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Teaching English Makes You Dumb

Updated on December 30, 2011

Now, I don't mean that teaching English will literally make you dumb, but it could possibly have an impact on your conversational, grammar, and/or spelling skills (if you are teaching English as a Foreign Language - EFL). I'm only saying this because I have certainly seen a change in my speaking abilities as well as had this conversation with fellow teachers that have noticed a change in theirs.

When thinking about teaching English to a younger group or beginning learners, you will most likely think that the job will be simple. Well, that's because it is. It is not the teaching aspect that is simple, it's the level of English that is. It is so simple in fact that you will begin to use broken English in order to get your point across. Instead of "Please listen to me when I speak," you may say something along the lines of "I speak, you listen." This happens so often that on occasion you may find yourself forgetting certain things that used to come naturally.

This may get worse the longer you are teaching English. You may write something on the blackboard and then second guess the sentence you just wrote. You may write a word (that used to be written without thought) and wonder if you spelled it correctly. Your co-teacher may ask you if a sentence sounds grammatically correct, which most likely it's not, but instead of going with your gut, you decide to go to the computer and check it, just to make sure. This is beginning to happen to me more and more as time goes on.

Surprisingly this began to take its toll on me early on. I think I started noticing this within the first couple months of being here. I would be having conversations with fellow English teachers and forget the word that describes what I wanted to say. I noticed this was happening with them as well. At first, we all thought this was funny. You become so used to speaking broken English to co-workers and students that normal sentence structure and what used to be common vocabulary slowly escapes you. Now, I'm not finding as funny; I'm actually finding it to be quite annoying.

I know a big part of it has to do with not being exposed to English all day long: hearing conversations, reading signs, and speaking to more English speakers. Combine that with changing the way we would normally speak to make it simpler for everyone else around us, and you have yourself a situation that could affect your English skills.

I'm sure this hasn't happened or won't happen to everyone. I'm sure there are certain people that are more susceptible to it (like me) than others. I'm actually pretty curious as to how many other people feel this way sometimes (other than my friends). I honestly think that when I go back home, I will have to take some sort of course to freshen up on my grammar skills before taking another teaching position.


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    • CALNY profile image

      CALNY 5 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      I've come across several people on public transportation that have wanted to chat about anything and everything to practice their English. It's a nice change to come across those who want to learn, versus the children in the classroom who don't yet understand the need for it, or want to even enjoy it.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the kind offer! I will definitely keep it in mind. I met a businessman on a plane from Seoul once upon a time. we had an hour long discussion about business, religion, and culture. (I think he was practicing his English.) We never connected after that but it was an interesting hour.

    • CALNY profile image

      CALNY 5 years ago from Busan, South Korea


      I completely agree with you. Thanks for your comment!


      It is definitely an interesting, rewarding, exhausting experience! lol. Many countries are constantly looking for new English teachers. It still can be an option if you think it's something you'd like to try. I'm here to help if you ever decide to come to South Korea! And thanks for your comment! :)

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I always thought it would be interesting to TEFL. I spent a few days looking into it a few years ago. I admire you for doing this kind of work!

    • profile image

      eslinsider 5 years ago

      A teacher should speak to their students in a language that they understand. They are not all on the same level, so they do not all have the same ability. The teachers job is to be a communicator. So sometimes that means simplifying your language, using body language and/or speaking in phrases instead off complete sentences.

      Children don't start with learning how to have a conversation. They start with the alphabet, then phonics, then vocab, etc.

    • CALNY profile image

      CALNY 6 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      Thanks for your comment, John!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I agree with what you've said. In fact, I was knee high when I arrived to this country close to 40 years ago, and ESL didn't exist back then (if it did, I didn't know about it...). There were only a few kids that spoke Spanish in my school (very Anglo/nordic school - all the teachers were white...), so they had one kid teach me the basics... I was reading at grade level in 2 years...

      Great hub!

    • CALNY profile image

      CALNY 6 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      Aya Katz, I do think of myself as a sociable person. I am trying to meet the students and teachers half-way, but I suppose I should be putting my energy into making sure they can meet me all the way. I am slowly learning Korean through exposure. I can't hold a conversation, but I can get my point across for the most part.

      Missolive, I really appreciate you taking the time to write down some tips for me. One thing you did mention, using pictures, I have done almost every day of teaching. I believe that they are a great help. I think writing out the sentence and underlining the key points is a great idea. I will definitely use that, thank you.

      ThePracticalMommy, I have always tried to incorporate pictures as well as attempt to demonstrate what I am saying, but I guess those times where that didn't work is where I would find myself speaking in simpler terms. I really like the idea of using synonyms. I'm going to try to use those more often! I think that would be a great help, thank you!

      RealHousewife, I completely get where you're coming from. I can imagine that when I go back home, I might end up saying "Thank you" in Korean on accident, haha. My co-teacher here is bi-lingual and there have been times that I have asked her to translate a sentence from English to Korean and she had to think about it before writing it down. She even asked some of the students for help when she was stumped on a Korean word! It's good to know that I'm not alone :)

      AmericanView, I understand your point. Schooling should challenge the students and make them work for their knowledge instead of just handing it over. I have always worked hard, and it is important to me that the students perform well. Since this is my first year teaching EFL, I am still learning what the best way to go about educating these students is.

      Daisy Mariposa, I have signed my second contract and will be here through Febraury 2013. I will definitely write about this topic again to update everyone on my teaching methods as well as my own English speaking abilities. :)

      I really appreciate everyone taking the time to comment. I have enjoyed reading your opinions and ideas. Thank you!

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 6 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


      Teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) outside the United States can't be an easy task. I would imagine that it's especially difficult teaching the language to first-year English students. I would be interested in reading a follow-up article six months or a year from now, to see if your teaching methods have changed.

    • American View profile image

      American View 6 years ago from Plano, Texas

      Miss Olive has hit the nail on the head. I have been saying for years that our education system as a whole has been lowering the bar not raising it. To see how much English has changed, go read the Declaration of Independence. You will see English in a way that we no longer speak. A few years back, instead of helping students speech, instead call it something else, hence the creation of Ebonics. As our school test scores lowered,m instead of getting on the students to get them to perform better, we instead make the tests easy, we allow calculators to do math. Not only does good learning begin at home, but it also requires good teachers that do not lower the bar in order to be popular.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I bet this is a huge challenge! I am not at all a teacher - but I took my mandatory four years of French...and I swear it made my English worse. Now I do grasp for some English words that should be simple - or when I am writing I will find I am thinking French words! haha!

      Sounds like a really fun way to make a living though - good luch!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago from United States

      I don't think making the language simpler is going to make learning English better for EFL students. I imagine it's like talking to a baby who doesn't yet speak; I don't dumb down my speech with my kids just to get them to understand. I speak to them in normal sentences and then demonstrate what I am saying. In that manner, they are connecting the action to the words and learning the vocabulary, even though they may not be able to articulate it themselves for a while. I think the same concept would work with your students, as it did with my students when we were working with high level vocabulary words. Along with demonstration of a word or phrase's meaning, context clues, especially synonym clues when an 'easier' word is used as the clue, work really well to develop language.

      Perhaps stress is causing you to forget what words you want to use to express yourself? I doubt teaching low level English to anyone would make you lose your own expressions and vocabulary. Anyone ever see any research of this? I would be interested in it.

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 6 years ago from Texas

      Calny - I do understand what you are saying, but I have to agree with Paul.

      I understand the importance of breaking down the language for the reader and listener, but by not doing it correctly you are simply teaching a broken down version of English. The student will see this form of language as 'ok' when it is in fact not true form. You are then inadvertently doing an injustice to them. My favorite quote from my ESL studies is 'slower NOT lower'

      As an English Language Arts teacher that is also ESL certified I can see the challenge that you face. You want the student to understand you, but it has to go beyond basic understanding. I would like to suggest (if I may) that you write the full phrase of whatever you are teaching down and underline the keywords of the phrase. In other words underline what you would have said if you had given a 'broken down' version. Include open ended questions for who, what, when, where, how and why. This way the student needs to identify the different elements of the sentence through the various parts of speech. Also, if you include parts of speech the students begin to understand how verbs are used in relation to nouns, how adjectives describe the noun and so forth. Pictures of the scenarios you are teaching work wonders too. These techniques will not only improve their spoken language it will enhance their reading and writing as well. Plus, you get to speak at the higher level you desire :)

      Again, I DID understand the point that I believe you were trying to make, but you and your students would be better served if you raised the bar a bit.

      Best wishes on your work in EFL - sounds fascinating and incredibly challenging.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Calny, you are probably a person with very good -- possibly excellent social skills. This is happening because you care more about meeting the other person half-way than you do about teaching the subject matter or sticking to your guns.

      Language is a social exchange, and there is the issue of power differential and deference to others. People who show greater deference to others tend to become assimilated more easily, but it's hard for them to maintain a minority language when isolated.

      People who are less social are not as easily assimilated by those who surround them, but they are also seen as less cooperative and less helpful.

      How is your Korean?

    • CALNY profile image

      CALNY 6 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      I completely agree with you about making a point to speak grammatically correct English. I have certainly tried to do so majority of the time. But when it comes to first year English students, who don't know much other than "Hello," I find it very difficult to get them to do as I say unless I make the English very basic for them to understand. I agree that it's probably wrong to do so, but I am at a loss sometimes as to what else to do. Even if I can get them to just understand some of the words I am saying, I believe that is getting them on the right path.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I disagree with your point that teaching EFL makes you dumb. Yes, I have seen a lot of EFL teachers speak broken English to students and native teachers to get their point across. It is wrong to do this. It reminds me of all the GIs I knew who spoken pidgeon English to bar girls. An educated native speaker of English should speak grammatically correct English to his or her students. I've been teaching EFL for many years and have not noticed my English skills getting weaker.