Why Learn a Language – The Benefits for a TEFL Teacher

Why learn a language? There are many reasons–which I list below–but if you’re an English teacher who’s already mastered the basics of teaching, then learning new languages has its own particular set of benefits, even when the attempt is unsuccessful from a purely language learning point of view. The same holds true for all language teachers, of course.

Why Learn a Language – Lessons from my Spanish class

After leaving school I took a Spanish class that taught me many things–apart from elementary Spanish. 

Not to spend 70% of the time talking in the students language was the first one. But one of the positive lessons was the value of teaching students chunks of language which are above the language level of the students. I didn’t appreciate the usefulness of this at the time, but I did when I visited Spain. I had learnt phrases as chunks, even though I didn’t really understand the grammar; nevertheless, I could use them as soon as I arrived. 

Years later I found myself doing the same when I taught English, adding chunks of English which my students might not be able to break down and analyze, but which they could use immediately. For example, when I teach a sentence pattern such as, ‘today is Tuesday,’ I will usually teach ‘yesterday was Monday’ as well. I don’t expect the students (in this case young children) to understand the past of to be. They don’t need to–not yet. I simply give a phrase they can use, and which will later help them to understand the grammar more easily, when the time is right for them to learn it.

Oh, and I learnt a few games too

Benefits of Learning a Language – General

  • You become more intelligent.
  • Mental exercise is good for your brain.
  • You can stave off mental deterioration (there’s some evidence that language learning can help stave off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia).
  • You can improve your memory.
  • You can improve your attention.
  • You can improve your knowledge of English. Learning another language helps learn your own language. Added to this, many language learning materials go from English into the other language.
  • You can improve your decision making ability.
  • You can speak to more people and make more friends.
  • You can use the language to enjoy your travel and leisure experiences.
  • You can experience new cultures.
  • You can read the literature of other languages.
  • Learning a foreign language opens the door to many things: entertainment, literature, science, art, music, cooking, sport, film…
  • Learning a language opens up new ways of seeing things and can expand your world.
  • There may be professional benefits.
  • You can gain a sense of achievement.
  • You can improve your self-confidence.
  • Language learning can help create more positive attitudes towards people who are different.
  • It improves creativity.

As if all that’s not enough…

Specific Benefits For a Language Teacher

  • You remain a learner and remain aware of what your students are experiencing.
  • You will gain respect from your students.
  • You will be exposed to new teaching techniques (if you take a class) and will be able to experiment with new methods of language learning if you use self-study.
  • Being a beginner again will remind you what it’s like and you can experience on a personal level your students’ experience.
  • Learning a new language can give new ideas for developing new materials.
  • It reminds you of what you should and shouldn’t expect of your students.
  • It keeps you fresh.
  • If you are learning your students’ language or languages, then you will understand them and their language learning problems more clearly.
  • It’s fun!
  • If it’s not fun you can appreciate your students’ pain all the more.
  • In an EFL/ESL setting the ability to speak two or three of your students’ languages may benefit you professionally.
  • You will empathize more with your students–even if you never learn the language well, perhaps especially then.

Language Learning and Language Teaching Go Together

However, if you’re still learning how to teach, I’d suggest waiting, unless you’ve just moved to a country, and you don’t yet speak the language. In this case, just do it, preferably before you arrive.

You don’t need to become fluent unless you want to, but learning a new language will help you remain fresh as a teacher.

Here are the languages used in the infogram: Portuguese, French, Chinese, German, Spanish, Finnish, Turkish, Latvian/Lithuanian, Swahili, Estonian, Zulu and Klingon