Teaching a language I don't know

Hello and help
My school has no teachers in German next year, so I have been given German classes. The reason is that I have been learning Japanese in my spare time for some years, so people thought I would be the best candidate since i like language learning. That means I have less than 4 months to learn what i need before my classes start (8-10 grade). I have about 2000 words that I “know” in German according to this site, but I have to admit that there is a long way between recognizing a word in a text, and being able to use it. I am from Norway, so I can recognize a lot of words based on the similarity between the languages, but that doesn’t help much with the grammar and spelling. I also have little experience with German, as I chose Spanish when I was a student myself.

Does anyone have some advice on how I can face this in the best possible way?

You do realize your school is most likely setting you up for failure?

Anyway, if you’re familiar with Language Transfer, you’ll maybe recall that Mihalis doesn’t speak all those languages he teaches. Yet he’s still able to teach them effectively. He’s written a book about the entire process of course writing which you might be interested in → guidebook — Language Transfer


I have hard time feeling this will be successful unless you are already a very skilled language instructor…

If you have time I would spend at least 8 hours a day learning German to get a state where you are competent. You can try Languagetransfer like Gigusek suggested. Do you have standard textbooks or materials used in this class or is that something you would determine?


Woah. You’re absolutely not going to be able to teach German in a conventional class.

I suppose what you can do is experiment with getting the students to learn autodidactically. A LingQ subscription for each student is probably too expensive, but there are probably other tools out there that you can use with them.

Maybe even set it up as a collaborative experiment? Have the students try out different tools and report back what they’ve learned, and what works and what doesn’t? Maybe you can have them come up with questions about the language as they study, which you research together?

If all else fails, Duolingo isn’t bad at teaching “the basics”, certainly better than a non-speaker teacher could hope to be.

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Haha, poor of you! That reminds me of an anecdote here in Japan with a teacher that I knew. He could play the guitar well and because of his interest in music he was assigned by the principal to play the school hymn ON THE PIANO! He insanely proceeded to practice just that one piece and was reasonable in that one performance. About teaching language to kids, grade 8-10 is not a big deal, but you may meet kids that already have knowledge of German and I’d say that’s the biggest worry. I’ve met “teachers” in my life that were in a similar situation that you described and who could “skillfully” pretend they knew that specific content and didn’t answer general questions besides the content of a specific lesson on a certain day that they prepared. They would answer something like “oh, we`ll cover that in lesson 50, so be patient”, haha.

I don’t know about your specific German syllabus in Norway, but for example here in Japan the English vocab needed for Junior High School would be around that number of words that you already know (1500 to 2000 words) what is probably piece of cake for you as a Norwegian speaker. If your teenagers are similar, usually they would be quite bored and uninterested in knowing extra stuff, so maybe if you learn only the content of your syllabus is enough (hopefully). Learn as much as you can and lykke til!

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Could your school hire a teacher remotely? It is done sometimes in Norway.


The sad part is that aps like Duolingo are not viable since we have a strict no apps or platforms that have any payment options aviable.

We have textbooks already, but without a teacher guide so i have to find out the correct answers for the tasks myself.

That is the easiest part to solve. If you can’t find the key to the exercises, try to contact the publisher. If they don’t have one, you can ask chat gpt to solve all of them lol. That can be a big part of your preparation, because at least the exercises in the textbook you should be able to answer the students without losing face.


You definitely aren’t in an ideal situation, but I don’t think it’s too bad for several reason:

  1. Other teachers teach subjects, which they don’t know either. Eg. some teacher who trained to teach sport class ends up teaching maths. They learn on the job. The first year is quite intense, but that’s because you have to both learn the material and find good resources. The second year, you have materials you can just reuse.
  2. You have low expectations, so you can’t really sink any lower
  3. You don’t actually need to be amazing at a skill/topic to teach it to others. This is especially the case for teaching beginners.
  4. If you are above other people’s skill level, people think you have a higher skill than you actually do.
  5. You can rely on quality material made by others
    Some ideas:
  6. As you are teaching grammar heavy, you personally have to be knowledgeable in beginner grammar. You increasing your own reading ability won’t be as good use of your limited time, as studying the grammar yourself.
  7. Find great material with answer sheets.
  8. You may want to limit the open-writing exercises you give the students, as you won’t be able to mark them very well.
  9. At the start of the class, ask if any of your students know any German. If there are some of your students who have some German knowledge, get them to actively help out the other students. Use them to help you run the class to some extent.
  10. It’s not great use of classroom time in my opinion, but when you aren’t familiar with the language, what can you do? Try watching videos in class. I recommend:
    Nico’s Weg A1 (The Deutsche Welle website has free German courses. Definitely have a look at their material. Their Nico’s Weg movies (A1, A2, and B1) are amazing.
    Anfänger | DW Deutsch Lernen

Extra auf Deutsch (13x 20 minute episodes. Probably A2?)


Take a look at this YouTube channel, either for your own study or to use with your students.

Natürlich German

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One thing I forgot to mention in my other post - I hope you’ve got your school to recompense you for the time you’ll be spending learning German? Because that’s A LOT of time to spend on a work-related task in your free time that you didn’t even ask for :wink:


“Other teachers teach subjects, which they don’t know either.”
Sounds like Australia is a “different beast” than Germany.

If you try to pull this off here in Germany, your students
will try to eat you alive :slight_smile:

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Hi Candygaming,

Interesting “challenge” where you are in a bad position from day 1:
Others have already given you some helpful tips. Here are my 2 cents reg. a textbook- and / or grammar heavy teaching approach:

This approach has long been a worldwide “disaster” in language learning. So if you’re going to rely on it because you’re inexperienced in teaching German, I would modify it at least a little bit by showing students which language learning strategies (comprehensible input / mass immersion, ultra-reading while listening, speaking early, etc.) and apps (LingQ / Readlang, artificial SRS, writing forums, etc.) they can use:

That said, the first thing is “not” that you like language learning somehow, but your level of competence in L2 instruction:

  • Have you ever achieved an advanced level in an L2 yourself (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) so that you can teach your students how to approach language learning (-> how to establish habits, which routines, strategies, and apps to use, etc.)?
  • Have you any relevant experience in teaching languages?
  • Your level in German - and that’s a question of how many hours per day you can invest in the following four months.
    If your answers to those questions are always “no” or “low”, then you are probably not the right person to teach German, because then you will be the prey and your students will try to hunt you down (but maybe Norway is different from Germany in this respect)…

In this case, the most sensible piece of advice is the following:
“Could your school hire a teacher remotely? It is done sometimes in Norway.” (Linguine)

It’s probably also better for your mental health (and I’m talking here from experience as an ex-teacher) :slight_smile:

Anyway, I wish you well…


Agreed with everything.

Exactly, I hope Norway is different from Italy as well in that regards but I doubt it. Teenagers are teenagers.

If you have achieved a very advanced level in any foreign language, you can share that knowledge with your students, and it’ll be even more precious that your current level of German because you can share the truth with them, and keep learning at the same time. All the strategies, struggles, tools, and so on, will be a lot more interesting that a classic “grammar book”.

But I want to be positive for you and optimistic.
If you like the challenge, you can actually do a lot with it, and build a strategy that take in consideration also the beginning of the school.
It’s true that you have less than 4 months, but it is also true that you have less than 4 months to START the year.
That doesn’t mean being already at an advanced level at the beginning. You can build a progressive strategy since now, giving you a bit more time to go more sophisticated in the language.

Be pragmatic and eliminate every useless noise.

Before accepting the challenge, I would definitely sit in front of a table, take a bunch of white papers, and start writing down all possible strategies. Then cut your time taking in consideration problems, sickness, complications, and see what’s left. You know your energy, and your story. Just be very realistic with it.

Maybe the first year could be rough (and you could already calculate and anticipate the difficulties) but the second shouldn’t be anymore.


Yeah no. I was told that part of being a teacher is being able to teach every subject. I had 0 classes this year that were part of my education (I have 5 subjects I took at university). It is in no way ideal, and I have been burnt out previously from overwork.


Most are, no no, I am afraid. I have taught English and Norwegian, but I have to admit that they are my worst subjects to teach. I find value in using a language, not in perfecting it. So I have a hard time teaching things like spelling, because I think that usability is the most important thing. But I have to grade my students based on things like spelling and grammar, so I am setting them up for failure by teaching through gaming, movies and cartoons with a lot of slang etc. Just reading my texts here in English (my best foreign language) makes it a bit apparent I think, since there are a lot of mistakes, but I can get my meaning across.

It is very common in Norway. In some schools prioritize that the teacher have the same students in most subjects, insted of having multiple classes in subjects they know.

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It is done in some parts of the country, but not in the place i work.

“But I have to grade my students based on things like spelling and grammar,”
Hm, interesting.
Wasn’t there a “communicative turn” in language teaching in the 1990s in the Western world, so that we distanced ourselves from grammar-, spelling- and translation-heavy approaches?

And that’s exactly the “usability” aspect you mentioned :slight_smile:

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