Teaching English As a Second Language

Teaching English As a Second Language

Grew up in an English speaking country? Or your Mum and Dad taught you to speak English? Or both? Congratulations! You have a talent that is in huge demand and that can take you just about anywhere in the world. Teaching English as a second or foreign language.

The world is growing smaller day-by-day. Increasing globalization in the business world combined with the phenomenal growth of the Internet mean demand for a truly international language has never been greater. And that language is English.

The demand for English is such that a native speaker could probably finance (or substantially subsidize) a global tour without any kind of training or qualification. Indeed, that is what many people do.

However, given the immense and likely increasing demand for English, English teaching is an extremely good career choice. Not only are qualified, experienced English teachers are unlikely to be unemployed for very long but the profession offers the true job satisfaction that comes from the knowledge you are genuinely giving something to others.

Becoming an English Teacher

So, how do you become a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL)?

The answers are many and various and range from strapping on a backpack and buying a plane ticket to an exotic destination through to taking a Master’s degree.

Teaching is very much a practical skill and you will find that no matter how academic study you’ve completed you will feel pretty overwhelmed when you encounter your first real learners. Don’t panic, you’ll quickly get better with practice. And, if it’s any reassurance even experienced teachers sometimes give dogs of lessons.

Try to build a rapport with your students and to develop an awareness of how a lesson is being received. Is the topic too easy or too difficult? Are the students interested or bored? You should have some sort of plan for every lesson, ie what you want the students to get out of it and how you hope to achieve it. However, if a lesson isn’t working, don’t be afraid to tear up the plan and improvise according to the needs of the moment.

The important thing is to be your own harshest critic. If a lesson doesn’t go as you intended, ask yourself how you can make things better. Remember, if your learners have been exposed to real English – and better still used some themselves – the lesson has been worthwhile.

Teacher Training

I can’t over-emphasize that teaching is something you learn by doing. However teacher training courses are useful, as they will introduce you to a range of techniques that you can employ to help your learners learn. They will also remind, or teach, you about the more technical aspects of language such as rules of grammar, phonetics etc. All the kind of stuff you do without thinking about, but can’t necessarily explain why you do it.

If you’ve completed a recognized training course it will make you much more marketable to potential employers and private students, simply by showing you’re serious about teaching and not just another backpacker passing through.

There are a growing number of online TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher training courses. These allow you to study in your own time and pace.

For those that prefer more traditional face-to-face tuition many language schools also offer TESL training courses. These can be taken full time part time. Full time courses generally run for four weeks and are highly intensive. You will eat, sleep and drink ESL for the duration. The part time courses cover the same syllabus, but spread over a longer period. The choice is yours. Some people prefer the intensity of full time study, for others part time allows them to keep working and may give longer to absorb the numerous new concepts that are presented.

Gaining Experience

Some face-to-face courses include actual teaching practice (with real ESL learners). This is helpful because when you graduate you are not only qualified but experienced too. However, if your course doesn’t include real classroom teaching, don’t despair; there are plenty of opportunities to gain that all-important initial experience.

Perhaps your locality has volunteer programs for learners of English. Such programs are nearly always grateful for new volunteer teachers. If you live somewhere where there are a lot of ESL learners, advertise your services as a private teacher.

Alternatively, look for language exchange partners. this is an arrangement whereby you teach someone English in return for them teaching you their language. Not only will you get experience, but it can also be valuable to put yourself in the learner’s shoes. You can also make some good friends.

If you’re hoping to travel abroad, why not look for some pen pals (or e-mail pals) in your intended location? You can get some experience helping them with their English, as well as making some friends to show you around when you arrive.

Finding a Job

ESL teachers have several employment options. They can be employed by a school, teach privately or – as many do – combine the two.

There are different kinds of schools. These include private English schools, schools and colleges in mainstream education (ESL teachers are employed by English departments) and organizations offering services (including English lessons) to immigrants.

Some countries operate centralized recruitment schemes for ESL teachers in schools, eg the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program in Japan. Teachers employed under such schemes have the advantage of being public employees and also enjoy working standard business hours (TESL hours can be very unsocial).

When applying for jobs try to sell yourself as much as possible with your CV/resume. Don’t only state your TESL qualifications and experience, but include absolutely anything that may be relevant, eg have you trained staff in a previous job, do you have any hobbies that show you get on well with people, do you have a background in business or working with children that may equip you for specialized teaching?

Be prepared to do some sample teaching, or even give a free, observed, trial lesson when you attend a school for interview.

You can find private students through placing small ads wherever English learners might see them. Often, if you are a good teacher, students will refer friends and colleagues to you. It’s a good idea to offer students a free trial lesson. Try to put the potential student at ease. Spend some time on introductions. Tell them a bit about yourself, but more importantly listen to them.

Private students will often tell you what they want to focus on, eg fluency, grammar, English for work etc. You may notice other areas that might need attention, eg listening, pronunciation. Point these out, but avoid being too critical. Praising students for what they do well goes a long way in winning confidence – and a new customer.

A Final Word

Teaching English should be fun. As an English teacher you have the opportunity to travel anywhere, giving something to people as you go. You will meet many interesting and wonderful people (and a few difficult ones too). Language is learnedt best when the learners are having fun, and learners are most likely to relax and have fun when the teacher is doing likewise. Enjoy yourself.