Naomi Sveholm: 3 Reasons language teachers should be language learners first

As a language learner-turned-teacher, I believe all language teachers should study another language—especially with another teacher. There are numerous benefits to practicing what you preach, but I’m going to cover just a few.

  1. Teachers often find themselves in a sort of bubble: they’re focused on leading their own classes and rarely see other teachers at work. Being part of a language class boots me out of my bubble and allows me to observe other teachers at work. I can see firsthand what I like and dislike about certain styles of teaching and I often get new ideas about what to do—and sometimes more importantly, what not to do—in my own classes. I had a particularly bad first-level German teacher who lectured too quickly and way too much, while his co-teacher was fantastic, giving us a variety of activities and challenging us just the right amount. Being a student in this situation brought my attention to the specific strengths and weaknesses of each approach.
  2. As a student, you can observe other students more than you can as a teacher. Teachers should have a very active role in the classroom and it’s not always possible to truly observe individual students. When I’m not the one on the spot, as a teacher or being called on, it’s often easier to notice different learning styles and think about how specific activities work for a general audience, plus consider how to adapt them for unique situations.
  3. It’s good to remind yourself how hard it is to learn a language. I’m much more empathetic when I remember how overwhelming it is when you understand nothing at the beginning (especially with a new alphabet), and how frustrating it is during language-learning plateaus. And while I know that listening can be useful to absorb the cadence of a new language, I’ve also seen the advantage of having a teacher force me to speak.

My teaching has certainly reaped the benefits of being a language student and I think every other language teacher can benefit as well. It’s a great way to get new ideas, observe others and become more empathetic toward your students. If you’re a teacher and you’ve never studied a language with a teacher, I encourage you to do so. I know I’m a much better language teacher from my experiences as a language student.