Tales of an ESL Teacher, Part 1

Posted: July 11, 2022 in Blog
Tags: , , ,

I have always had a fascination with languages and cultures. I considered a career in linguistics but abandoned the idea due to its perceived lack of financial earning potential and my own fickle nature when deciding what to focus on in college. Still, the interest lingered and dug deep into me.

The concept of how language and culture developed is an interesting one, and the two go hand in hand. Studying a language generally leads to learning about the culture and people that speak that language. This, to me, is one of the most attractive components of language learning. I want to learn about the people and the culture, not just the words of their speech.

I studied German for six years in high school and college. By the time I graduated in 1993, I spoke German fairly well. Unfortunately, in those early days of the Internet, the opportunities to speak with people who know another language were very limited. I ended up not using my German, and I forgot most of it. Then I got married, became a father, started a career, got divorced, changed cities. In other words, life happened, and before I knew it, decades had passed.

Then Covid hit. Everyone was suddenly spending much more time in our homes. I decided this would be a good time to get back into my language journey, and I thought I’d knock the rust off my German. My son, though, suggested I learn something more “useful” for here in the U.S., so I embarked on learning Spanish. Spanish is a much more common language here than German. It is the second most spoken language, and it is very easy to find others who speak it. In retrospect, I should have learned Spanish in high school and college.

Be that as it may, the avenues and methods for learning languages in 2020 were far better and more abundant than in 1993. I could easily find videos, podcasts, even speak with natives. I began using a couple of different “language learning” platforms, like HelloTalk, Lingbe, and Hilokal, in effort to connect with speakers of Spanish. In doing so, I encountered people from all over the world, and I learned many things.

One of the first things I learned was the variety of the Arabic language. Before I began my language journey, I thought all the various Arab-speaking countries all basically spoke the same language. I thought it was like Spanish, which is spoken in many, many countries in the Western Hemisphere, and though there are some local variations (as there are between American and British English), they are basically the same. There is not enough variety to linguistically consider them dialects. This is not the case with Arabic.

I spoke to people from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and I discovered many interesting things. The varieties of speaking Arabic sometimes lead to difficulty in understanding. Moroccan Arabic is influenced by the French language, for example.  They all know Modern Standard Arabic, though, which is generally used for writing. Amazing! I was learning, absolving myself of ignorance, and finding out new things about other cultures.

I also originally thought that all Indians speak Hindi. Boy was I wrong about this one. India has twenty-two official languages and many many more spoken in this diverse country. I talked to a person from northern India who said he went to college in the south. He could not understand anyone there, and they had to use English to communicate. Amazing! I did know that English is common in India, but I didn’t realize that it is sometimes the only available common avenue of communication between Indian natives.

The third thing I learned should have been obvious, and maybe, on some subconscious level it was, but so many people want to learn English. As a native, I was in high demand, and people were constantly asking for my time to help them. I often obliged, and I soon found I was spending more time helping people with English than I was learning Spanish. I also noticed a lot of people asking me how they could sign up for my tutoring lessons.

Tutoring lessons?

I wasn’t an English tutor. Or maybe I was.

I continued to help people, forging some relationships that approached friendship. I considered the idea of doing this more formally, but I realized I had a fulfillment from this that I never felt in my prior career. I enjoyed helping people.

So I decided to become an English tutor.

Comments
  1. slim thugg says:

    interesting story, fun to read. cant wait for part 2! what are some of the less common languages you’ve encountered in your journey on language apps/as a tutor?

    Like

    • scott says:

      Thanks. I am still living part 2 and waiting to see what I will write about. I have not encountered very many uncommon languages, really. I have met some people who speak less common languages from India or Africa, but this is very rare.

      Like

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