Do you need to be bilingual to teach English?

Many potential TEFL trainees come to us and ask whether they need to speak another language in order to teach English overseas or online. The good news is the answer is most definitely NO, you do not need to have any language skills other than a thorough understanding of the English language. Obviously, if you do speak the native language of the country you intend to live and work in it can be a real help in many ways, but it is not normally required by the employer.

What will I need to teach English as a foreign language?

The specific requirements for teaching English abroad or online will vary depending on the country and the individual employer. In all cases a thorough understanding of the mechanics of English will be required. On top of that, a TEFL certificate from a reputable course provider is usually a must, while some jobs will also require a degree, previous experience, and you have to be a native speaker in some cases. What very few employers will expect is you to speak anything other than English.

How will I teach English if I don’t speak the local language?

It is a well known fact that the best way to learn a new language is by immersing yourself in it. The job of an EFL teacher is to provide this environment as best they can for their students. The main reason you are there is for your excellent English language skills, something that would be devalued if you were to also rely on the local language in the classroom. While this can be a difficult concept to grasp initially, everything will become clear during your TEFL course training where you will learn a wide range of techniques designed to improve your student’s English skills without reverting to their mother tongue.

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What are the benefits of learning the local language?

Although it is not often necessary to learn the local language when teaching English abroad, it can have several benefits. Many TEFL qualified teachers actually use their overseas adventure as a way to learn another language as the immersion technique works just as well for the teacher as it does for their students. If you intend to go down this route it is often a good idea to find a job that is a little off the beaten path, which generally means that less people speak English making it easier to pick up quickly. Schools often provide free language lessons within their contract and you will have access to plenty of local people who will be more than happy to form a language exchange.

Learning the local language can certainly help your own teaching as you will experience the same process as your own students, which should enable you to empathize on a deeper level and appreciate the difficulties your students go through every time they enter your classroom. By learning the local language you will also find that you are more involved in the community and likely to have more interesting experiences as you pick up tips on interesting places to visit and places to eat that other visitors will likely miss out on. One other obvious benefit of learning a foreign language is that it looks great on your CV/resume. Whatever your long term plans, future employers are always going to appreciate foreign language skills.

How to learn another language while teaching English abroad

Simply by being immersed in the local language on a daily basis is a great start. You will be surrounded by restaurant menus, train timetables, and an entire population of native speakers just waiting to be asked directions or the price of bread, etc. Everyday essentials such as “please” and “thank you” should come easily, and simply by going about your everyday life you should pick up a good deal more. Most people will then need lessons to take their language skills to the next level and these might come through the school you are working for. Alternatively, there is almost certain to be a language school or private tutors available in your area, so find one that suits you and get stuck in.

On first arrival it is normal for people to gravitate towards the local expat community as it can really help you to settle in. However, if learning a language is a part of your journey, you should make a real effort to meet local people. Look out for local clubs that match your interests, whether its art, drama, or cuisine, social interactions are a perfect way to move your language skills forward. Playing or watching sport is a particularly popular option that encourages language learning. In most situations, local people will be happy and proud to assist your progress and to integrate you into the local community. Learning another language while teaching English abroad is usually not a necessity, but it can really help to broaden your understanding of the people and culture and provide even deeper and longer lasting memories.