I have recently returned to teaching English after a long break and for part of this time away I have also been a student myself, learning Hindi. Since I have been teaching again I have been reflecting on how my Hindi studies are helping me with my English teaching, and similarly how being a language teacher is benefiting me as a student.

When learning another language, you need to become more aware of how you use your own. The tenses you use for certain situations, grammar, cultural influences, and colloquialisms are often at odds with the new language you are acquiring, so you start to examine your knowledge of your native tongue which previously has mostly been intuitive. This prepares you for teaching your own language which takes this awareness to a whole new level. When you teach you don’t just have to be conscious of your own language, you need to be able to explain the complexities and idiosyncrasies. You need to become more alert to your bad habits, lazy pronunciation and spelling. You have to think about the origin of words and work on building your vocabulary. Analysing language in this way helps you to have greater understanding of your subject and supports both your teaching and learning.

Moreover, seeing classes through the eyes of both teacher and student allows you to contemplate how you can improve in both roles. As a student you can pick up useful ideas and strategies from your teachers, and identify characteristics of good teaching practice which engender confidence, trust and respect to try out in your own classroom. Sitting on the other side of the desk enables you to empathise with your students as you understand the difficulties and anxieties that you yourself face. As a teacher you can diagnose your own weaknesses as a student by observing the challenges of your own class. For instance, I can now see with more clarity how my own lack of confidence in practising the language outside of class and lack of consistency in attendance has affected my progress in learning Hindi.

So for me the process of getting back into teaching has been complemented by learning a language, while at the same time the teaching is enhancing my experience as a student. Both have helped me to gain a better insight into my own language, exposed me to different teaching styles, allowed me to have more empathy with my students and understand my own weaknesses as a learner.

What do you think? Is it important to improve your knowledge of your own language in order to learn a new one?