Surprisingly Simple Methods (Spanish, French, German, and More!)
The things that matter most
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Recently there have been many conversations about whether or not it's possible to teach a language without being able to speak the language. The short answer is, yes. Many school districts have are teaching foreign languages without teachers who speak those languages. Of course, the goal is to be better than that. Here are a few ways to get there and ensure you are providing a better education for yourself or someone else than many are receiving at school.
- Create an environment where you (or the student) is forced to interact with the language.
- Create a system for reviewing past work and looking for signs of improvement. While doing this, pay attention to the mistakes that were common and how you (or the student) handle it now.
- Stay engaged by having ample resources. Resource management is key for maintaining engagement. You should focus on things you enjoy so that language learning is an additive to your day rather than something that takes time away. With that, here are some ways to manage resources.
Resources for language learning are vital when attempting to teach a language that you don't know. Whether you're doing it because your children want to learn a language you don't know or because a job interview that you exaggerated for on your resume landed you in front of students who are trying to learn a foreign language, building a library of resources is the first step to take.
Luckily, there is a library of resources being built constantly. If you want to see it, check out the library.
Now, after you've found, or begun to assemble, your language learning library, it's time to think about how you can teach a foreign language. While many people believe it is necessary to speak the language you are intending to teach, it is not strictly required. What is required, however, is a willingness to learn the language.
The advantage that comes with this is that you'll be able to share in the struggles that come with learning foreign languages all while building a bond with the person you are teaching. Not only that, but as neither party is fluent in the language, there is no reason to fear speaking. While there will likely still be some fear and some paralysis through analysis, it is less likely and will be less frequent.
That said, here are some things to keep in mind when you are working on developing your content library and teaching curriculum. The first of which may not be what you expect.
Learn the series in your mother tongue
Teaching foreign languages is no easy endeavor. There is a reason that so many people struggle for so long and most of the time is has less to do with the instructor and more to do with the environment in which they are trying to learn. Most of the time, people have experienced being punished for their mistakes rather than praised for their efforts and improvements.
With that said, the last thing you want to be doing is teaching from material that you have never seen before. You want to be learning the language at the same time, but you don't want to be seeing new material, in a new language, for the first time. Here's how to avoid it:
- TV Shows: Re-watch something you've already seen in your target language. Teaching foreign languages doesn't have to be awful, if you've already seen the show you already know what happens, if you already know what happens you just need to figure out how it translates into your target language. This gives you, and the student, ample time to hear spoken language as well as more and more vocabulary words that coincide with words you both already know.
- Books: Reread books. Most books have been translated into other languages and many of them likely into the language you are trying to teach. Having the book on hand in English as well is a great way to facilitate the visual connection between words and their meanings.
- Extra Resources: If you're using Google you have the ability to have almost every page translated. By changing the language in your Google settings you will begin to see and use your target language any time you go onto the internet and search for something. If you can fight through the frustration this will pay dividends quickly.
Getting in the Right Frame of Mind to Teach Foreign Languages
Imposter syndrome is completely normal for those who have attempted to learn a foreign language. It's even more prevalent amongst foreign language teachers. The reasoning is simple, do you know it as well or better than a native speaker and can you transfer the knowledge as adeptly? This is the wrong question, though, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to answer a bad question. But if that's the wrong question for a foreign language teacher to ask themselves, what is the right question? There are two.
Can you find an answer to a question you don't know the answer to?
Are you willing to learn with the student?
If the answer to both these questions is yes, then you have nothing to worry about and you are well equipped to teach a foreign language. In fact, you are probably better equipped than the average foreign language teacher even native speakers.
The ability to learn while the students learn is powerful, and saying "I don't know, but I will find out" is always better than shutting the students down because you're afraid they'll think less of you for not knowing everything. This couldn't be further from the truth.
In fact, they will likely be inspired by your willingness to continue learning. Children do not listen, they imitate. If they see you studying and learning and working to improve your foreign language skills, they will act in kind. Soon you'll move the needle more than any public schools ever could and it will all be because you cared more about actual results than optics. With a program like that, you may even find yourself at the center of a community.
Community Language Learning
One of the pitfalls many foreign language students fall into is that of learning the teacher's mannerisms and vocabulary. Most foreign language education is done and decided by the instructors and so, aside from standardized testing material, the students really only learn to speak to and with their teacher. The real goal should be to teach students to speak the way they would speak in their native language.
Community language learning is a perfect way to hedge against this. By using the language day to day, or as often as possible, the students begin to develop their own vocabulary lists, they come in with questions they need answers to, and they provide more material for their fellow students act on bringing everyone closer to fluency.
Generally speaking, there are groups of people who speak different languages in just about every community. So, whether practicing Spanish at the local taqueria or speaking Mandarin at the local specialty grocery store, exposure to the language with native speakers is all that really matters. If you can facilitate repetition and stamp out any fears of failure, your students will learn their target language without much issue.
That said, not every foreign language is available in every area. Finding input stimulus will be more important for those who do not have local resources to work with. So, if you are looking for resources, here are some things that can get you started.
Resource management is vital when teaching foreign languages. If you're teaching (or learning) Spanish, you can sign up for our Spanish Resource Newsletter! Otherwise, here are some resources that will work with multiple languages.
Reverso: Dictionary, conjugation help for charts
WordReference: Dictionary, conjugation help, and contextualized sentences
Linguno: Conjugation practice, vocabulary practice, games
PowerThesaurus: Community driven multilingual thesaurus (thesaurus becomes necessary to challenge oneself)
Second Language Strategies: New content added weekly. Tips, tricks, and tools to enhance and accelerate language acquisition.
Learning a second language is no easy endeavor. While it can be simple, there are many things that make it complex. That said, all that really matters at the end of the day is consistency. That's why we started the Duolingo movement. It's not the perfect app, but being able to see other people working towards the same goal as you is powerful. Especially when all of those people are rooting for your success, too. There are countless language learning programs, but half an hour on Duolingo, combined with the above second language strategies, will allow the average person to make more progress than most online courses.
It is not impossible to learn a language fast, but if that is the goal it is imperative to understand that it will be difficult. Picking up a foreign language at any speed is going to be challenging. But you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same. I'll be here rooting for you and watching out for your successes in the meantime.
For more content check out my Substack or find me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, get up to 55% off a Babbel subscription using this link. I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.