Language Acquisition Consulting™ Services
There are many people out there offering their services as language teachers. You want to improve your English (French/German/Spanish) for a specific reason, and you are overwhelmed by the choices out there. Should you choose one of the international one-size-fits-all chain schools, or a private tutor? What sort of background should the teacher have? What personal characteristics?
I have noticed a disturbing phenomenon basically everywhere around the world I have lived. Many people, given the choice between a native speaker teacher and a non-native speaker teacher, would automatically choose the native speaker. They assume that the native speaker is logically a better teacher. I believe that this has something to do with the fact that many people have had disappointing experiences with non-native speaker teachers when they were at school, teachers who had an inadequate command of the language and may have taught the learners incorrect words. This is just a guess; perhaps the phenomenon is simply an example of flawed logic – of course it is undeniable that native speakers have a more sophisticated command of the language, they have a “feeling” for the language that non-native speakers might never acquire. This is of course why translators and interpreters generally work INTO their native language. So, if you are interested in having a document translated, by all means look for a native speaker. But is it the same case when you want to learn a different language?
There’s one easy way to answer this question: no matter who you are, you are a native speaker of a language – your mother tongue. Let’s say somebody wanted to learn your native language. Do you feel that you would be qualified to teach that person? What does teaching involve? First, you need to be able to see the language from an objective point of view, to analyse it. You need to be able to explain structures and phenomena in the language in a clear and simple way. You need to be able to understand why the learner would have difficulty with certain structures and patterns, perhaps based on the differences between his/her language and your native language. Most people are not able to naturally do this – they have not paid enough attention to their own language; this awareness comes only after an extended period of a) learning foreign languages, and thus comparing them to one’s own native tongue, b) teaching one’s own language and being forced to answer learners’ questions. On top of having to be able to objectively analyse one’s mother tongue, teaching involves an understanding of how people learn. Would you automatically know the best way to help the person acquire the language? If you said “no” to the preceding questions, just ask yourself how a typical native speaker teacher is any different.
What about non-native speakers? Well, they have learned the language as a second language, so they went through the process that you, as a learner, have to go through. Especially if they are a speaker of your language, they will understand the structural differences between the languages and be able to present them in a way that you will understand. I am speaking here of course of non-native speakers who have studied both the target language and how to teach languages. A person who has a qualification in language teaching and linguistics, and a good number of years of experience in language education, will offer you a much higher quality of service.
Before you choose a potential language teacher, whether native or non-native speaker, ask the following questions:
a) Is the person multilingual? (I would never hire a monolingual person to teach me any language if I could avoid it.) Has the person him/herself gone through the tedious experience of learning a second/foreign language?
b) Does the person have a qualification in foreign languages/linguistics as well as in education/pedagogy/didactics?
c) How many years of experience does the person have (a certificate/university qualification is great, but there are so many things that one can only learn through the pure experience of actually teaching learners, confronting their challenges, answering their questions, etc.)
d) What is the potential teacher’s personality like? What does your intuition tell you about them? Do you feel comfortable speaking with them? (This is of great importance – learning a new language involves putting yourself in a vulnerable position, where the ego is exposed to pain. If you do not feel comfortable making mistakes with the person, you are not going to make much progress.)
As a last analogy, think of language teaching like teaching someone how to drive. Millions and millions of people know how to drive, some of them are excellent and know how to handle a car perfectly, but how many of those people are capable of helping another learn to drive? Who would you choose to help you learn to drive?
First of all, I am highly qualified and experienced in the field of language education. I meet all of the qualifications I mentioned above:
a) I am multilingual. I am a discerning, educated native speaker of English (that means I have a nuanced understanding of the language, familiarity of the language at different levels of discourse from dialects and slang to complex academic language). However, I, just like all native speakers had a limited ability to perceive the language on an objective level, until I began to learn second languages. I have learned three foreign languages to an advanced level (French, German, and Spanish) and have developed a basic familiarity with a number of other ones. Through these experiences, I have learned what it is like to learn a second language. I have gone through the same process that you are going through, so I can see the experience from the eyes of a learner. Also, this experience of learning foreign languages allowed me the chance to learn about my mother tongue, English.
b) I have university qualifications in BOTH foreign languages/linguistics AND foreign/second language education. That means I have studied the phenomenon of language as human communication, and I understand how language works as well as the many ways that languages can differ from each other. I have studied how people learn languages and have an awareness of the factors that determine successful language acquisition.
c) I have nine years of hands-on experience helping others acquire foreign/second languages. Through this day-to-day experience, I have learned so many things that one does not learn in a training course. I have developed my intuition that tells me the best way to respond to the needs of language learners and all kinds of situations that arise during the language acquisition process.
d) I believe my personal characteristics are perhaps my strongest asset as an LAC. I am open-minded and patient and I have a sense of humor. For me it is of high priority to establish a safe and fun space where my language learners can feel comfortable pushing their limits and making the mistakes that are necessary for acquiring a new language. Also, I am a life long learner and my passion for learning and discovering is contagious – my clients quickly take on some of this attitude.
I offer a wide spectrum of language acquisition consulting services. I tailor each interaction with a client based on that client’s needs. Therefore, I offer a free needs analysis consultation at the beginning of every client relationship, during which we discuss your needs and how I can best meet them. Of course, every teacher has topics that s/he finds particularly interesting – in my case, I especially enjoy teaching pronunciation, learning strategies and doing comparative analysis.
However, we can focus on just about whatever areas you would like, for example:
Focus on forms
- Text organization
Focus on functions
- Business letters
- Business meetings
- Academic papers
- Asking for information
- Making small-talk
In general, I find it is best to work with a combination of focus on forms and focus on functions.