Transferable skills?

This notion comes up a lot in the UK. It refers, more often than not, to career changes where someone has to break down their skills from one career/job and see how they can repackage them for a different one. It also seems to crop up in ELT too….

1)I’m beginning to come across more and more teachers of English who aren’t English speaking natives but who have a degree in teaching a different language. Their CV says ‘degree in teaching X language’ followed by experience and then a sudden jump to teaching English.

2)English natives who have learned another language and suddenly become English teachers.

3)English teachers who become translators.

Now then dear blog readers, the first one I can’t fathom. I don’t know why these people suddenly switch and who in god’s name would employ them but when I put my doubts to one of them the reply was “teaching X language is the same as teaching Y one”. I beg to differ on that one.

The second implies that learning and teaching are the same and that being fluent in the L2 is enough to teach your L1. Again, no thanks.

The last point seems to crop up a lot and leads me to think that the translation industry isn’t picky over qualifications and just takes natives or people with a decent level in English to translate to or from it.

Any thoughts???


10 thoughts on “Transferable skills?

  1. Never having taught a language other than English, I’m not confident in being able to state one way or the other with regards to the transferability of teaching strategies. Honestly, I would have assumed that there would be a fair amount of similarity. The language is different, but surely similar methodology applies to languages of similar family if not all languages.

    The second I’m sure we all think is helpful for teachers to have done so as to familiarise themselves with the plight language learners go through, but simply as a qualification to teacher? Surely not. Who hasn’t been in a language learning classroom in their lives? That’s just as simplified as being a native speaker enabling you to teach.

    I have zero opinion on the last, really.

    Where transferability really crops up for me is actually emphasising to learners that what they learn in one class can transfer to another.

    • Cheers for the comments Tyson.

      Number 1, in theory, is OK but I know that not every country uses the TEFL method and may just teach languages like in school. they also may not teach methods at all, like here in France they just do a knowledge test about the subject. Also, if the person hasn’t studied Englsh to Uni/uni+ level and learns to teach X language then how can they justify suddenly switching to teach every language they’ve ever studied? This is what Is see more of nowadays teachers of 2/3 languages, some with a teaching degree, others with a linguistics one and some with nothing related who only studied languages at high school.
      I may go into 2 later on.
      3 I see more of of all the time and am often asked if I can translate stuff too and when I say I)My other languages are terrible 2)I’m not qualified people don’t care, normally.Like in China, there seems a belief that all foreigners are masters of their own language. Oh, how I miss my Foreign Expert card..

  2. Ahaha. Thank you! This post needed to be written, and this discussion needs to be had!

    I can sort of see #1, but not totally. In America, a lot of my friends were “English” majors, meaning they were intending to teach English to American students. I don’t think that they should jump to teaching English as a Second Language or any other language for that matter. However, I am an English Teacher (as in ELT) and am doing a degree in Foreign Language Pedagogy so that I will be able to transfer my skills to another language in the future. But, I think those are two totally different arguments. Really, on my CV I can write that I have a degree in Foreign Language Pedagogy – which isn’t my foreign language but my students’. It can be any language for me, because I am studying the art of teaching a language to someone who does not know it.

    Number 2 drives me crazy! The fact that you have learned or speak a language does not qualify you to teach it by any means! In my opinion, that is. However, I don’t know if this is our battle to fight, since this problem happens ALL THE TIME. There are so many professors in Universities who are brilliant in their field, but that does not make them brilliant in the classroom. Someday, I hope, people will realize that teaching actually is a skill, and that it isn’t natural to everybody!!

    Number 3 doesn’t bother me so much, it seems to make more sense as a career change if you have traveled and taught English and then learned another language while doing so. But, it isn’t like you can just study to be an English teacher and then automatically be a translator – or at least not a good one! There needs to be a lot more to that.

    I’m not completely against career changes, but in my opinion there are certain fields (ELT being one of them!) that require passionate and well-trained people, not just anyone who decides it sounds like fun. You can’t just decide to become a doctor and go do it, it takes work and training, and I think that people should recognize that in our field as well.

    Anyways . . . it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when this discussion comes up . . . thanks for asking the questions!!

    • Cheers for the comment Liz.

      In the UK we have CELTA/DELTA which means you have to have 1 or both to teach in a decent EFL school. I very much doubt anyone would get anywhere without them. This means that they are sure everyone has the same sort of knowledge and it’s compulsory I think due to British Council accreditation. Foundation, Uni prep courses can be different though and I don’t think that my aunties who have degrees in teaching/knowing French could teach English in a suitable way for an English school. If we accept this ‘transferable skills’ then we should just have a teaching degree and let people teach whatever they know.

      Yes, I know those professors too BUT I recall really enjoying lectures from people with experience and working who would come in to do a lecture once a week. They actually knew the topic from doing it and it wasn’t just PPT slides to them. And I actually think they taught far better than those with an MA in the subject. I don’t think, I may be wrong, that any prof had a PGCE/teaching qualification at BA level. I know my friend did one as part of his PhD but I don’t know if it’s normal.

      Translators? The other thing there is that people do from AND to their native language then interpreting too.

      Perhaps due to the crisis etc schools want multi-skilled people who can teach 3 languages and translate stuff too. I know a few people like this and employers seem to prefer them to qualified people.

      • Interesting thoughts. I haven’t encountered the translation issue so much where I’ve been, so I can’t say much to that.

        I agree with you that people more qualified in their field are more qualified to explain it, but I know that I had teachers who knew their subject very well and were the full-time classroom teacher, and they just could not connect with their students. Those were often more theoretical or theological fields, though, so that would make a difference.

        I also understand your first point. I guess that I am coming at this with the desire to qualified for both English and other languages. I graduated with a degree in Cross-Cultural education, got my CELTA, and am working on an MA in Foreign Language Pedagogy. So, the biggest difference there is that I am actually very purposeful in my training to be transferable. Actually, for me, I view my profession as “language teaching” so I don’t limit myself to English. For now, yes, because that is all I am currently equipped and qualified to teach, but I hope that within the next few years I can add at least Turkish (with a degree of proficiency from a Turkish university) to my job description.

        I see both sides of your argument. I think that I am going at it differently than the people you were describing, and when it is just changing careers or changing directions on a whim, I totally disagree. I don’t think that it is right for the teacher, the administration, or the students. But, sadly, so many schools are willing to hire anyone who shows up with the minimum credentials and the language in hand.

        So, your description says freelance teacher – do you teach in a school, language school, or do you tutor on your own time?

        • Yes, I did the same ie BA in Business then CELTA and I taught Business English. I’ll admit that my English was not good enough to teach it but my Business knowledge meant I could handle that aspect, thank god.

          Yep, freelance, I am a hired gun so I work anywhere and everywhere in every possible capacity. Interesting but tiring. After many years of contracts and doing the same things again and again and endless meetings and admin I fancied seeing the other side of ELT. Perhaps a year of freelancing post is in order.

  3. Teaching English is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Having taught both regular classroom and English, I had a much harder time with English.

    That said, I spent a summer in Mexico learning to teach Spanish as a second language and learn Spanish in an immersion environment. One of my big take-aways was this: Strategies that help students learn a language are transferrable.

    I still use many of the strategies I learned in my Spanish-language pedagogy class when I teach English Language Learners. They key is that teachers need to know how to teach language (not just know a language).

    • I like that Janet

      ‘They key is that teachers need to know how to teach language (not just know a language).’

      A lof of people do disgaree on that though and think just knowing X language means they can teach it and they do, often the same way as they learned it.

      That’s another thing actually. What do you think of Teaching Assistants? I had them on my MA and now I work with some who are final year students who teach first/second years and get more money than me.

        • I’m ranting perhaps. It’s just something that’s annoying me as they don’t have the knowledge, skills or qualifications to teach but seem to do essay marking, discussion leading and even lecture in some places. I’ve also seen TAs take over from real teachers in middle schools too. I remember being very annoyed on my MA when I was told that a TA would make my work, especially as she had less experience than me. I’m not boasting but that’s not what I paid for.

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