Teaching Pilates When You Are NOT a Native Speaker

Episode 20

Today on the Pilates Exchange podcast, we delve into the topic of teaching in a second language. Hannah and Christian Teutscher are both experienced in doing it and want to dive into a discussion on the good, the bad, and the embarrassing!


Tune in for valuable insights on navigating Pilates instruction when not a native speaker. We unravel the challenges, emphasize the power of simplicity, and discuss the importance of honing communication skills. Stay tuned for some great tips and language-related embarrassing stories to wrap up the episode. Thanks for listening!


Key Points From This Episode:


  • A little bit of context: what we do, how we teach, and what our studio looks like.
  • Chris and Hannah share their language journey as it relates to their [Pilates] education.
  • Changing languages and how it requires a lot of concentration. 
  • Making up words: taking your language disadvantage and making it an advantage. 
  • The parallel between learning and teaching in a new language and the experience of our students learning pilates. 
  • The challenge of teaching Pilates in a language that is not the first language of the students.
  • Simplicity as best: simplifying how we try to get people to do things.
  • Honing down on communication: what are you trying to communicate?
  • The importance of the clarity and efficiency of your word choice.
  • How other teaching tools can come into play (mirrors, visual aids, etc.).
  • Tips to help those who are starting to teach in a second language. 
  • Embarrassing stories: the funniest things we’ve said accidentally or misunderstandings.





[0:00:01] HT: Today, we’re talking about, teaching in a second language, because both of us have experience doing that, and want to get to this like the good things, the bad things, the really embarrassing things, all of that. 


Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades, and what I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. 


We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this war themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange. 




[0:01:14] HT: Let’s give our listeners a little bit of a setup about what we do, how we teach, and what our studio looks like, so it makes sense in the context of what we’re going to be talking about today. My mother tongue is English. I also speak German. Chris, you are German. He’s German and he also teaches and speaks perfect English. In our studio, we navigate through both of those languages. We have sometimes classes just in German, sometimes they’re in English or sometimes they are bilingual. Tell me about, Chris, when you did your education, what language were you in? 


[0:01:53] CT: I learned it in German. We learned it in German, because we were a group. There was just one person who was there. He didn’t speak German. Our teacher also taught it in English. I heard it in both languages. Since I know the English language pretty well and all the exercises, and all the names of the exercises in English, I tend to have an easier time teaching it in English. 


[0:02:20] HT: You have an easier time to hear. Yeah. I mean, I learned German later in life as an adult, and changing all of my cues in my teaching skills into German was really, really difficult for me, because I did my initial Pilates education in English. Then when I realised that I was going to be staying in Germany, I decided to go back and do part of my Pilates education in German, so that I have more vocabulary, because I think that was just what was missing in the beginning, was that vocabulary.


[0:02:51] CT: Yeah. I think that’s difficult if you first learn a training method, let’s say in Pilates, in this case, in one language and you teach it for a long time. Then you start teaching it in a different language. Even if the first language is not where you’re teaching, and then you try to teach you in your mother tongue. It gets even more difficult if you normally teach it in your mother tongue, and then you learn a different language, and then you have to change all the cues, all the stuff into your second language. It takes a long time and lots of concentration, I would say. 


[0:03:24] HT: It takes a huge. But I used to get so nervous. I had been teaching for decades, and then I changed my language, and I felt I just couldn’t get those words out. I was so nervous before every class that I took, because I was so afraid that people would judge me or I’d make mistakes. Did you feel that too? 


[0:03:47] CT: Let me go back to what you were saying is, I mean, of course, nervous, you didn’t want to do any mistakes or any stuff, and you don’t want to make the people feel like or you don’t know what you’re talking about, but then in the end, people liked it, because you were making up words. 


[0:04:01] HT: Oh, I make up so many words now – 


[0:04:02] CT: Because you use your, let’s say, disadvantage into your advantage and everyone understands you. Hannah’s coming up with some words, like for example, we’re lying on our belly in the Pilates mat class, and we’re doing some back extension work just to release the pelvis, and the back muscles. She just says, shimmy-shimmy shake, and everyone next to me does it. I was like, “What’s shimmy-shimmy shake?” It’s just moving the pelvis side-to-side or rocking, just to get a little bit, loosen up the back muscles. It’s so funny. In the end, like saying again, disadvantage in your case what you were thinking was your advantage in the end, because you didn’t take yourself too serious. You are just making some fun here and there to loosen up the tension in the class. 


[0:04:45] HT: I think what was the turning point for me was when I realised, so yes, I’m teaching in a different language, and it’s hard for me. It’s something new that I’m learning, but it’s similar to the experience that the students were having, because they were learning Pilates at the same time. There’s a degree of difficulty there and you have to make mistakes. You got to try things out, both in movement and in language. That leveled the playing field, and I thought that, like you’re saying, like it was a disadvantage, but it was actually a real advantage, because it disarmed the people. Then they were having more fun or helping me out sometimes or just laughing with me when I couldn’t find my words or I mixed them up. 


[0:05:25] CT: Yeah. Because then people think you have to be serious in a class. 


[0:05:30] HT: Right. I mean, we’re pretty silly people, all together. I think that helps. 


[0:05:35] CT: Yeah. That’s really interesting. You were asking me before, how was that for me in the transition or teaching in different languages? I wanted now to talk about a setup which was really difficult for me is, imagine you’re having 10 people in your class. Your studio is full. You have two languages in there, and some of the people in your class don’t have any Pilates experience, and you’re teaching in a language which is not their first language. 


Then you’re – let’s say, in a good way, fighting with not knowing or they don’t know Pilates yet, so you have to explain. So, it’s really hard for you choosing – because then you say it, for example, in my case, first, let’s say first in German and then you repeat in English. Then you have to repeat or do you have to repeat exactly what you said before in this one language to repeat in the other one or not? I mean, that’s a good question. Then that brings me to a yoga’s – in an online class. One person he was from the States and I was teaching bilingual class, and he was eager to learn a little bit more German. So, he said, “You can just teach the class in German. Just set me up in this exercise.”


[0:07:02] HT: Set it up in English.


[0:07:03] CT: Set it up in English. Set up the exercise in English. Then he knew what’s going on, for example, in the seated position. Then I was teaching a set-up, seated position arms, blah, blah, blah, for the spine twist. Then I switched and stayed in German. I found it really interesting that it was important for him to have the set up and then he could follow. This was changing also, then my teaching was like, aha, the people just want to know what we’re doing next. Then they see also the people around you, so you don’t actually, have to repeat exactly what you’re saying in one language, otherwise you’re talking, actually in two hours, like you’re talking for two. 


[0:07:42] HT: In one hour you’re talking for two, like, yeah. 


[0:07:44] CT: You’re talking for two languages and you’re talking for two. 




[0:07:47] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working, and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created, Train the Trainers. 


Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything, we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. 


Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers. 




[0:08:36] HT: What I was thinking is really interesting, what you were thinking before, like sometimes we have a class here where people are multilingual. It’s not just bilingual, but they have three, four, five languages under their belt. In our special situation, I’m sure not, that everyone is coming across this. They’ll be either having English or German as a second, third, fourth different language. It’s true when you have a beginner that’s in your class, and you are choosing which language and which skills, you’re trying to get them to do. 


Simplicity is what really comes across the best. We’ve really simplified how we try to get people to do things. Once they have that experience in their bodies and they are feeling safer that we’re not just going to be throwing words or throwing exercises at them. Once they feel that security there, then their learning curve is different. They are able to do much more than they had thought before. We also teach quite a lot with our bodies. 


[0:09:37] CT: You mean also, then that as a teacher, we have to prepare even more for those kinds of classes we’re talking about or is it the same? 


[0:09:46] HT: I don’t think it’s about preparation. I think it’s about honing down on communication. What are you trying to communicate at any point? A lot of us use way too many words all the time. 


[0:09:59] CT: People don’t listen. They just hear the first two or three words of what you say, and then they’re like, wandering in their own world. Sometimes it happens. 


[0:10:07] HT: I really love beautiful cueing, and we teach a whole course just on cueing and invitational cues, and directive cues, all that kind of thing, which is really it is important. But in that beginning, when you’re dealing with multiple languages at the same time, the clarity and the efficiency of your word choice is more important, because you’re just trying to communicate what is happening. All of that extra stuff, the deep stuff, the philosophical stuff, that’s an extra that maybe comes later. We don’t really need to prepare, your question was, how much do we need to prepare for that? I think if we are honing in on just get your people as easily doing the movement fast, then we’re doing our job. What do you think? 


[0:10:52] CT: I think, it’s exactly, you’re right. What you’re saying then what I learned or experienced is that they really have to make sure what I say, and it has to be as short, as clear as possible. Most people think it’s really difficult teaching in two languages, but it’s easier than you think it is. You just have to be, like you say, less cueing, that’s a crazy cueing, just get the people in their position and teach the exercise and that’s it. Then also, sometimes when you set up one exercise, you don’t always switch. In my case German, English, German English, sometimes I do German, English, English, German, and people will understand it when you show, for example, the arms at the same time. Then they can follow you or you sit stand in front of a person and we’re going to do this one, and we’re going to do this one. 


[0:11:41] HT: That’s where in the classes, all of those other teaching tools really come into play. Using mirroring, visual aids, use the students that are there to help facilitate that learning, maybe making a demonstration out of someone. It doesn’t mean that you’re always doing all of the exercises all the time as the teacher. It’s just about being really thoughtful on how again, how you’re trying to communicate what it is that you want. What are some tips that you could come up with, that helps our teachers that are starting to teach in a second language? 


[0:12:17] CT: They are about to start with a thinking. I would say first of all, it takes time. You have to get used to it. You have to try it. It’s totally, but in the end, it’s easier than you think it is, because maybe you can stay in that language. You would like to say the things and then switch to the ones where you feel more comfortable, and just try it out. See how it feels, and like always, be prepared, but don’t talk too much, like all the other classes. It’s just getting used to it. 


[0:12:49] HT: What really helped me was, again, I learned German as an adult. I think it’s easier probably if you’ve already grown up with a second language. I made a list of all of my verbs that I needed and all of the nouns, so body parts and what we wanted to do the verb of that. That really helped me feel more empowered, so I wasn’t searching for my words in those exercises. 


I also took a basic class and wrote out the most simplest way to get people to say things and I did it only one time, not for all of my classes, just one time, so I felt prepared in that first class. Then I would just practise and play around with words on top of that. Ready for embarrassing stories. What is the funniest thing that you’ve said accidentally or misunderstandings? 


[0:13:46] CT: In a class?


[0:13:47] HT: In a class. 


[0:13:48] CT: I don’t know. Nothing really comes into my head right now. 


[0:13:51] HT: Oh, I have so many. 


[0:13:53] CT: Yeah. Maybe you start first, and then maybe something will come back. 


[0:13:57] HT: Okay. No, this is just funny things that happen. Misunderstandings, which they would happen in it doesn’t have to be a bilingual class, but here’s one. I was teaching the exercise kneeling side kick. Okay. I do tend to speak fast when I’m excited about something, but I had been teaching that exercise to this group of Germans for several months. Somewhere in the middle of the class, one of the people said, “Where’s the psychics?” I’m like, “What? What are we talking about the psychics?” She had misunderstood me for months kneeling side kick as kneeling psychics. I love that. 


[0:14:42] CT: It’s funny. 


[0:14:42] HT: It was pretty funny.


[0:14:43] CT: A misunderstanding, maybe because of acoustic reasons. 


[0:14:46] HT: Right. It was acoustic and it was the way I was pronouncing it. Yeah. 


[0:14:52] CT: I think nothing really comes up in my head. Maybe later. Would you like a funny situation in your class? No. Maybe I forgot them all. 


[0:15:02] HT: You’ve blocked them out. Yeah. 


[0:15:03] CT: Maybe. I’ve messed up words, body parts, right and left, upside down, and all sorts of different things. I just want to normalise that, it is okay to make mistakes, especially if you’re going for a second language and people are more interested in just having a great experience with you. They’re going to be forgiving of your language skills, because they’re just, they’re wanting to move in their bodies, then they want to have fun with you. I really encourage you if you’re thinking about it or are doubting your abilities. Try it out. It will take a little bit of practise, of course, but we all need practise and things. Do it. 


[0:15:49] CT: Yeah, definitely. If you’re a person who likes to practise at home yourself first, maybe try to change your favourite cues, but maybe also sometimes these cues make no sense in that language. Try to find your way and experiment around how it works and the other language. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun and gives you access to a completely different group of people. They can come to your studio and maybe it’s going to be the most funny, the most interesting class ever. Some people always think it’s going to be difficult. I’m going to do all these mistakes. No, no, just like I said, test it out, try it out and it’s going to be lots of fun. 


[0:16:28] HT: One last thing as a tip, if you’re considering working in a different language, try to take a few classes in that language. Either searching for some stuff on YouTube and whatever language you want. Just hearing how other people work through the exercises will empower you to make some good choices in yours. 


[0:16:49] CT: Exactly. I have nothing else to add to this. 


[0:16:55] HT: Okay. Well, when Chris is done. We are done. We’re wishing you a wonderful rest of your teaching day, my friends. We will hear from you soon. 




[0:17:06] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching, everyone.



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