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English teachers and their English

Many teachers of English, both native speakers and non-native speakers, worry about whether their own English is good enough for them to teach effectively, and what they can do to develop it. Typically, native speaker teachers tend to worry about their knowledge of language use and grammar, whereas non-native speaker teachers worry more about their proficiency in the language. Both of these concerns are important and lead to us to ask: what aspects of their English do teachers of English need to develop? Some answers to this question are given below.

The specific language needs of teachers of English
Teachers of English need to know about and use some areas of English that are similar to those required by the general user of English. Most users of English use the language to get things done (i.e. transactional purposes such as buying a ticket, going shopping, applying for something), to study, to socialise, or to engage in leisure activities such as reading, watching films or TV, surfing the Internet, etc.

Target language
The teacher needs to be able to use English to do all the things just mentioned, perhaps in order to communicate in English for personal reasons, but also because these are the areas and uses of English (the target language) he or she is required to teach; they are at the heart of most English language syllabuses and coursebooks. This is the language our learners need to learn. Let’s call it ‘general English’.

English for the classroom
But a teacher needs to do other things with the language too. A teacher needs to be able to operate as a teacher in the classroom in English, using English, for example, to present language, correct learners, respond to learners’ questions, manage the classroom and explain meaning. We can call this ‘English for the classroom’.

English for professional development
A teacher also needs another kind of English. When a teacher opens a teacher’s book or reads a teaching magazine or website, he or she will come across words and phrases that describe language teaching and learning (e.g. interaction, peer correction, jigsaw listening, gap-fill activity, task-based learning, learning style, motivation) and others that describe language and language use (e.g. stress, gerund, coherence, skimming, third conditional, function). They are words that fluent speakers of a language may often not know as they are not common in everyday language, but they are common when teachers talk about teaching, and they appear constantly in teaching magazines, on websites, at workshops and conferences, etc. In other words, this is language which teachers need when they are engaged in any kind of professional development. We can call this ‘English for professional development’.

Knowledge about language
Unlike most speakers of a language, teachers need to ‘know about language’. They need, for example, to keep up with changes in how English is used. They also need to be able to understand that a learner who says ‘I go to Buenos Aires last week’ probably means ‘I went to Buenos Aires last week’ and is not using the past simple tense. When a learner says ‘In my country we have very big taxes’, a teacher needs to realise that the learner would do better to use the collocation ‘heavy taxes’. In other words, a teacher needs to know about the systems of language and the rules that influence how language is used. These systems include its grammar, the meaning and relationships in vocabulary (lexis), how language is joined into longer chunks at sentence or utterance level and above (discourse), and how sounds are organised and used to express meaning (phonology). This knowledge helps teachers to carry out tasks essential to their job such as planning lessons, presenting language in lessons, explaining language to learners, responding to their questions and being able to judge whether their learners’ use of language is accurate or not. We’ll call this ‘knowledge about language’.

Cambridge University Press 2011

testing yourself on it ● talking to yourself in English at home. ● Study general English by: ● attending courses ● using language improvement websites. Some experts in language teaching have argued that the teacher who can speak the first language of their learners and who knows their culture has a very valuable insight into their learners’ learning.britishcouncil. It is how teachers use the language in the classroom. and have more to do with understanding the learner’s first language and learning background than with being proficient in English. Language proficiency is just one element in effective teaching. practise pronouncing it. practise saying examples and explanations out loud.g. e.g. listen and write in English. magazines and newspapers in English ● listening to the radio. e. English for the classroom. their sensitivity to learners’ learning needs. http://www. They are: general Use lesson preparation as a learning opportunity.htm ● collecting and recording new vocabulary from your reading or listening.htm Cambridge University Press 2011 . playing games with it. While it is true that a good command of language can help a teacher to feel confident in the teachers and their English Above we have identified four areas of language that a teacher needs to carry out their job effectively. http://www. monitoring and trying again ● recording yourself in English. http://www. an insight that is not available to teachers who do not share the learners’ first language. We should also remember that teaching skills such as anticipating the difficulties learners may have in learning something. it might be worth pointing out that teachers sometimes worry about their level of English more than they need to. or understanding why a learner is making mistakes or what they are trying to say are invaluable in teaching.britishcouncil. examine their vocabulary and grammar ● do all the exercises and tasks you intend to set for your students ● browse teacher sites for exposure to language and ideas. or watching TV in English ● watching films in English ● listening to songs in English (and singing them) ● using the Internet to read. find synonyms and opposites for it ● check grammar points in a reference book or teacher’s book. monitoring your performance and re-recording ● using dictionaries and exploring what they say about each word. it is not language proficiency alone that turns an English teacher into a good English teacher. before your lesson: ● rehearse instructions and explanations ● paraphrase instructions and explanations in as many ways as you can think of ● look up new vocabulary.cambridge. how they deliver those it is undeniable that feeling confident about our own language use and language knowledge helps us to operate more freely and independently as teachers in the classroom.g. what activities they choose to work with. learningenglish/ ● joining English conversation groups ● chatting in English online with friends and colleagues. relationships and motivations that they establish that make a teacher effective. paraphrase them ● read texts out loud. ■ How important is it to be proficient? Before we look at how a teacher might develop each of these areas of their English. English for professional development and knowledge about language. ■ Ideas and resources for developing English for teaching So. repeat them after the speakers. and the classroom attitudes. what can a teacher do to develop their command of the four areas of language that we identified above? Here are some suggestions: General English Get regular exposure to general English by: reading http://www. On the other hand. paraphrase them ● listen to coursebook recordings. e.

org/assets/pdf/tkt_glossary. Take on new roles in your teaching life. 2011 ● The CELTA Course Trainee Book and Trainer’s Manual by Scott Thornbury and Peter ● Alex Case http://www. They don’t require lots of time to use.English teachers and their English English for the classroom ● ● ● Observe other people teaching. e. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press.g.edublogs. Read books for teachers and magazines.jamiekeddie. 2007. Alan Pulverness and Melanie Williams. Use glossaries of English language teaching ● Nik Peachey http://nikpeachey.britishcouncil.: ● English Grammar in Use (Third edition) by Raymond Murphy.cambridgeesol. Cambridge University Press. Discuss language and language use with colleagues face to face or online.: ● Marisa Constantinides http://marisaconstantinides.tefl. Cambridge University ● Grammar for English Language Teachers (Second edition) by Martin Parrott. This can consolidate and extend your English. e.g. e. 2004 ● About Language by Scott Thornbury. 2010. keep you feeling at home in English and raise your confidence.wordpress.g. Consult pedagogic grammars (grammars written for learners of a language. which often contain exercises) and other reference materials on language. 2 and 3 by Mary ● Carol Read http://carolread. Read teaching tips in teacher’s books accompanying coursebook: they sometimes include suggestions for English for the classroom. Practise (out loud) before class what you will say in classroom management situations you predict may happen in class. Read English language teaching blogs. Cambridge University Press 2011 . ● Lindsay Clandfield http://sixthings.g. Cambridge University Press. or an examiner for international exams.pdf Attend professional development ● Jamie Keddie http://www.wordpress. and note the language they use for English for the classroom.g. become a trainer or a coordinator in your school. e. 1997 ● http://learnenglish. e. Often just using them for ten minutes a day is enough – enough to keep your English bubbling and fluent. ● English for professional development ● ● ● ● ● ● Knowledge about language ● ● ● Attend courses on language awareness and language These are just some of the resources available to teachers.: The TKT Course Modules 1. courses and Share teaching ideas and problems with colleagues in your staffroom. http:// scottthornbury. There are many more and using one resource will often help you to find out about others. either live or on video. http://www.