So, I'm getting my hair cut. Chit-chat is unavoidable. (I defiantly prefer hair salon chit chat to the kind you get at the dentist, though. Really? You're going to ask me questions...wh-questions, nonetheless, that I can't just shake or nod my head in response to...while you have all of your tools in my mouth?!)
"So, you said you're a student? What do you study?" the hair stylist asks me.
"I'm getting my Master's in TESOL... Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages."
"Oh, so what languages do you speak?"
Think about the question.
I get this a lot. Not just from my hairstylist. I understand that she and those of you who have asked a similar question to me or to one of my fellow TESOL classmates are not familiar with the TESOL world. And it's changed a lot over the years. I get that. But think about the question.
The answer is, I teach ENGLISH... not the other language. Yes, I know it helps to know the other language, especially for beginners, but in the world of TESOL, most teachers don't speak the "other" language. They speak English. We teach English to a unique and diverse population of students. Sometimes, the students don't share the same native language.
I know you just want start to a conversation. You're like my hairstylist. And, yes, you're right: TESOL is interesting. It's maybe new to you and your everyday conversations. Most people tell you that they're studying business, engineering, history, maybe economics.
I've tried several ways to reword my answer to what my degree is so people can think before asking the wrong question. For example, I try to slow it down. I take a large pause. This sometimes helps. "I am studying to teach English [pause here] to speakers of other languages." or "I teach English [big pause here] as a second language." I still get the question. They're not thinking before asking. But then again, they probably don't know better. Maybe you don't know about TESOL like I do; it's not your degree. It's okay.
The question, 'what languages do you know?' is not going to get you very far. Instead, try these:
- Where do you plan to teach?
People who TESOL often travel. We all have our dream jobs. (Mine would be in Australia... and ha ha! You're funny. I gotta teach those Australians how to speak English. You think I haven't heard that one before?! No, Silly. They have a lot of immigrants and refugees who need to learn English to get better jobs and provide for their families. They also have international/ foreign students studying at universities, just like in the USA, who need a bit of help.... Either Australia or Dubai. They pay teachers really well in UAE.)
- Do you have a particular target population you'd like to teach? What level? Which skill... reading, writing, listening, speaking?
Oftentimes, we TESOL students desire to teach a particular level or skill. Personally, I'd like to specialize in writing.—-Of course!-— But others would prefer to teach listening and speaking while others like to specialize in Business English or Grammar.
I won't snap at you if you ask your question poorly. Promise. But I thought I'd let you know some better ways ask what you want to know. After all, I know what your question really is. It's the same one you asked me when I got my Bachelor's in English. "What can you do with THAT?" Trust me; TESOL is big. It's been around for a long time, and it's growing like crazy, all around the world.
"What languages do you speak?" my hairstylist asks, looking at my reflection. (Hairstylists always talk to the mirror.)
"I speak a little Spanish," I tell her."And I'm going to learn some German.But, I will teach English, and believe it or not, a lot of jobs don't require you to know the other language to teach English as a foreign language. This is true for the jobs I am especially interested in. I plan to teach at the university level. I hope to specialize in writing..."
"Oh," she says, now looking at my hair. "That's nice. Do you like the weather?"
Okay. Maybe she... and you... are not that interested in what I'm studying. That's okay, too.