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Does your teacher have to speak your language?

Woman giving online lessons
If your teacher speaks your native language, that’s an asset

If you’ve had some experience learning a language online, you’ve probably come across the following situation:

You hear the ringing tone of the teleconference software. Your teacher is calling you. You click “answer.” Her face pops up on the screen. She smiles and says something unintelligible. You smile back, and then the awkwardness begins.

I know I’ve been in that situation before. I’ve had more than 500 lessons online as a student (not counting the 3000+ lessons I’ve taught online).

Some teachers like that foreign-language-only approach because they say they want to provide the student with an immersive environment. Others favor this method because… Frankly, they don’t know the student’s native language.

But should they know it?

A Teacher Doesn’t Speak Your Native Language

If a teacher doesn’t speak your native language, you have basically three problems.

One, when you hit a bump – meaning when you don’t know exactly what word you want to say –, you stay there for some time.

It might last a few seconds or perhaps minutes. But when we feel embarrassed, even one second seems like an hour.

You could chalk that up to timidity – you get nervous, your mind goes blank. But just remember: you’re paying for that time. If you hit too many bumps, you end up wasting your hard-earned money.

Two, if you’re a beginner, it’s really hard to move forward. You have to wade through a swamp. Minimum progress comes at maximum expenses.

And finally, three – your teacher might dismiss the mistakes you make as routine mistakes, not…

Language Interference

Some characteristics of our native languages might transfer to our foreign language when we are just starting out. Or even when we are pretty much advanced.

For example, English-speaking students tend to forget necessary propositions in Portuguese because in English they are not necessary.

And Spanish-speaking students might use a hyper formal word in Portuguese because in Spanish it makes part of a pretty much informal vocabulary set.

If your teacher knows your native language, he or she might systematically “attack” those slips. Eventually, you wouldn’t make those mistakes anymore.

The Teacher Speaks Your Native Language

First off, even if your teacher speaks your native language, it doesn’t mean that he is going to use your it all the time.

After all, it’s your lesson.

But having the ability to use your native language when necessary gives both of you an edge.

First, when you fall into a linguistic trap, your teacher can hoist you out of it easily. Very little time lost.

And when your teacher sees you are able to tackle a conversation using your target language, he can help you by scaffolding your progress.

It’s more or less like when you have those little wheels when you’re first learning how to ride a bike.

Little by little, he is going to remove those wheels. Eventually, you be riding on your own.

A Note of Caution

Your teacher doesn’t need to be fluent in your native language, though.

A working knowledge of it benefits both your progress and his teaching practice.

I, for one, can speak very little Polish. But when I once taught a Polish-speaking student, it was enough for me to know which words were cognates, and what structures of the Polish language I could draw upon to explain concepts and practice Portuguese with him.

So, does your teacher need to speak your native language fluently? Not necessarily. But it sure is an advantage.

Right now, I have a few remaining spots available for new students. For more information – and a free linguistic consultation session –, contact me here.


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