Teaching English as a foreign language overseas is a great opportunity to learn a bit of another language, especially if you are in a place with a rarer language that would be difficult or impossible to learn at home. If you’re lucky, your contract will include some free language classes by a native speaker teacher at your school, or the school will give you a discount on lessons. Here’s how to make the most of it all:
1. Take lessons if at all possible. It’s too easy to slack off when you are just learning at home. Being in a class compels you to regularly practice…plus it’s usually fun.
2. Learn some phrases as “chunks” rather than as individual words — you don’t need grammatical explanations for “Can I have..?”, “I like it” and “Where is the..?” in order to use them. If you focus on being able to communicate, rather than on total grammatical accuracy (which you are unlikely to attain anyway with simply a year or two), you will have a much more realistic standard to gage your progress.
3. Practice! You may worry about sounding silly but just try not to think about that. You have to practice to get better. Almost everywhere throughout the world, if you are a beginner at the local language, someone will speak more English than you speak of that language…so it is up to you to try to start and continue the conversation in the local language. Locals, especially if their language is not so common, will be pleased that you are trying.
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4. Do language exchange. This is where you “trade” English lessons for local language lessons — you meet with a student and half the time speak in English, half the time in the language you are learning. As a teacher, you’ll have access to English language books and teaching materials, but your local language teacher may not -—so bring some beginner English materials (pictures, vocabulary exercises) and do them in the local language. Check out ESL Base’s Language Exchange or My Language Exchange dot com.
5. If you watch English-language dvds, watch them with local language subtitles. I did something like this in Sarajevo and hugely increased my local language vocabulary, though I cheated a bit by studying the language for a year at university before I started teaching.