This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

ESL Teachers in CR Learning Another Language

The Costa Rica Times - A common question that is asked by aspiring ESL teachers in Latin America is if not knowing the Spanish language will hinder their abilities in the classroom. The answer to that question is both yes and no.

Let’s start with the obvious. In recent times the teaching methodology that has proven most effective in terms of languages is that of using the target language only. If the context is ESL classrooms, then that language is English. With this in mind, not knowing Spanish – or the native language of your students – does not present a problem. In fact, in many cases it can actually be seen as a positive.

In sticking with the target language only goal, students will not be able to ask the teacher questions in their own language. Rather, they will be forced to communicate in English, which will only improve their communication abilities. In addition, you as the teacher won’t be able to recognize perceived cognate or translation errors that your students are making.

One of the biggest factors in providing the best learning environment possible for your students is to have them not only speaking in English but also thinking in English. Translation errors can also occur as a result of students thinking in their own language and then saying those same words in English. Any experienced ESL teacher will tell you that having this dynamic in class is a must. Not knowing the native language of your students makes establishing this a lot simpler.

With this said, knowing the native language of your students does have a lot of benefits. The most obvious being that you are living in their country. In addition to personal skill building, knowing at least the basics of the language that you encounter on a day-to-day basis will make your life a lot easier. In terms of classroom effectiveness, every aspiring ESL teacher should, at least at one time, be a language learner.

The final assignment in Global TESOL College’s certification course is to have each trainee conduct a thirty minute language lesson to the rest of the class. The trick is that the lesson cannot be in English. The idea is to reiterate the most basic, but most forgotten, aspect of ESL teaching: that your students don’t speak English.

Listen to expats living in Costa Rica on the weekly podcast!

Listen to expats living in Costa Rica on the weekly podcast!

Whether teaching a basic or advanced level, there will be aspects of the language, and the way that you as the teacher present and speak it, that students simply will not understand. Putting our TESOL students in the shoes of having to teach people who have no idea what you’re saying –and also receiving a class in a language they do not speak – is a great lesson in perspective.

By far the most common question leading up to the start of each TESOL course is about how to teach English if Spanish is not known. As you can see, the necessity to speak Spanish, or any other language, does not exist. The necessity that does exist, however, is that of being a student of another language.

This is the most important thing any aspiring ESL teaching can do. You will learn how hard it is to learn another language, what it feels like to be a student and not understand, what makes an effective teacher from the perspective of a language learner, and how to only use the target language. With this experience, you will be a much more effective ESL instructor.

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

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