I’m a Language Teacher Rebel. I run my own business as a language teacher, and I work from home. Or from anywhere that has a Wi-Fi connection. I create and sell material, and I interact with people on Skype from all over the world, every week. All of this has been possible because of digital technologies and the era we now live in.
In the past, being a language teacher meant working in some kind of physical school or classroom environment. The school would advertise their courses and students would turn up and enrol in a course.
If you were a private tutor, you could put up a note or leave a flyer somewhere, or maybe put in an ad in a newspaper. A student would contact you and you would either arrange to come to their home, or they would come to yours. Or to another physical place where you would have your lessons. It would involve travelling and you would be restricted to finding students in the nearby area that you were willing to travel to, or vice versa.
This also meant that students who lived more remotely would not be able to enrol in a course or have lessons with a private tutor, but would instead maybe do an audio course (cassettes or CD’s) or study from a book. They were not able to have direct interaction with a teacher. The digital era has changed that. Geographical boundaries have been broken down.
Today, you can sit on a beach in Thailand and teach someone in Canada, or vice versa. You can collaborate with others through Internet, log on to your teaching schedule, send emails, design and post content, check your bank account, record and upload videos, all from your smartphone or laptop.
The Digital Age gives us incredible opportunities to create content. You can publish articles online for free. You can create digital images and visual aids for free. You can record videos on your smartphone and upload them onto the Internet for free. You can host live shows on social media platforms for free. You can create podcasts and broadcast them for free.
As a Language Teacher Rebel, you’re not just a teacher. You’re also a business owner, an artist, a designer and a presenter. Just by using a smartphone, a laptop or a tablet, together with an Internet connection, it’s possible to reach people from almost every corner of the world.
Learners today have endless opportunities to learn a language, compared to before. They can use apps, watch Youtube videos, listen to podcasts and audio books. They can join Facebook groups and connect with others learning the same language. They can follow hashtags and accounts on Twitter or Instagram about their target language. They can watch TV and movies and listen to radio. They can join language-learning webinars. And they can do all of this from their home, while sipping on a cup of coffee. Or at their workplace. Or even while travelling.
It’s really quite incredible to think about the many opportunities that learners have today, even compared to just 10–15 years ago.
But don’t people just self-study now?
Some think that there’s no place for teachers anymore. Anyone can self-study, right?
Yet, most learners still want to be taught. Why? The answer can be narrowed down to three aspects: (1) structure, (2) motivation and accountability, and (3) personal interaction.
Let’s start with structure. Just because we have access to a lot of free information on the Internet, it doesn’t mean that we know how to structure a process. Especially not a longer process such as language learning. Watching short Youtube clips on a particular grammar aspect may help to solve a particular problem, but it does not help to structure and guide a learner who wants to go from level A1 to A2. That would require learners to essentially create their own study plan, which is a huge undertaking for most people. It also takes a lot of time that most people do not have.
Self-studying can certainly work for some people, but many learners struggle with motivation from time to time. Having someone that they can lean on and talk to (whether it’s about their lack of motivation or a particular language challenges) helps with their motivation. It also helps with creating a sense of accountability. If you self-study, it’s easy to find excuses for not putting in the work needed to reach a certain goal. Showing up in front of a teacher creates an emotional stake, where the learner wants to show that they have ‘done their homework’.
Interestingly, it seems that the more digital our world becomes, the more we crave interaction with others. Perhaps it’s not surprising; human connection is vital for us as a species. Being able to interact with a language teacher when learning a language is not only good for developing pronunciation and conversational skills. It also means having a human connection with someone who supports, cheers and motivates. The way I see it, it’s more like having a mentor, a guide and a fellow human being.
Today, we are literally drowning in information. We have access to so much information online at the push of a button that many find it overwhelming to sift through it all. Information is free and easily accessible, yet many people are time poor and what they want most of all is help with how to implement the techniques, rules and skills. This is where you as a teacher, and soon-to-be Language Teacher Rebel, come in.
Surely it only works if you already have an online presence?
You might think that it’s too late to start teaching online. You might not have any social media channels set up. You might not have an email list. You might see other teachers on Youtube with large audiences, but you have never even uploaded anything onto Youtube, nor done a Facebook Live session. Is it too late? No. It’s not too late. Actually, we are only just beginning to see the effects of the digital revolution.
According to Daniel Priestley (2018), there’s usually a time lag of 20–30 years before technology catches on. TV was invented in the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s when it became more widely popular. The first computers came out in the late 1960’s, but it took until the 1980’s before people started to buy computers for the homes.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, but it took another 20 years until a significant amount of people started to use it. In 1998, Google made the Internet searchable. Social media emerged in 2004, and cloud computing in 2008. We are not yet seeing the full effects of Google, social media and cloud computing. It will probably not be seen until 2030 and beyond.
So no, it’s not too late. Far from it. Now is actually the perfect time to get started.