First of all there are many different dimensions to language learning and depending on your goals for learning a foreign language you will want to look for different qualities in your teacher. I will cover the general characteristics that all language teachers should exude and the skills they should have depending on your needs and goals.
There are 7 qualities that all language teachers should have. Depending on your goals and needs some may be more or less important but generally these are the 7 principal attributes you should look for in a teacher of any kind.
It is important to know your own goals before choosing a teacher or joining a class. If you do not know your goals you cannot compare the strengths or weaknesses of a program or your teacher in relation to what you want to achieve. Do you want to prepare for a trip and learn basic survival phrases, become fluent, or if you just want to read and write in the language. These objectives determine the type of teacher and length of the course you need to follow.
The teacher does not have to be an expert in the language but does need to have a significant understanding of the core concepts and ideas needed to help you progress and learn the language yourself. In order for someone to elevate you to a higher place they themselves must be in a higher place. Expect that your teacher be able to explain concepts simply and to be able to organize the concepts they teach in order of priority. If they are scattered or allow lessons to wander your progress will be slow.
Knowledge is essential however if the teacher has no practical experience that knowledge is useless. Its like a basketball coach who has read all the books but has never played the game. The coach will never be able to make a successful basketball team. The same is for languages. If your teacher cannot say that they have spent a significant amount of time living, speaking, or working with the people that speak the language there is no way they will have the cultural insight to teach you any real life language skills. However, if your pursuit is solely academic this may not be a large issue and I will discuss why later.
You need to be able to relate and feel comfortable with your teacher socially. Languages are a social experience and if your teacher is shy, distant, or not invested then it will make your lessons very tedious and ineffective. You teacher needs to be constantly asking you questions, encouraging, and conversational. Most important is your teachers ability to explain language concepts and grammar.
Who wants a boring teacher? Nobody wants to learn a foreign language to be boring. If you teacher is not positive, friendly, and interested in the language and you as a student then they will most likely not give you 100% and will not require 100% from you. That doesn’t mean you teacher needs to have a big personality. It just needs they need to be excited by the language and enjoy teaching.
The most important aspect is that the teacher understands your goals and needs. In order for any teacher to build lessons that will achieve your goals they must understand your reasons for learning the language. If a teacher tells you that you have to learn a certain way because that is the way it is and is not interested in focusing on your interests then you should consider whether or not you are receiving effective language lessons. However sometimes teachers will need to tell you that it is not time to learn a certain subject or to tell you that a question will be answered at a later time because it is not time.
Saying that we will come back to a subject at a later time is different than completely ignoring your goals. You should feel comfortable asking your teacher what their plan of action is and how they plan to help you achieve your goals in the language.
Pretend that your teacher is a guide and has been to your destination many times. They know the map and the best ways to get to your goal. If they are taking you to a destination that is not yours that are not a skilled guide. A great guide also knows when to push you, when to let you have fun, and when to rest. Seeing the map or the big picture and how to get there is one of the most important skills.
At Le tutor we only hire fluent teachers. That may not always be necessary but we believe that in order to achieve fluency you must have a teacher who is fluent so that you can practice speaking and listening. However, for someone who is wanting to learn to read and write a teacher is can’t speak the language may be more than sufficient. Or a student who is just starting out and wants to just build a foundation in vocabulary or someone who is just wanting to learn survival phrases. As you progress you may outgrow your teacher’s abilities and what they are able to teach you. You will know when it is time to seek out more challenging options.
This is not an exhaustive list of everything a foreign language teacher should do or know. Your teacher should always be willing to give you a free trial class before you commit to any lessons. During your trial if you think about these 7 skills while you meet with your teacher it will help you to choose the best teacher to fit for your personality and your language goals.