Although we can achieve a lot through demonstration and adjustment, language is our primary way of communicating. When we improve our language, we improve our yoga teacher skills.
If you teach in a second language, there are easy steps to take to improve your language skills as a yoga teacher without having to go back to the classroom.
Why is it so important?
In times of no touching and social distancing, our words have become even more significant. They touch our students. Using them consciously improves the relationship we have.
Language is the main tool we have to guide students into relaxation – especially into Savasana or a meditation - to rest, breathe and connect and to motivate. It influences perception, how your students see the practice you offer, and how they perceive you as a teacher.
Strong language skills help us project professionalism and confidence and benefit our students.
As the yoga world globalized, English became the lingua franca in yoga. Yoga Teacher Trainings are often offered in English. It is normal for a guest teacher to travel to other countries and give classes in English.
I grew up in Germany but I teach in Mallorca, Spain. Living here for more than ten years has meant that I’ve had to learn to teach in three languages- English, Spanish and German. I even teach bilingual and sometimes trilingual classes. None of them is my native language, which is Polish.
I’m proud to be able to do this but I’ve had moments of struggle and doubt. And, yes, and I have also been criticised for my pronunciation. Funnily enough, from nonnative speaking students.
Photo by eggmotion.es
If you are not sure whether your spoken English needs work, ask yourself these questions:
Do I really feel confident that I can teach and reassure my students with the accent I have and the grammatical errors I make?
Can I really settle students into stillness when guiding them in Savasana with the English vocabulary I have?
Is it OK to teach Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and meditation with my range of vocabulary?
Could I offer a podcast in English?
These are the questions I’ve asked myself. Lacking confidence also stopped me from teaching yoga philosophy in my classes, which I really wanted to do.
Do you feel the same?
So what is the issue with non-native speaking teachers?
These are the main ones:
We may not be clear in our instructions which could be dangerous
We might repeat the same words and phrases again and again which can sound boring or even irritating
We have little vocabulary treasure.
Accent is not a problem, as long as we’re understood. Our accent might actually be charming, as I and other yoga teachers I’ve spoken to have found out.
Tips for teaching in a second language discovered by me
1. Keep it simple to keep it clear – for example, if you’re teaching a bilingual class use Sanskrit words as much as possible, so you don´t have to translate everything into two languages. Especially if you teach a breathing exercise. You can´t translate every count of breath into two languages. So why don't you count instead: Ekam, Dve, Treeni, Chatvaari etc..!?
2. The rhythm you speak in counts, especially in dynamic classes – pick simple words that fit with the rhythm of your breath
3. Go to classes given by teachers whose use of English you admire and adapt what they do to fit with your style. If you want to teach Yog Nidra in a second language it´s more useful to go to a Yoga Nidra class to learn the language. Using language books is great of course, but you learn rather how to report a lost passport at the police station than guiding someone into stillness
4. Work towards always sounding like yourself and don’t use words that sound strange to you.
The typical English expression of "swan dive forward fold" still irritates me as it makes no sense to me neither in German (Schwanensprung?) nor Spanish ( buceo de cisne?). So I don't use this expression as it doesn't represent me
5. If you want to introduce yoga philosophy into your class, write yourself a script or just some bullet point memory triggers, and read it out loud to yourself
6. Record yourself teaching, take notes and try to improve
7. Go over the anatomy again and again – I still have to remind myself that it’s ‘vertebra’ when I’m talking about a single bone and not ‘vertebrae’ ( plural): " Role up vertebra by vertebra"
8. Look up synonyms for words you might overuse like ‘RELAX’ – try: soften, surrender, let go, release, melt, calm, unwind, ease etc. GENTLY: softly, slowly, smoothly, lightly, kindly, etc.
9. Include your students in your learning by asking them to help you find the right word – I’ve found that mine like this
10. Remember to always allow silence if you have no idea what to say- less is more.
11. Don`t get discouraged if a student seems not to follow or understand. Just go over, have a laugh together, and show what you mean. The student will appreciate it
12. Patience and a positive attitude. Love what you do, enjoy what you do. People will feel it, see it, acknowledge it
13. You might also like to find a native speaker and ask them if they’d like a free class in exchange for correcting your mistakes
Above all: practice, practice, practice!
And as in our practice: yoga is not about perfection, it is a practice! So it is ok to make mistakes, we can laugh with our students about them, and continue to give our best to improve our skills.
Even today I just found out: you LAY down a yoga mat but LIE down yourself! Some things I might never learn and this makes my classes personal. That´s ok.
Try writing Morning Pages
My dear friend David Holzer of YogaWriters told me about "Morning Pages" and I love them. They’re really good fun.
Every morning you wake up and write three pages about anything you like in the language you need to improve in. Think of it as a morning practice for your mind.
Morning Pages are especially useful if you want to write in your second language. They’ve definitely helped me in writing my blog.
Find out more about Morning Pages here.
If you would love to improve your English as a yoga teacher, and still want to sound like you, David Holzer from YogaWriters – a qualified English as a second language teacher as well as a writer and yogi – offers one-to-one tuition, especially for yoga teachers.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope this post helped and inspired you to question your language you use! Let me know how you liked it. If you like this blog post, please share it with your friends and colleagues.
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Thank you for your time! I bow down to you,