Teaching English as a Foreign Language 4


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Travel + Job = Teach English?

When I signed up to do a CertTESOL teacher training course some years ago, there was no way I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted an income that could travel.

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It’s a qualification administered by Trinity College, London, and is more or less the same as a CELTA (it used to stand for Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults, but it’s now also Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) administered by Cambridge English.

Personally I chose TESOL over CELTA for the fairly random reason that the programme had more of what’s called Unknown Language training in it. That’s when you are put in the shoes of an absolute beginner language learner for a week to start learning a language like Czech or Japanese. It sounded interesting.

There are many centres where you can acquire these qualifications, all over the world. I chose to do mine at ILS Nottingham. The course lasted for 4 weeks, full time. It currently costs £1200 and that’s around average for this qualification.

10 minutes after the course began I realised…….

1. It was not going to be a walk in the park.
2. I had opened forever my grammar geek Pandora’s box.
3. At the tender age of 40, I had absolutely found the career for me.

I had “taught” English on an informal, voluntary basis since moving to live  in France a few years before. It took me the next couple of minutes of the course to realise there was a lot more to it than I had imagined.

It’s quite difficult to explain what an intensive TEFL course does to you, or at least what it did to me. My 20 year old law degree started to take on the appearance of the walk in the park. I was up till 4am preparing lessons for the following morning. I breathed and dreamt English teaching to the point where I started to think eating was wasting too much time (thank you so much Anna for feeding me).

Our group formed an incredibly strong bond almost immediately, and we took it in turns to support the person who was next in line to “lose it” through lack of sleep. I can only suppose that the instant camaraderie we felt, and I have never felt so strongly since or before, is like being bound together with a group of strangers in a plane crash.

I enjoyed the Unknown Language lessons – Czech as it turned out for me. To be honest, I spent much longer analysing how I felt as a learner in a classroom where I understood not a single world than I did actually paying attention to the Czech. I had reasoned that never, ever would I need to use Czech, but that I would have to be able to write a report on how I felt as a language learner and on the strategies the teacher had used to introduce an entirely new language to me. As serendipity would have it, my first teaching contract was, in part, on the Czech border.

Where was I going with all of this?

Within a matter of days, I had turned from the most unlikely English teacher on the planet to someone who had vivid multicolour happy dreams about phonetics and grammatical structures. It may have been the lack of food (see above). I would happily recount to complete strangers on the bus to class how amazing it was that there was a rule for when to correctly use somebody, anybody or nobody in a sentence.

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But I was still having a little trouble trying to piece together the map of my past working career so that it looked anything more than a dog’s dinner. Starting out as a lawyer, then owning a bakery (alongside a spell of being a “cloth nappy advisor”), then moving abroad sounds more like a disaster than a structured career path. I sat on the train to my brothers on a weekend “off” during the TESOL course pondering this, and got chatting to the girl next to me. She was a lawyer on her way to meet Russian colleagues who were learning English for their work. It all fell into place. The wonders of coincidence went one step further, and I have since taught a business English course in Japan to managers in a baby product company, where knowing about cloth nappies was mighty useful.

A CertIBET (Certificate in Business English Training)?

I love teaching teenage learners. They are refreshingly honest and will tell you upfront if your lesson is shite. Or they will make it blindingly clear to you if culture doesn’t permit. You are quickly slapped into shape as a teacher. Far quicker, possibly, than if you start and remain teaching adults all of your career; adults who smile magnanimously at you in class when in fact they think that your lesson is shite.

But for me, the path I was bound to follow was teaching Business English. Hard on the heels of my TESOL I enrolled on a CertIBET course at International House in London. I have waxed lyrical about my TESOL training, but this was on another scale altogether. Half of the participants I am still in contact with, and I consider them to be some of the best teachers I know. They were awash with teaching experience, I had 20 years business experience, it was a great mix for a class.

For anyone planning to teach business English, signing up for the CertIBET is a great idea. It’s a two week intensive course followed by a 3 month period in which to submit a written assignment. 3 months, pah, easy I thought. I handed it in 8 minutes before the deadline.

DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults)?

A DELTA is a Masters-equivalent teaching qualification which is both theoretical and practical. I enrolled to do Module 1 last year at ESOL Strasbourg. There are 3 parts; part 1 can be done online and the exam sat at a DELTA approved centre, part 2 is classroom based, and part 3 is a written assignment.

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This is me sitting my mock exam whilst travelling in Morocco.  Very badly thought out on my part – not a soul to copy.

I got as much of a thrill working my way through the reading list as most 30 to 50 year old females get working their way though the Shaded of Grey trilogy. Except that, on balance, I feel that a book on phonology has far more of a plot.

Where am I now?

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I have been lucky. Really lucky. I have taught in countries such as Serbia, Austria, Japan and Russia to name but a few. I have met some of the most interesting people that I have ever met in my life.   I am travelling for a year in a campervan with my family – and working.

I have “one of those” weeks at work next week. I fly from Spain to London to Finland to Japan to teach two 3-day business courses that I love to students that I love. I have, finally, found the career for me.

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4 thoughts on “Teaching English as a Foreign Language

  • Sam

    I felt exactly the same way as you when I started the TEFL training. Now, while I certainly enjoy the teaching (some aspects more than others) I still don’t think it’s the career for me. You are kinda my TEFL idol, though, and I definitely find your enthusiasm and joy around teaching infectious: teaching with you makes me a better teacher. So thanks!

  • Chris Bowie

    Great post – you give a real flavour of the life an EFL teacher.

    It’s great to read your blog because it reminds me of the key attraction of EFL – the journey of self discovery. People say that teaching English isn’t a ‘proper job’ but you’re reminding us that it’s so much more than a job.

    Chris

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