An easy way to make money by working abroad is to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Many travellers or people on gap year adventures find it is an ideal way to pick up some extra cash as they go, to boost their ever-dwindling bank balances as the months pass by. Other wannabe educators try teaching to see if they like the work before committing to a full-time career, and choose to go abroad as it is simpler to find a short-term job teaching in other countries than in their own.
But how does it feel to be taught English as a foreign language? As a native of England, I will never know for sure, but have personally experienced the gut-wrenching terror of not understanding a single word my teacher is saying.
Often, people who set out to teach English abroad cannot speak the native tongue of the country they visit. This is more likely to be the case if they are on a limited placement – for a three to six-month project, it might seem an unnecessary expense and waste of time to complete a TEFL course, especially if they are joining a volunteer project where other skills are needed. In fact, Working Abroad Magazine has an interview with a teacher who was successful teaching in South Korea without taking a training course.
But as someone who knows how it feels to be on the other side of the desk, let me explain how important it is you, as a teacher, know what you are doing.
Before I set off for a volunteering project in Peru, I had no idea not speaking Spanish would be a problem. The NGO I was to work for reassured me that English was widely spoken, and that I would soon pick up enough of the local lingo to get by.
When I touched down after 21 hours of travelling, I was horrified to discover that no one could decipher my words, and vice versa. I was completely powerless, and desperately turned to my Spanish teacher for help. Naturally, she too could not speak English.
Learning another language when the teacher does not speak yours is frustratingly difficult. Not only do you struggle to pronounce the new words and learn the grammar, you cannot easily ask questions or explain if you do not understand.
I found myself clutching at half remembered French lessons, trying to recall the names of the tenses and apply them to the Spanish words in front of me.
If you choose not to have formal training, at the very least draw up a few lesson plans. Take along props to explain verbs and nouns – a doll can illustrate plenty of actions. Better yet, work on your charades skills – acting out a word can make it easier to understand.
Tenses are best approached in list form, “I am, I was, I will be”, but can be tantalisingly awkward to explain.
Working Abroad Magazine has some great advice on where to get proper training to teach English as a foreign language, such as a profile on TEFL Worldwide Prague.
Patience is easily the most important attribute someone teaching students in a foreign language must have.
I often felt enraged with myself for not being able to pick up the words quickly, or frustrated when forgetting important vocabulary stopped me from answering a question. If you teach adults, it is likely your students will feel the same way, and a barrage of English in their direction, however sympathetic, will only make matters worse.
If your class is full of children, you face a more difficult obstacle: boredom. Kids who find things difficult – and know they can say what they like without you understanding them – can be unruly and disruptive. Yet they usually want to learn, and engaging their enthusiasm is the best way to encourage them.
Try playing games – snap is always a good one – or drawing pictures. Repetition is important as well – all too often I found myself grasping for a word I knew I should know, but could not remember. Setting homework can backfire, but is generally a good idea – you may find your students do not bother to complete it, but at least it provides a tangible link from one lesson to the next.
Above all – persevere. It may sometimes seem like your students do not care or are not trying, but those who think their future relies on the ability to converse in English will remember you forever if you do your job well.
For more information on how to obtain a recognised TEFL qualification before you leave, pay a visit to these sites: www.tefl.co.uk/, https://www.i-to-i.com/tefl/, www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/teaching-awards/celta.html, www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=201
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