Teach Me! Aren’t You a Native Speaker? Posted by Malachi Rempen on Dec 21, 2015 in Archived Posts
As language learners, we’ve all had the following conversation with a native speaker of our chosen learned language:
You: Harbladarba harbala darbalbarada.
Native speaker: Mmmm…that’s not right, actually, sorry. The right way to say it is harbladarba harbala BARbalbarada.
You: …why? I thought darbalbarada is conjugated in the 4th-perspective punctual form in this case.
Native speaker: Huh? I dunno. It just sounds right.
In fact, not only have you had this conversation, you’ve probably also been the Native Speaker in this situation, as well! The fact is, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you can also teach that thing.
This is unfortunately a truth across most educational systems – often times, someone will be hired as a teacher because of the experience they have in a certain area, while their actual teaching ability goes untested. They arrive in the classroom, dozens of hours of practice and knowledge and expertise under their belts, and yet they stare at their students, suddenly realizing they have no idea how to actually communicate that knowledge and expertise to other people.
Teaching is very different from knowing.
It’s for this reason that I say, regular, run-of-the-mill, untrained native speakers make the worst teachers. All they can tell you is what they think is right, based on their gut instinct – and as we all know, we don’t always speak our native languages that well! I’m constantly making rookie mistakes in English (“me and him went out last night”, “I’m doing good, thanks”, “I’m done” … all grammatically incorrect, sad to say), so I might not be the best person to ask for grammar help. My gut instinct is probably just some weird colloquialism.
Instead, to be of any use to anyone learning your native language, you have to learn how to teach it. You have to take your language apart and see what makes it tick. Just because you can drive a car, it doesn’t mean you can teach someone how it works! You yourself have to learn how it all comes together, before you can inform anyone else.
So if you’re learning a language, unless you’re just looking to improve your conversational speech and colloquialisms, seek out someone who is also learning that language, but is way better than you are. They’ve been where you’ve been, they’ve stumbled where you’ve stumbled, and they know the answers to your questions, often before you even have them. These are the best teachers–the only ones better are native language learners who have learned how to teach their language, who can separate what’s “right” and what’s “said.”
Then, when you overcome those difficulties with the help of such a tutor, make those mistakes and learn from them, it’ll be your turn. You’ll be ready to turn around and help teach the next language learner, the next person in line behind you, hoping to learn.
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