know how to play the piano?!
It sounds unbelievable, but every day in countries around the world, people learn subjects from teachers who have never actually learned the same subject! In the world of ESL, this is the case for a lot of native-English speakers who complete a TESOL certification course and go abroad without having ever learned to speak, read or write a foreign language.
It is possible to teach someone a foreign language without having mastered a foreign language oneself, and TESOL courses serve to bridge that gap of lack of practical experience. Nonetheless, a TESOL-certified teacher who has never learned a foreign language is still teaching a subject that they have no personal experience with, and this does have an impact on students.
About the Author: Erica completed the 250-hour TESOL Diploma. She has more than 9 years of experience in Japan.
During the TESOL course, teachers do learn to identify effective techniques and methods, but when they begin to teach in real life and start encountering or creating new material or face new classroom situations, teachers without personal experience learning a foreign language have very limited ability to accurately determine if the new material will actually be useful for their students.
In my efforts to learn Japanese, I came across various textbooks and teaching methods that I found were not helpful to me at all, and others that were very beneficial. The reason I knew which ones worked and which ones didn’t is because I went through the process myself and saw the results (or lack thereof).
Later, when working in Japan I saw teacher after teacher using methods to teach speaking that I knew from personal experience were actually incredibly ineffective for building speaking skills. These teachers were using textbooks designed to teach speaking, but because the teachers themselves had never learned a foreign language, they could not identify which materials in the textbook were actually good for speaking, and which were best to put aside or adjusted to improve efficacy.
I am not suggesting that a teacher needs to be completely fluent in a foreign language before they begin teaching, but I do believe that a teacher needs to be committed to learning a foreign language in order to build a solid understanding of what materials and methods are effective, and also to learn how to adjust and create new methods to give their students the highest quality lessons possible.
To all native English-speaking ESL teachers who hesitate about learning the local language: If for nothing else than for the sake of your students, I urge you to take the plunge and start learning! Your students will thank you for it, and your time in class will be all the more meaningful and rewarding.