Do I need to speak another language for TEFL?

It’s a question we at EBC Trinity College CertTESOL are asked all the time. Do I need to speak another language for TEFL? Do I need to speak my students’ language to teach them English? How can I teach effectively without knowing the language of my students?

To speak the language of your ELLs (English language learners) is one of the biggest misconceptions about TEFL. You can dive in with your mother tongue – English to start teaching EFL! If you happen to be multilingual, there are many benefits to this. You will enjoy the country where you live and understand their customs and cultural beliefs, which will help you in your teaching.

However, you can learn another language when you TEFL! Some TEFL training courses include a student visa giving you the right to work for up to several hours in the country of your choice. Conditions can vary depending on your nationality and the country where you wish to work.

Let’s get started.

Do I need to speak a foreign language to TEFL?

Speaking another language isn’t necessary for TEFL. You can find a TEFL job onsite or online without foreign language skills.

All you need to teach English is fluency in English and a globally accepted and recognised TEFL certificate.

Choose a TEFL school that is externally moderated and for your sake, choose your TEFL school carefully. At the end of the day, when you interview for TEFL jobs, a big language school, an international educational outfit, or a  primary/secondary school will prefer a gold-standard certificate.

Trinity College London is a leading international exam board and independent education charity providing assessments and training worldwide since 1877. TCL specialises in evaluating communicative and performance skills covering music, drama, combined arts and English language.

To TEFL, all you need is English, a Trinity CertTESOL certificate, and enjoyment of life (“joie de vivre”)!

How does TEFL work if I can’t speak my students’ language?

Krashen’s ideas support the “English only” classroom idea. The prohibition of any language other than English in the classroom is fundamental to making his ideas work.

Stephen D. Krashen (born May 14, 1941) is an American linguist, educational researcher and activist who is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Southern California.

To learn a language, you must immerse yourself in it. If you use your ELL’s mother tongue, you are not doing your job. You will slow down their learning and, in some cases, confuse them. This is especially true when there are many cognates or “false friends” in your ELLs’ language and English. Spanish and English are a deadly combo for cognates, so it will be best if you only use English in your TEFL classrooms.

It might be hard to understand how to teach your students using a language they’re still learning. What if they have an A1-A2 level (Beginners)? This is a logical concern, and you will be surprised how you can teach (effectively at that!) using only English. You will learn how to teach at different levels from A1 to C1 when you do your training to be an EFL teacher. On the Trinity CertTESOL certificate course, there is a Unit called Unit 5 – UFL or Unknown Foreign language. Trainee teachers see how one can learn even if the teacher uses only one language. The Trinity CertTESOL will teach the UFL class using an uncommon language. We have a joke that only their citizens living in their country speak the language! On our EBC Trinity College CertTESOL course, we have taught Unit 5 – UFL in these languages: Polish, Norwegian, Hebrew, Greek, Tagalog, Korean, Russian and Shona.

Our Unit 5 – UFL is a validation that you do not need to speak the local language for TEFL. Our trainee teachers see how using only one language is possible and can also be effective when you teach language. At the end of Unit 5- UFL, trainee teachers will be able to handle basic introductions, numbers, and phrases like asking the time, directions, the weather, and much more. All these were accomplished with the CertTESOL course teacher using no English. Zero English used!

In the CertTESOL course, you will learn non-verbal teaching techniques and communication strategies. With this newly acquired knowledge, you will motivate your students to only use English and not use their first language.

And when it comes to looking for a job, your CV will be in English, and the job interview will be done in English.

Teaching abroad is a great way to learn a new language, so make sure you try to learn the local language when you TEFL abroad. You might not speak another language right now, but teaching abroad with a TEFL course package can be your start to learning a new language.

TEFL packages like the Road2Spain (CertTESOL course + 1-year student visa + 1-year Spanish Programme) can give you your start in learning a new language.

If one of your motivations for teaching abroad is to learn a language, consider TEFL options slightly off the beaten track. You will need to know the language fast.

Many times, you’ll find someone willing to do a conversation interchange. She speaks to you in the language, and you talk to her in English.

The benefits of having another language

Learning another language comes with advantages and benefits. You will become a better teacher, resulting in more TEFL opportunities. Here are just a three of them:

You can empathise with students

If you’ve learned a language yourself, you’ll be able to empathise with your students as they go through the same process.

What’s more, you’ll be able to share techniques that helped you learn a language and better address their difficulties with English. If you have a good level of your student’s language, you will understand why a specific mistake keeps popping up.

It opens up more experiences

Picking up the local language is good for socialising opportunities. As you make more friends, you will enjoy the country mote. You have friends to go out with, discover great places to travel to, good restaurants, etc. Having friends from the city you are in will also help you live in a better and more affordable way. They will have inside info on cheap yet good bargains for everything. From food to housing to clothes, to travel, you name it. They will know ways to stretch that euro further, something you or other TEFL teachers will not know.

Having another language looks great on your CV

Not everyone is in TEFL for life; many go abroad intending to return home to settle in a different career. The great thing about TEFL is that it equips you with a whole range of transferable skills that will help you move into other lines of work. Having foreign language skills can help you stand out in the job market.

According to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), two-thirds of businesses value foreign language skills in the UK alone.

You don’t need to be fluent in other languages, but you shouldn’t miss out on mentioning these foreign language skills on your CV. It shows someone with a good level of cultural awareness and who values self-improvement.

If you intend to come home after a few years of teaching, it will do your CV a lot of good to mention the work you did in learning a new language while you were working abroad.

Pick up another language while you TEFL 

If you want to TEFL, you must study to be an EFL teacher. If you are with me on this, the next step is the TEFL programme to choose from. If you feel that you don’t need to train to be an EFL teacher, and you can go out there and wing it with absolute confidence, I wish you the best.

If you are getting your TEFL training, get into a TEFL training programme that includes a one year Student visa and a 1-year Language programme. TEFL course providers offer these packages to allow non-EU citizens to work in the EU. The Programme starts with the TEFL programme, followed by the 1-year language programme incorporated into your TEFL work schedule.

Here are ways to learn the local language while you TEFL.

Go on immersion mode 

As you step out of your apartment, think in the local language. Try to avoid using the line “Do you speak English?” It’s an easy way out but living the language daily is the best way to immerse yourself.

Even if you arrive in a place where you have absolutely no idea of the language, you have no choice but to pick up words and phrases fast. Those initial steps will give you the confidence to learn a conversational language. Your knowledge and fluency of the local language will improve from then on.

Be with the locals, make friends and don’t just stick to an expat group.  

Make friends with locals!

Like moving anywhere, it can be not easy to find social groups in the city or town around you. However, joining local clubs, playing or watching sports, and many other activities involving the town’s locals can help.

For most people, helping someone integrate into their local community is a source of pride and excitement. All you’ve got to do is get yourself out there! Before you know it, you will be transitioning into your life as just one of the townspeople who happen to TEFL.

Acclimatising to their way of life, and understanding their local customs, will give you new friendships, local insight into the best food and drink and hidden historical sites. The memories will last a lifetime.

Before you know it, you’ll have picked up essential words and phrases and held conversations in another language.

Learning another language might not be a necessity. However, it’ll help shape your overall experience when you live and teach English abroad.

Embrace foreign media

It sounds simple, but when you move somewhere new, watch some TV and listen to the radio.

Even if you don’t know much of the native language, you’ll hear phrases repeatedly, and you’ll get an idea of the grammar and syntax of a foreign language. Alternatively, streaming devices provide subtitles, so watching a native programme with English subtitles might help get used to the flow of a new language.

Does it work? Of course, it does. Soap operas, comedies, radio talk shows – all these things can help when you’re trying to learn a foreign language.

So, as well as immersing yourself in person, it’s always a good idea to get watching the telly, or you can listen to the radio or podcasts.

Ultimately, being able to speak another language isn’t a requirement for TEFL. The opportunity to pick one up can be one of the job’s perks, though! Do you see TEFL as a way to help you learn a new language? Maybe you have already learned a new language through your TEFL job? We would love to hear about your experiences in learning a new language abroad.