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  • Writer's pictureTom Garside

Why you don’t need to be a ‘language expert’ to start teaching TESOL


Language Point Trinity CertTESOL

Many would-be language teachers are put off from the job because they assume that it is impossible to become a language educator without existing specialist knowledge or skills with language or linguistics. In reality, there is so much more that contributes to an effective TESOL language teacher. 


Of course, what we do in the language classroom requires an amount of technical knowledge about language, but too much knowledge can be a problem for early-career teachers. In second language education, the main goal for students is to communicate effectively in different situations. The range of communication skills that go into language development go beyond structural knowledge and understanding of high-level grammar systems. In fact, the less we use high level terminology and linguistic theory in the classroom, the less of a barrier there is to communication, and the more learning can take place.


To overcome this language barrier, we use a set of simple and precise terminology to describe language when it is needed, and this forms the basis of the language awareness sections of initial teacher training courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL. We don’t assume or require any pre-existing knowledge of grammar or language theories, and the content of the course starts at the very beginning to make sure that all trainees are on the same page from week one, no matter how much experience they have with language or education.


Secondly, teaching is a people-centred profession, so you can be the biggest expert in language in the world, but if you don’t have the skills to engage your students, get them thinking and build confidence, then you are unlikely to get results in your classes. By definition, learning anything new puts students outside of their comfort zones, so the ability to put people at ease, accept that mistakes are part of learning, and aim for more positive results in future have much greater effects on learning than technical knowledge or language expertise. 


The ways in which we can build student confidence, correct errors sensitively, and guide classroom talk to enable learning are all part of the methodology focus of teacher training courses. As with language knowledge, there is no assumption of existing knowledge in this area, and we develop these skills in a range of ways: through observation of experienced teachers, through reflective and creative tasks and discussions, and by applying tried-and-tested teaching routines in real classes that trainees deliver during the practical components of the training course.


In fact, classroom experience can also be a drawback for teachers looking to get a teaching qualification after they have been working for some years. The more time a teacher has spent doing things a certain way, the harder it can be for them to unlearn bad habits and relearn effective methods. A brand new teacher, on the other hand, will have fewer expectations and is typically better at applying methodologies which work, and progressing from there.


If you are thinking about getting qualified as a language teacher, but are worried about your suitability for the job, the best thing to do is to remember that everyone has to start somewhere, and your starting point may put you in a stronger position than someone whose existing knowledge, experience and qualifications may not work in their favour. Your assumptions about what it means to teach English may be stopping you from being a great language educator!


Contact us to find out more about how Language Point helps people around the world to become effective language education professionals, no matter what level of experience they have.

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