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Language Learning

Five Things I Wish I Had Known as a New Dual Language Teacher

Being a new teacher, or even a veteran educator in a new environment, brings both challenges and rewarding experiences. Looking back on your own teaching career, there are probably a few things you wish you had known when you started out. One of our resident experts, who is a former dual language teacher, Dr. Laura Macartney, shares her tips for new dual language teachers from her own personal experience. 

Laura has been an educator for more than 20 years, serving as a dual language immersion teacher for 13 years, a literacy specialist, and a school principal. Laura and her family have lived in the Bahamas and Costa Rica, where she also taught dual language (DL) immersion. She is currently a manager of education programs at Participate Learning.

We asked Laura for her advice and what she wished she had known as a new DL teacher, and she shared her thoughts with us below.

1. Reality will probably be different from your expectations, but it’s worth it.

Laura described her adjustment to living and working in a different country as challenging but ultimately one of the most meaningful experiences of her life. She experienced culture shock, as almost any international educator does. Being prepared for culture shock will help you adjust and adapt to your new environment more quickly. 

Laura also emphasized the personal and professional growth you will experience as you strengthen your teaching skills and adapt to a new culture. The ups and downs of culture shock will lessen over time as you gain confidence and experience.

2. Dual language teaching requires many methods to aid comprehension.

Teaching core subjects in a language that students don’t understand means that teachers need to use many different tools to aid comprehension. Model the target language for students using gestures, facial expressions, actions, visuals, and realia. Laura likens it to being an actor in addition to a teacher. This ensures that students build their language comprehension without relying on the teacher to translate for them. 

Laura stressed that teachers should resist the urge to translate when their students don’t understand the target language, especially when they are young students getting used to the DL environment. Ultimately, aiding their comprehension in other ways will speed up the language acquisition process, and student confidence will grow.

3. Be cognizant of teaching both language and content.

As a new teacher, Laura said that the balance between building language proficiency and teaching your grade-level content is important to keep in mind. Sometimes, teachers focus so much on teaching language that they don’t focus enough on content, and vice versa. 

Laura emphasized that teachers should ask lots of questions and get help when they need it. They can ask colleagues how they strike this balance and ask Participate Learning program managers for strategies, tools, and support. 

4. Understand the language acquisition process.

Laura said she wished she had known more about how students go through the language acquisition process when she first started teaching. Understanding how our brains acquire a new language and the different proficiency levels will help you understand the best way to help students continue their growth.

Knowing what’s normal in the language acquisition process will help you to realize where students are in their learning journeys and help them get to the next step. Laura also said to have patience as a teacher because language learning takes time. In the day-to-day, it can be hard to see growth, but if you reflect on where students started at the beginning of the year, you will see that their progress has been incredible.

5. Recognize that you have a lot to offer your school community.

As a new teacher, it can be easy to think that you are learning from others and that you are not necessarily able to share your own expertise or strategies. This is simply not true! Recognize that you have much to offer other teachers and your school community. You have skill sets and strategies that other teachers can learn from in non-DL classrooms. Sharing expertise is mutually beneficial for teachers and students across the entire school. 

Laura encourages new teachers to reach out for help when they need it, and to stay positive as they go through natural ups and downs: “It’s not easy at all, but it’s so worth it. There will be some hard times, but you will get through them. It will be the most rewarding experience of your life, truly.”

Thank you for your advice and insights, Laura! Participate Learning is always here to support both teachers and administrators. Contact us to learn more about our Dual Language Program support services. 

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