Anita Kiwatkowska, a.k.a. Little Miss Bossy, is a rising star on the ELT blog scene. She is currently a YL teacher at private school in Istanbul, Turkey. She also happens to be one of the few people in my PLN I have met in person. Her blog deals with YL in ELT among other things. I am very happy to have her over here for a guest piece, so without further ado…
There are three kinds of foreign language teachers.
- A teacher whose nationality is the same as the students’ and they share the same mother tongue (e.g. a Turkish teacher of English teaching Turkish students)
- A teacher who does not share the same nationality with his/her students and does not know their mother tongue (e.g. an American teacher who does not know Chinese teaching Chinese students)
- A teacher whose nationality is different from his/her students’ but he/she knows the students’ mother tongue (pretty) well
In a great majority of countries priority is given to teachers type 2 i.e. native speakers who do not know their students’ mother tongue. But is it really the best option?
I have been lucky enough to pass through all these stages. Teaching in Poland I knew the mother tongue of my students – Polish. Having started my job in Turkey, I knew no Turkish whatsoever. Living in Turkey for almost three years now, I know enough Turkish to get by.
Of all the kinds of teachers, number 2’s job is the most difficult, especially when you have to teach Young Learners. With adults it is a lot easier even if they are beginners. Adults are capable of abstract thinking, can concentrate longer and their knowledge of the world enables them to guess a lot from context.
Young Learners, on the other hand, come to the classroom knowing (almost) no English. Eliciting usually fails, as they have no previous knowledge of English. Teaching them basic instructions involves a lot of miming but eventually a teacher is still not sure whether his/her students got what he/she was trying to explain or not. And how to check whether they understood? Concept check questions are definitely not recommended. Those of you who do not agree should try to explain the word ‘only’ to a bunch of seven-year-olds.
Another issue is classroom management. Even if you succeed in having the kids sit down and do their work, there are always cases of students misbehaving. If you tell them off, the only thing they will understand is that you are angry and possibly why you feel so. Your exact words however will remain a mystery to them.
Some students, to make the matter worse, curse and use bad language in the classroom. The only way for a teacher type 2 to find out that it takes place is after other kids start complaining to their parents. And who is then to blame? The teacher, of course.
Teachers type 1 are in a much better position. In case of an emergency caused by bad behaviour or any other problems, they can immediately switch to the students’ mother tongue and have it all settled in a couple of seconds.
These teachers have also learned the foreign language themselves. They know what the process feels like and can easily anticipate learners’ problems. Most likely they will be able to explain the rules of grammar to the students better having experienced learning them before.
On the other hand, teachers type 1 often overuse L1 usage in the classroom. It’s not that I am criticizing non NESTs – explaining things in the students’ mother tongue is simply faster and a lot easier.
To take the matter further, non native speakers of a given language tend to mispronounce certain sounds absent in their mother tongue or have difficulties with stress and intonation of English. Consequently students of non-native teachers, being exposed to mispronounced words, start copying the teachers’ mistakes and the vicious circle goes on.
In contrast with teachers type 1 and 2 is teacher type 3 – myself at the moment. I no longer have the same problems as teacher 2 and knowing my students’ mother tongue well enough lets me have more control of what is going on in the classroom.
Comparing all the types, I can honestly say that being teacher type 3 works best both for me and my students. We feel more comfortable and relaxed in each others’ presence and dealing with difficulties is no longer the main issue. Most importantly this situation provides an opportunity for a constant intercultural dialogue which enhances learning on both sides – what more can one wish for?
Using Turkish in the Class