The Benefit of a Non-native Speaking Language Teacher

Just because one can speak a language doesn’t mean one can teach it. English is my mother tongue, but I don’t think I can teach it. And I’ve actually done a TEFEL course!

Now I have taught English in combination with other things. I’ve taught English and non-violent communication to government workers in Vilnius. I’ve taught English Literature to a group of precocious 14 year olds at Nelson Mandela Highschool in Wilmersdorf, and I’ve taught storytelling to young people transitioning from mental health care back into the community.

But I’ve never taught English grammar.

The only time I was taught English grammar was in the 7th Grade in Spencer Valley Junior High School back in Canada. I remember my teacher was Mr. Moniker. Cool name. He is one of the very few teachers in my life that I can remember.

When I was first introduced to grammar by Mr. Moniker I was really excited. I thought there would be a secret code that I could learn. I remember it was all going fine until we came to the subject of adverbs. I remember he was a little stumped. He said “an adverb modifies a verb. What that means in practice is that an adverb ends in ‘ly’. Like ‘slowly’, or ‘carefully’’.

Indeed it is true that words ending in ‘ly’ are adverbs but these are only the adverbs of ‘manner’. The say nothing about adverbs of time ‘yesterday’, ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ (they ‘feel’ like nouns, but they are not. They are adverbs. (Do they appear to modify the verb? ah… no they don’t). Or adverbs of place ‘here’, ‘there’, ‘everywhere’. Do these seem like adverbs? No. But they are. I guess Mr. Moniker didn’t want to go into it.

I didn’t study grammar again until I was in university studying about Chomsky and formal grammar in my computer science degree. That was cool. It lead me to the conclusion eventually that ‘adverbs are the dustbin of grammar’. (There are no adverbs in a formal grammar such as Chomsky describes — I don’t think…)

Anyway, to the subject of having a non-native speaker as a foreign language teacher. Why is this a good thing?

Because the teacher knows the problems the language learner has because the teacher has confronted the same problems.

Personally, I taught myself German. Well, mostly. Obviously I had help. This means that I learned the language with the express purpose of teaching it to other people. Because if I can’t explain, I don’t really understand it.

Out of that experience comes Language Gym. We learn German in Berlin using patterns and storytelling. It’s fun. (There’s every reason for you to be skeptical that it is fun. Nonetheless, it is fun…)

The downside if that I don’t know everything. And my pronunciation could be better. But I work with Maria, and she’s pretty damn native. What I can’t do, she can do.

I may not know ‘everything’ but what I do know I really good at explaining.

If you like this, then please CLAP. If you know somebody else who might be ‘into it’, then please tell them.

There’s a Facebook group called ‘German Language Gym — Berlin’.

You can study with us in the autumn but going to