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How to Know if Becoming a Foreign Language Teacher Is Right for You

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Here are several considerations to help you decide if you should pursue a career as a foreign language teacher - no matter where you are on your career path.

A Career as a Foreign Language Teacher

Are you already proficient in at least one foreign language and want to use this skill to earn a living? Does becoming a foreign language teacher seem like a good way to make a career out of your love for world languages?

If you're just starting on your career path, remember that the teaching profession demands full devotion. If you're ambivalent about teaching, you may want to consider a different profession where you can use your foreign language skills. Maybe you're already committed to teaching. Whether you are an aspiring or an experienced teacher, combining your foreign language and teaching skills could be exactly the right career move.

Inside a Foreign Language Classroom

Before you embark on a career as a foreign language teacher, think about what you might encounter every day in your classroom. Remember that teaching a foreign language involves more than providing instruction in vocabulary and grammar.

Introducing Students to the World

When you teach a world language, you are effectively introducing your students to both the language and the people who speak it, including their history, culture and customs. You're also showing them a new way to look at the world.

Foreign languages teach students a new way to look at the world.

Keeping Lessons Interesting

One benefit of teaching a foreign language is that you can mine the cultures of entire countries for teaching materials. In the case of living languages, these cultures are not static. Even if you teach the same grade level for many years, you can keep your lessons interesting for yourself and your students by taking advantage of readily available multimedia resources, including videos, films, music and television programs. Plus there are reams of written media, like newspapers, magazines, books and comics, which are a rich resource for language learning.

And, of course, field trips to ethnic restaurants are a welcome way to combine cultural and linguistic learning!

Textbooks are only one resource used by foreign language teachers.

Using the Immersion Method

If you use the immersion method to teach a foreign language, you'll need to dynamically gauge the level of your students' comprehension, which may vary greatly. Your creativity will come into play as you discover how to make yourself understood in a foreign language, especially if you are teaching beginners.

Undergoing Evaluations

As a foreign language teacher, you'll be evaluated by administrators who may not be fluent in your specialty. If you conduct some or all of your class in a foreign language, you may need to share frameworks with your administrators to help them evaluate your teaching.

Professional Advice & Resources

Considerations for Students

If you are a student considering a career in teaching foreign languages, your teachers and professors are fantastic resources. They have acquired the necessary education and certification and are intimately familiar with the everyday process of teaching a foreign language.

Now is also the perfect time to study up on the qualifications and certifications you'll need. If you are already in college, work with your academic advisor to determine which courses you need to take. Make sure you visit your college's career center for guidance on how to enter the teaching field. Depending on what grade level you plan to teach, you may need a postgraduate education; information about grants, fellowships and other foreign language education resources can be found through the U.S. Department of Education.

Considerations for Teachers

If you're a teacher who wants to start teaching foreign languages, talk to the foreign language faculty at your school. Find out what they like the most - and the least - about teaching foreign languages.

Talk to your fellow teachers about their experiences teaching foreign languages.

Contact a foreign language association to get insights and opinions from teachers at many different educational institutions. These organizations can also help you determine the certifications you may need to teach a foreign language in your state.

Remember, even if the school where you now teach has a foreign language department, it may not have any openings. You may have to switch schools to start teaching a foreign language.

Need to Maintain Skills

Teaching a living language means staying abreast of an evolving subject and making sure you're providing your students with information about current and correct usage. This often means staying up-to-date with foreign media.

As you may be teaching many levels below your own level of foreign language proficiency, you'll need to reach out to other proficient speakers to keep up your skills. If you teach in a large foreign language department, seek out colleagues as conversation partners; if not, look to a local group of speakers for regular practice.

Keeping up your fluency is important as a foreign language teacher.

Lack of Foreign Language Teachers

Your decision to become a foreign language teacher depends on several factors. But it's not a choice you need to make alone; there are many resources available to help you make an informed decision.

If you do decide to become a foreign language teacher, you'll be providing a much-needed service in the education system. About a quarter of American elementary and middle schools are having difficulty finding trained foreign language teachers, and you may be just the teacher one of them needs!

Becoming a foreign language teacher means bringing much-needed skills to the classroom.

By Michelle Baumgartner
February 2017
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