Global English: Take the Mystery Out of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

The English language has become a commodity throughout the world, yet there is a shroud around the manner in which it can be or should be taught and who can teach it. What is not widely known is that nearly anyone with a passion for helping people can teach English on some level provided he or she knows English functionally, and note that I did not say perfectly or expertly.

The Mystery is a pack of myths and misunderstandings.

Several myths and misunderstandings about TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) include that in order to teach, a person claiming to be a teacher must be an expert in the language, have thorough knowledge of grammar, and have a specific degree that proclaims his or her proficiency and knowledge. Those things are absolutely not true.

Most speakers of English are not experts in the language, yet they have a working adeptness that allows them to communicate effectively, and so they make great teachers. They have what English language learners need and want. Few native speakers of English could pass a thorough grammar test, but they know when the grammar is being used effectively and they know enough about how the language works to teach it to others. They have what English language learners need and want. English is being taught throughout the world by people who do not have degrees in education, language, or TESOL; nevertheless, people are learning English from them. Some students are impressed by degrees, and some teaching institutions do requires specific degrees, though many do not. Simply having a degree or looking like you can teach English (whatever they means) does not make a person an effective teacher. Yet there are many individuals who have a knack for teaching and especially for helping others to acquire language. They have what English language learners need and want.

What else do English language learners need and want and do you have it?

Consider who the learners of English are and you can figure out want they need and want; then you can surmise if you have it. Many of them need to learn English because they’ve landed in an English-speaking location and they need the language to work and/or to be a part of the community. Or they are in other countries where they need to communicate with the English-speaking world for various reasons. They are often people with intelligence, motivation and dignity, and they want to be seen as such despite their limitations with English. Without a doubt they are people who for one reason or another need to learn English so that they can begin to use it. Then, they want to gain more English and use it even more effectively so that others do not cut them off, put them down, embarrass them, or treat them as second class. They want to engage in productive work and to not be held back due to limited communication skills, and they want to be a part of the society in which they live and raise their families.

English language learners especially need a teacher who is understanding and compassionate. Language has often become an issue of struggle and embarrassment for them. They struggle to understand English and to make themselves understood. They are often embarrassed when people react to their accents or when people simply cannot understand them because of accents. They want respect for their humanness, their intelligence, and all of their other fine attributes. They want a teacher who sees them as human and not as the “other.”

They need a teacher who is practical about grammar and who knows how the English language works most effectively. Some teachers become so caught up in their own ostensible knowledge of grammar rules that they cannot begin to convey true language meaning to students. They actually frustrate students by trying to explain the language. English language learners already have high anxiety about the language and they need a teacher who does not increase that anxiety. They need a teacher who views human communication as being far more important than detailed explanations of grammar rules, especially those rules that seem to have more exceptions than the rules imply. English language learners want a teacher who shows them how to use language patterns in real-life situations.

Degrees are often impressive and it doesn’t hurt to have a solid education, yet it is essential to realize that it is not about degrees-it is more about how the English language learner learns. We all need to continuously improve our skills so that we can help English language learners more efficiently, and we need to add professional development to our resumes so that we create more teaching opportunities for ourselves. But, we must admit that for language learning to take place, the ingredients must include a person who needs English and an understanding, compassionate, practical person who is willing and anxious to teach it. So, now you can answer the question: Do you have what English language learners need and want?

Sarah Anne Shope, PhD, is the founder and instructor of the Global

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