How teaching a language can help you gain the experience you need to land your dream job.
Written by Raffaella Trapani
We all know how difficult it is for today’s European graduates to find a job when they come out of university, but my story began a few years ago, before the global economic crisis.
When I graduated in 2006, unpaid (or poorly paid) internships were the first port of call for graduates who came out of university with very little work experience. Unfortunately many of us soon found ourselves stuck in a vicious circle of internships. Companies would take you on for three to six months, and then replace you with the next graduate as they couldn’t afford to pay an extra full salary. Consequently, the poor graduates would never accumulate enough experience or be entrusted with enough responsibility to be employable.
I was eventually saved by my love of languages. After a series of short term, scarcely rewarding positions, in 2008 I moved – for personal reasons – to the Kingdom of Bahrain, a small island nation in the Middle East. I was still pursuing a career in Public Relations, but due to my infamous lack of solid experience, I was once more struggling to find work.
One day a friend suggested I applied at Berlitz to become a Language Instructor as being bilingual (I speak Italian and English) I could teach two languages. I did apply and this turned out to be a very smart move. I soon began to teach both English and Italian, which provided me with a good income and over the three and a half years I spent there, I have grown professionally and even became involved in PR!
So how can teaching a language help you find your dream job?
You might already know how speaking more than one language can open up a new world of opportunities, and even land you a higher salary. What you might not realize is how being a language teacher can provide you with skills that you will be able to use in any working environment. So if you are planning to go and teach English – or any other language – abroad but are a bit dubious because this is not what you were aspiring to do, don’t discard it just yet. It can turn out to be a very valuable experience and still take you where you want to go.
What skills will you gain by teaching a language?
Planning and Time Management
First and foremost teaching requires discipline and good planning and time management skills. You need to carefully plan each lesson, because if you walk in a classroom and plan to improvise, you won’t get very far. You also need to be aware of how long each task will take to ensure you don’t fall behind schedule with the curriculum. Whether you teach in a school or in a language institute, there will be a certain amount of reports that need to be compiled and handed in within set deadlines. It’s clear how organizing your personal as well as the classroom schedule is one of the first things you need to master in order to be successful.
Stimulate creativity and lateral thinking
Teaching a language will also stimulate creativity and lateral thinking. No two students are the same. Everyone learns in a different way. This means that each lesson needs to incorporate a wide range of activities to benefit all the students. Some people learn better through games, others will find it easy to learn by reading and writing. A good language instructor needs to constantly source or create varied tasks to keep everyone learning.
Ability to read and understand people
The diversity of students’ capabilities and learning paths develops a further skill: the ability to read and understand people. Language courses don’t usually last a whole year, so teachers don’t have a long time to get to know their students, but they need to make sure they are delivering interesting lessons. They must be (or become very quickly) good people observers so they can adapt their lessons in order to engage and motivate each and every student. Being able to identify people’s needs and skills promptly is an invaluable talent for anyone who would like to work in customer services, sales, or in any profession where client interaction is involved.
Leadership and people management skills – Teachers are team leaders
Whether teaching a single student or a group, instructors ought to be in control. If they don’t already possess leadership and people management skills, they will need to develop them fairly rapidly if they don’t want to go crazy! Teachers are like team leaders, guiding their team (students) towards a common goal, providing them with the right tools and environment to achieve it, and ensuring everyone is involved, making the most of individual skills.
Ability to deliver messages in a clear and effective manner
Last but not least, the fact that the subject taught is a language is an advantage in itself. Explaining the nooks and cranny of a language to someone else improves your own language expertise. Dealing with people with different levels of proficiency obliges you to use the appropriate range of vocabulary and expressions. The need for examples of best use of words and idioms refines the ability of delivering messages in a clear and effective manner. Being in contact with people of different nationalities will improve your appreciation of different cultures and ways of thinking and you might even pick up a few expressions of your students’ language. This kind of exposure develops as well a person’s ability to understand others and the messages that they are trying to convey.
Excellent presentation skills
Let’s not forget that each lesson has to be delivered and adapted depending on the audience, a.k.a. the students. It should then go without saying that good instructors need to possess excellent presentation skills.
All of these skills can be transferred to any sector, and profession; and sure enough, they helped me get involved in a different department of the company, Public Relations, which was my career of choice when I graduated.
As you can see, speaking more than one language can give you one more career option and if teaching is not for you, don’t despair; give it your best for one or two years and not only will your CV look more organic (rather than a collection of short term positions), but you will have the experience, skills and confidence employers look for.
One of the best ways for students to gain these skills is to teach their mother tongue to those who don’t speak it. For opportunities to teach overseas, check out these resources: