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Ten Reasons Why I Love to Teach English as a Second Language"and Why That Should Matter to You

By Lisa J. Lehr

Why do I love to teach English as a Second Language? Let me give you ten reasons (and ten paragraphs about why this should matter to you):

One: I love to teach.

Two: I love English.

Three: I love language in general; discovering the connections between English and other languages is a bonus.

Four: I love to hear other people speak their native languages fluently, easily, and beautifully.

Five: I'm very patient and a good listener, and I love to practice things I'm good at.

Six: I love to travel"no, that's wrong. I don't travel. But spending time with people from other cultures enables me to imagine that I travel.

Seven: I love to feel like an ambassador to"whatever country my student is from.

Eight: I love learning about history, and most other countries on the planet have more history than mine.

Nine: I'm a writer; writing is my primary source of income, and I love to write. But writing is a solitary activity; teaching allows me to interact with people and adds another layer of richness to my life.

Ten: It gives me something wonderful to dream about. Please continue reading".

Why should you care that I love to teach ESL?

Here, in ten brief paragraphs, is my answer.

I tell my students, rather apologetically, that Americans generally don't respect people who don't speak English. (By the way, I don't say this until I sense they are thinking it.) Why don't we? True, the world is quickly becoming a global society, and English is becoming "the international language. And perhaps someday soon every educated person in the world will have a working knowledge of English.

But how did we, as a nation, become so provincial'so arrogant'so smug? Even if your ancestors came here on the Mayflower"as mine did"or even if they are Native Americans, your people originally spoke some other language. Modern English has been around only a few hundred years.

And what a tragedy it would be if those other languages disappeared, or became ancient relics of lost civilizations, to be studied only by academicians and never used in everyday life. Think of living in a world where everyone had the same favorite color, or the same hobby"where every radio station played the same music"or every restaurant served the same food. How boring! Here's an easy (and fun) way for each of us to do our small part for international relations: be patient with someone who is learning English, and while we're at it, show an interest in their native language. We're guaranteed to learn something fascinating.

Wherever we live, wherever our ancestors came from, our language is intimately intertwined with our history, our culture, our sociology"even our biology. Consider that whatever sounds are absent from our native language, unless we somehow learn them as young children, will be lost to us forever. We lose a big piece of our cultural identity if we pretend that Modern English is the only language that counts.

Now, my dream"for many years, I've wanted to travel to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales"the lands of my ancestors. A few years ago, I began to study Italian, and became enamored of not only the language, but the food, the art, the architecture, and of course the history. Now I want to go to Italy.

More recently, as I worked with a student from Switzerland, I was soon awed by what I learned of the rich cultural history, the variety of natural scenery"the castles and cathedrals and trains"the large number of language groups for so small a country"and now I want to go to Switzerland. Given enough time and experience, maybe eventually I'll want to go just about everywhere. But for starters"western Europe.

So I dream that some day I'll be invited to stay with a family"perhaps a non-English-speaking family in an English-speaking country, or perhaps a family in Italy or Switzerland"and be a tutor and companion to the adults and/or the children in the family. While they learn English, I'll learn about their culture...and travel! And I will be a goodwill ambassador, an example of the generous spirit of America.

I hope all my fellow Americans will find it in themselves to appreciate the languages of the world and the people who speak them. If you do travel, please make an effort to say a few words in your host country's language. You probably won't have to say much, for the people you meet will probably want to take the opportunity to practice English. But I believe they will appreciate the effort. If you don't travel, just look at the people around you and notice the diversity of backgrounds.

Can we believe that something good can come out of every bad thing that happens? The Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel describes God's punishment of mankind for their pride in thinking they could reach heaven by building and climbing upon this great tower. Suddenly speaking many different languages, they could no longer communicate and were unable to finish the project. The good that has come to all of us because of it is this: we have the immeasurable treasure of thousands of languages, and the social, cultural, and natural diversity that go with them.

Go out of your way to spend some time with someone who doesn't speak fluent English. The joy of communication that transcends language barriers will be yours.

About The Author
Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and is a certified ESL instructor. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America's leading course on copywriting.

This article © Lisa J. Lehr 2005.

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