What I Know Now About Teaching English in Spain

Sarah Perkins Guebert Bio PhotoAre you a teacher or language assistant? Thinking of teaching English in Spain? It goes without saying that there are differences in culture and education between any two countries. There are certainly quite a few between Spain and the US, where I grew up. 

You may have heard some stereotypes about Spanish education, and, no, here in Spain we do not take naps at school in the middle of the day. Nor do teachers instinctively know how to dance flamenco. In many ways, schools in Spain and the US are actually quite similar. However, there are a few notable differences that might surprise you. These are the five things I wish someone had explained to me before I started teaching English in Spain as an American. 

Five Things I Learned Teaching English in Spain

Ditch the Heels

You may be surprised to discover that Spanish teachers do not dress to impress. In fact, casual attire is the norm. This includes jeans, sneakers, and tees. It certainly wasn’t the scenario I’d pictured when I moved to Spain. When I arrived for the first time, I brought clothes typical of an American teacher: slacks, button-ups, smart cardigans, etc. However, I quickly realized that dressing too formally was out of place in the public school environment and ditched the skirts for jeans.

On a First-Name Basis

Not only do Spanish teachers dress down, but they also go by their first names. This was quite a shock to me after coming out of the American education system. On the first day of my teaching job, I was stunned when students ran up to my boss and addressed him by his first name as though he were their best friend or cousin. However, this is not something out of the ordinary here. Have fun with it and remember that the kids do not mean any disrespect.

Winging It

American teachers know that lessons require several hours a week of painstaking work. Not so in Spain. In general, Spanish teachers do not believe in working unpaid overtime. They do not usually prepare extensive lessons, handouts, or other materials. In fact, they prefer to follow the textbook, and some even show up (sometimes late) and throw a lesson together at the last minute. This can certainly be shocking for new teachers and language assistants; however, to put this in perspective, oftentimes teachers are shuffled around between grades from year to year and cannot rely on past lesson plans.

Chitter Chatter

Spanish children are incredibly active and talkative. In fact, it’s very difficult to get them to be quiet at all. This can be challenging for a teacher, but it also means that these students excel at speaking activities and games and always enjoy a lively debate with their classmates. They are happy to discuss almost any topic at length and are always eager to participate. Make sure to put a time limit on your activities, because Spanish students can easily take over an entire class.

Black Pen or Blue?

One of children’s biggest challenges is trusting in their own decisions. They sometimes struggle to make even the smallest of choices without adult guidance. Everything is dictated to them at school from a young age, making these little decisions and creativity as a whole very difficult for them to grasp. Giving Spanish students too much freedom can even result in panic. Be prepared for confusion, a bombardment of questions, or even tears from the younger if you give them too many options to choose from.

If you plan on becoming a teacher or language assistant in Spain, I would advise simply spending time in the country and immersing yourself in the culture before walking into a class. Enjoy the parks, the bars, and the street. Understanding Spanish culture will help you understand the school environment and your students. Once you’re in class, relax, exchange your fancy clothes for comfy ones, go by your first name, and most importantly, take it one day at a time.

Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLHow did a Southern, non-Hispanic begin her bilingual journey in an English-only rural town? 

Solo español,” replied my Spanish 2 teacher who spoke to us in almost no English right from the beginning.

How have I taught nearly every grade level of Spanish/ESL ever since for seven years?

Only in the language that I am teaching… with some exceptions. I’m here to challenge you both with experience and science for using the target language (the language you are teaching) as much as possible in your classroom. And believe me, you can use it a lot more than you think you can.

Why only the target language?

Learning to listen and speak a language occurs the same way babies learn to talk. They listen to in the language constantly, with images and context to teach them meaning. Then, after hours upon hours of exposure, the babies are ready to speak. As their brain develops, they are able to form more complex phrases, sentences, and ideas as they age. Our second languages are learned in the same way. Our brains absorb grammar through repetition. they absorb meaning through context created by situations and visuals. Finally, they absorb pronunciation through constant exposure and confidence via experience. Because we “acquire” language (that is, to soak it up through the ability to speak and listen, then in our ability to write and read in it), we cannot teach language in the same way that we teach other subjects. We must mimic a caregiver teaching a child to speak.

Enter the language classroom. In the case where the teacher and students both speak the students’ first language, many teachers do not speak in the target language. They do this to get through the lesson faster, to avoid frustrated students, or to build rapport with students. Other times, they simply do not know how to teach in the target language. As a result, you see students who have textbook knowledge of the target language but who are unable to communicate in it.

Remember Phonics?

abc PhonicsWithout appropriate communication in the target language, students haven’t developed an ear for how the language sounds; they haven’t learned enough vocabulary in natural context nor have they developed the confidence to speak the target language. Additionally, students don’t have the opportunity to form an identity in the new language they are trying to learn if they aren’t being exposed to it or being forced to use it — they rely only on their original, or L1, language/identity. Finally, if they don’t see how they are able to communicate in the target language they lose motivation. They feel as if they aren’t learning it. However, a student who is forced to speak the language feels that they are actually learning.

I speak from experience. It started in my high school Spanish 2 classroom where my teacher uttered not a word in English for two hours a day, five days a week. The instructor spoke in an incredibly simple way. He would not answer anyone in English, and only in Spanish. He spoke with gestures, dramatic emotions, and cognates. 

Speaking From Experience

By the end of the semester, I (Caroline) had not only studied Spanish, but could actually speak basic Spanish. I learned more in that semester of high school Spanish alone than I did in any other community college course I took. In those courses, the instructor used a mix of Spanish and English. They missed opportunities to give their students the true ability to communicate in our second language. After moving from my small town to attend a state university to study Spanish and second language acquisition (SLA), I saw more examples both as a Spanish and SLA student of why teachers should use ONLY the target language.

I speak as a teacher. When I speak in the target language at first, I see students of all ages initially very frustrated. I ALWAYS have students who are hesitant to learn the language and resist. However, I insist upon only using the language I am teaching. I have seen their progress. I have seen students score higher on proficiency tests than their level indicated that they would. Ultimately, I have seen my resistors eventually change their ways. 

Success in the Classroom

Every semester, I have ESL (English as a Second Language) students who request to join my class because I insist on using only English. As a university instructor, students have changed or added majors and minors in the language I taught. My students have returned to me bragging about how they asked their counselors to speak to them in their target language. Some of my ESL students took jobs in English. I have taught China’s brightest professionals that they STILL have more to learn because they could only communicate in English and realized that they couldn’t as they wished. Finally, I have had a student upon student thank me at the end of every semester. 

So, How Do You Teach? 

Be your normal teacher self… in the target language. Notably, you are not going to speak like you would speak to native speakers. Aim for a much slower, simpler pace with tons of visual clues to help convey your message.

You first have to speak in the simplest way possible. For example, “We’re all set, so could you please hand in your papers?” becomes “pass the papers.” In the beginning classes, use gestures, gestures, gestures. In intermediate classes, say, “Please pass the papers — we are finished! Thanks!” I suggest sticking to a handful of common requests or words that are most repeated in the target language or in a classroom setting. 

Change Your Expectations

You’ll also have to change your expectations according to the natural stages of language development and to what level of communication each level can reasonably do in the language they are learning. You should try to have low/beginning students listen as much as possible. They should respond non-verbally until they have the confidence and the feel for the sounds of the language to speak. Even then, it will be very similar to a child learning how to speak — first with one-word phrases, then two, etc. From knowledge I’ve gathered from my graduate studies, the development of language is the same for everyone in terms of language stages and whether it’s a first or second language.

Once your students get past the low/beginning stage and into intermediate or high/beginning, they can start to communicate basic needs. The goal now is to increase their confidence in the language. Have students speak in small groups and with yourself as the teacher as much as possible. You should require that all communications with you and their classmates be in the target language with some exceptions so students can make the most of every opportunity. 

Because all teaching is about creating meaning, you need to try to provide as much context for language as possible… visuals, gestures, and culturally authentic material. Creating meaning is important because you want to be teaching at a level slightly higher than the students’ current level. This way they are challenged and can advance forward in an attainable way. 

first language puzzle

So, When Is the First Language Okay?

You never want students to lose their identity. Therefore, I have found that when students (particularly in ESL courses) are speaking about their native countries, idioms, or cultures, the use of their mother tongue is powerful. Plus, some words don’t quite translate the same.

You also have to recognize that speaking a second language requires more brainpower from students. If you want them to do some higher-order thinking that they don’t have the language skills for just yet, you might allow them to use their first language to think through the task, then use the second language once they have the activity mastered. 

Criticisms of Only Teaching in the Target Language

One criticism that gets mentioned of teaching only in the target language is that you don’t want students to miss out on important information — and I agree. For beginning students, you don’t want them to miss out on key information, so I think it’s okay to FIRST say the information in the target language. If, after multiple attempts to clarify their understanding they still don’t understand the concept, it is okay to use their first language. However, just explaining the concept in the first language immediately takes away the opportunity for growth.

I have also seen the usefulness of translation, despite what current language teaching methods (the communicative method) say. When I’m teaching grammar, second-language students often literally translate the grammatical rules of their first language into their second. It can be helpful to compare the differences. I also run into the issue when teaching vocabulary that while it’s better to reply with a synonym or image to stay in the target language, sometimes there is no image or similar word that students know, so a translation can be handy. 

Knowing these situations, my rule with my low/intermediate students is “Only English… except during grammar activities, cultural celebrations, group projects, or if you ask special permission.” 

A Conclusion About Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

By purposely speaking only in the target language to students, we make language an acquired ability instead of a memorized subject. With careful exceptions, we can also respond to our students in a sensitive way. 

 

Making the Jump Abroad and Teaching Online

 

Michael ToddMichael Todd was born and raised in southwest Virginia. Before making the jump abroad, he worked an assortment of odd jobs. Michael has worked as a barista and a tutor assisting immigrant children with their English skills. He also has worked various gigs in the arts. Entering his third year in Madrid, Spain, Michael is looking for ways to further put down roots and build a life that goes beyond just visiting. He spends a lot of his time writing, attending literary events and concerts, and searching for good iced coffee.

Aside from his search for community, another goal for Michael’s third year is to travel as much as he can. When we spoke, he was getting ready to travel to Lisbon, Portugal to see The Lumineers in concert. He’s also hit up Munich, Germany to attend Oktoberfest, as well as visited some friends in Lund, Sweden. Where else will he end up? Follow his story to find out!

Side note: during our discussion, I asked him to describe himself with three adjectives and here is how some of his friends, parents, siblings, roommates, exes, acquaintances, and some total strangers described him (in alphabetical order) as adventurous, caring, creative, cosmopolitan, crusty, cultured, explorative, fearless, funny, hairy, honest, intelligent, inquisitive, majestic, pale, pondering, queer, questioning, witty, and unique. 

Meet Michael:

Why did you choose to Teach Abroad in Spain and Europe? 

“I’d always wanted to travel aroundand possibly live inEurope. Finally landing in Spain as my home base was a bit of an accident. My best friend back home recommended I look into an Associazione Culturale Linguistica Educational (ACLE). ACLE is a summer camp that teaches English to kids in Italy. She’d done the same program during university and thought I’d be a good fit for it. Plus, Italy was basically at the top of my list of places to visit. 

Once they accepted me to teach for that summer I thought, why not try and stay longer? I researched some programs for Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL), keeping in mind that I needed some sort of visa assistance if I wanted to stay in Europe longer than the three months allowed with an American passport. One of the more promising programs I found was here in Madrid. I reasoned a popular metropolitan city with good travel connections (and very gay-friendly to boot) fit my interests perfectly. To top it all off, I’d studied Spanish during high school. I hoped that integrating into life here would be a lot simpler than, say if I went somewhere like Germany. I would later discover this was not actually the case, but I still feel pretty happy with my choice regardless!” 

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?  

streets of spain“I’d never really thought teaching would be part of my career path until around my sophomore year at university when I was offered a few gigs around the city. I mostly worked doing summer camps in the arts or by giving specialized workshops in things like prosthetic fabrication (stuff like body parts for theatre productions). That was enough to show me that teaching wasn’t always a grudgingly difficult process like it always seemed to be in high school. This really opened me up to adding teaching to my toolbelt, so to speak, when it came to pursuing a life in the arts. 

Before I moved abroad, I worked freelance in several jobs: barista, figure model for art classes, theatre designer (props, set, and makeup), writer (magazines and local papers), and, yes, teaching. Directly before moving, I worked for about six months as an assistant at elementary and high schools helping children of immigrants with their reading and writing skills. Most of them spoke English very well and just struggled with the written element. Virginia, where I lived, was all about test scores.

I’d also taught a few writing and theatre workshops around Richmond. Some classes I taught were a class on fabricating severed heads (yes, there is a market for that, apparently) and a writing course for LGBTQ+ teens in the area. 

All this is to say, teaching is much like Spain was for me initially. It was an accident I’ve come to love as a supplement to my personal creative practice.”

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? 

“Honestly, much easier, haha. I envisioned effortless classes and loads of free time exploring Europe. Which isn’t to say that teaching English is always difficult, or that I haven’t traveled at all. But our language is slippery and flexible, which can make it challenging to teach at times; there was a ton that I knew without knowing why I knew it, so the first year was a lot about teaching myself before I could teach my students.

More than once I had to honestly tell my students, “I’m not surelet me look into that and we can talk about it next class.” And that’s the hard reality of it: if you haven’t, say, majored in English or some type of education, you’ll probably have a steep learning curve if you decide to go into ESL. Nonetheless, I found that as long as I told the truth about what I did or didn’t know, my students were patient with me. And by the second year, I had significantly fewer gaps.”

Where have you been teaching? 

“I taught my first two years at an academy about 45 minutes outside of the city. Based on my group of friends here, I’d say this is pretty normal. You’re lucky if you land a nice academy gig in the center of the city, or if you get placed at a high school close by. The academy I was at had some amazing teachers but some pretty toxic management. 

michael todd

 

During the second year, I started transitioning to teaching online and left academy life entirely this past June. It’s been so much easier and less stressful to work from homethe preparation has been reduced by probably 80%, and I’m paid better than when I worked in academies here, even with the exchange rate and taxes. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t teach in an academy or as an auxiliar. There are some amazing academies and an auxiliar job can be perfect if you get a good school. However, if I’d known that teaching online existed upon moving to Spain, my first two years here may have looked significantly different. I very much support educating yourself on all your options.” 

What are you doing now? Will you be teaching online this year?

I am teaching online with a company called VIPKid. I teach lessons that range from about 25 to 30 minutes. It’s much more convenient because I can choose my own schedule. Being in the European timezone, my workday much more resembles a regular 9:00 to 5:00 job versus in academy life, where my hours were closer to 4:00 to 10:00 PM. This also means that if I want to go on a trip or something, I don’t have to worry about asking for time off.

What expectations did you have before you came here? Were you afraid to travel far from home?

“I really didn’t have clear expectations. It’s hard to imagine a new life you haven’t lived yet in a place you’ve never been before, even with looking at pictures, watching films, or talking to people who are already there. I was lucky enough to chat with a few people before moving abroad about what their lives were like, where I should look for housing, what pay was like, and so on. If I had any expectations, it was that my life here would be easier and happier than back home (which is not to say that I was terribly unhappy, but rather that I had a very romanticized idea of life abroad). 

As for if I was afraid to travel far from homenot at all. I’d dreamed of it for years. I don’t think anyone felt particularly surprised when I finally made the jump. I think a lot of people thought, “Ah, finally, he did it!”

What were some of your accomplishments of your first year?

“Surviving, haha. Teaching can be a difficult gig sometimes. I spent a lot of my time feeling unsure of myself and feeling like a champion if I got through a class without actually sweating. 

Besides that, I did a fair amount of traveling in my first year. I went to Scotland with a friend for a long weekend, visited my ex in Paris, and also hit up Italy, Germany, and Portugal. I’m also really happy with the fact that I stuck with my Spanish classes on top of teaching. 

Really, probably my biggest “accomplishment” was deciding to stay a second year when I wasn’t sure that this was the right fit for me. Spain, again, was coincidental, and I didn’t necessarily love the experience the first go-round. Plenty of people leave after the first year, or even earlier if they’re that unhappy. I really considered calling it quits, but I’m glad I decided to stick it out.” 

What do you want to achieve for your third year? 

My third year is about traveling more, establishing more friendships, seeking out community, and strengthening the ties I have. Madrid is a pretty transient city. People come and go often, sometimes they feel unhappy, they find other jobs, decide to try other countries, marry, go to grad school… The list goes on. What I mean is, it can be hard to anchor yourself. Initially, I thought I would be more nomadic, moving each year or traveling more frequently. But I’ve learned through leaving America and coming here that community is important to me, and so that’s a big goal for me this year. I’ve found a great writer’s group here through a trilingual bookshop called Desperate Literature and I’ve started auditioning for local productions after probably six years without acting, so I’m excited to see how those things develop. 

What advice would you give to other participants about their first year? What are some of the things they must do and some things they must absolutely not do? 

“That’s a great question… If I had to answer this question as if I were talking back to myself as a first-year, I would say, be kinder to yourself. Stop obsessing over the perfect lesson plan, because it doesn’t exist. Be flexible and focus more on the students themselves than what you’ve told yourself you need to teach. Get out of your apartment more. Madrid is an amazing city for many reasons: it has an NYC vibe in that there are always people out there are always things to do. I didn’t do nearly enough my first year, so don’t make that mistake. Go to the open mic nights, join a sports group, go on hikes, go to intercambios… Don’t forget why you came here in the first place.” 

Italy michael todd

How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture so far? What are the steps you have taken to prepare yourself? How did you prepare before you arrived? 

“I did basically nothing before arriving beyond looking at some old Spanish notes from high school, haha. Probably a mistake. But since coming here, I’ve done as much as my life as an English teacher will allow. It can be difficult to fully integrate into this culture when half of your day is in English. But I’ve really stuck with my Spanish classes, and I’m somewhere between B2 (upper-intermediate) and C1 (lower-advanced). It’s a very fuzzy place to be, but I love pushing my limits. Spanish people are also very warm in many ways, but also somewhat flaky. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t immediately line up to be your best friend. If you’re patient and persistent, you can wiggle your way in, and at that point, they’re really loyal. That will be a big part of my whole community-building goal this year.”

Teaching Online and What the Future Holds

In addition to staying for a fourth year, Michael is also currently looking into graduate programs as an option for the near future. He plans to earn an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Michael will spend the month of April doing a creative writing residency in northern Vermont. He is currently participating in the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program with AWP, which brings together burgeoning and established writers. Michael will be writing for Dreams Abroad so visit our site frequently to see what he will be sharing about teaching online and being abroad. 

by Leesa Truesdell

ESL Certifications: Where to Begin

by Caroline Hazelton

The world of English as a Second/Foreign Language teachers is a delightful one, whether we are teaching it where it’s the dominant language to non-native speakers (English as a Second Language) or in another part of the world where it is a non-native language (English as a Foreign Language). There are literally so many situations you can find yourself in if you love other cultures and languages. You can:

  • build an American dream in an immigrant child or adult learning ESL
  • teach brilliant international students in English for Academic Purposes programs
  • teach English online in dozens of countries from your own office
  • go abroad… and have a “Dream Abroad!” 

However, every dream has a road, and every road has a starting point. How do you get to all of these places above? After all, you’re going to need some formal training to explain such cases like “I have eaten,” which means “I previously ate, my previous eating still affects me now, and will continue to affect me into the future” kind of grammatical teaching and understanding. 

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

English as a Foreign Language ESL Certifications

Here are a few steps to gaining ESL/EFL credentials in specific situations.

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s or higher. This is true in nearly every English teaching case. I suggest majoring in ESL Education or in a related field. 
  2. Gain cross-cultural experiences as a volunteer, either abroad or both.
  3. (Recommended but not required) Study a second language. 

Foreign Language teachersSteps 1-3 are your “launch pad.” Once you’ve done these things, you have three other options to figure out where you wish to be:

Option A: Earn your ESOL certificate or endorsement to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in public K-12 schools.

Option B: The universally-accepted TEFL certificate lets you teach abroad or in many online English teaching platforms. In my case at EF, my degree credentials substituted this requirement.

Option C: If you wish to teach ESL in a university or in a college, a Master’s is usually necessary. Again, you can either major in ESL Education or a different field such as linguistics, English, Education, etc. Note that teaching English as a Second Language or English for Academic Purposes is usually for non-credit courses. If you wish to train future English as a Second Language teachers, a PhD in one of the fields mentioned above might be necessary.

My ESL Journey

I want to end this on a personal note, as I realize this article has been on the technical side thus far. Teaching English as a Second AND Foreign Language in my case has been a delightful experience, but figuring out how to get where I wanted to go was overwhelming in my early days of undergrad.

I come from a tiny community in the rural southern United States. There were no opportunities in my hometown that would prepare me to be an ESL teacher. Instead, I had to leave. I had to volunteer in Texas, travel overseas multiple times, and volunteer with international students at my university. This was all in addition to learning Spanish and getting both degrees before I was even truly qualified to teach ESL. I’ve held several positions in different cities and states as my personal life changes. While this field requires a unique set of skills, it also allows flexibility. 

ESL Certifications

Start Seeking Opportunities with ESL Certifications

This guide is coming from someone who knew in the very beginning of undergrad that I wanted to teach both Spanish and ESL. For some of you, you may not have even considered ESL/EFL until recently. Oftentimes, there are many interests, goals, and dreams that might not happen the way we imagine. In other cases, we don’t realize a passion that we have for a cause until later in life. If that sounds like you, figure out the skills and education that you already have and start seeking opportunities to add to your repertoire. For example, a former colleague wanted to teach English as a Foreign Language overseas for the Peace Corps. Despite her education, she was rejected for lack of ESL experience. She made up for this volunteering at one of the last schools I taught at, and I hope she’s gotten where she wanted to go.

Teaching English as a Second Language is both satisfying on the intellectual and humanitarian level, not to mention, quite fun! I hope to see many of our Dreams Abroad readers join me in obtaining their ESL certifications!

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

Language Teaching Methods Interview

 

Caroline Hazelton Language Teaching MethodsAfter my first interview with Caroline, she explained that she had recently moved back to Florida after her husband accepted a job in Miami. Caroline was going to be an adjunct professor and teach part-time online classes while also juggling the responsibilities of a stay-at-home mom to their two beautiful little girls.

Although Caroline hasn’t had the opportunity to teach any in-person classes yet, she remains optimistic that it will happen soon. In the meantime, whenever she has a moment to spare from being a full-time mom, Caroline teaches online classes with Education First. Education First is a company dedicated to connecting students to international education and adventures.

Here is what she had to say about her experiences teaching online and using her language teaching methods:

What is online teaching like compared to teaching in person?

EF Education First

To explain this, let me mention a bit about Education First (EF) and their online language platform I teach for called EnglishLive. EnglishLive lets students all around the world take self-paced English courses online. They can take these courses either on their own or in addition to taking in-person classes at an EF English school in their own country. Some parts of language learning can be done without interacting with others. However, at some point or another you really need to speak with one or more people.

This is where I and hundreds of other native English-speaking remote teachers come to play. We give students an opportunity to practice their listening and speaking skills with a native speaker wherever they have Internet. They can take these conversational ESL classes with other remote students on their level around the world/ or as an individual. I am in love with EnglishLive – it’s a brilliant program!

I’ve had to make adjustments on how I rely on some of my language teaching methods. I typically rely on the following: (1) non-verbal cues of students to figure out what they’re thinking, (2) my relationship with students to figure out what I can and can’t talk about, and (3) routines to help students know what to expect and how to focus. I rely on these areas while teaching online and in person, but how I determine them changes. Let me explain some ways I’ve adjusted my language teaching methods…

1. How to Get Around Missing Non-Verbal Communication

I mentioned how much I rely on non-verbal cues during in-person teaching. I do this to figure out what students are thinking and how I need to respond when teaching. For example, a student who isn’t making eye contact but is instead looking at their phone is either bored or stressed. They are attempting to avoid the situation. Similarly, a student who looks at me while speaking then looks away is simply thinking. So much communication is not what we say but what we observe. I can’t rely on non-verbal communication as much in the online classroom.

In most cases, I can’t see the student. I can’t tell when a student is bored, stressed, or needs a bit more time to process and speak. I’ve solved this problem by asking students directly how they are feeling about activities. I also delay my response a bit in case a student needs more time to speak.

student Non Verbal Cues Language Teaching Methods

2. How to Get Around Missing Relationships

Secondly, our teacher-student relationships and established routines with individuals direct our conversations and what we teach. We know if we can joke, if we need to be serious, what subjects to avoid, or what subjects to discuss based off our relationships with people. In online teaching, we rarely see the same students twice and lack these relationships. I’ve solved this by asking students as many questions about their lives during the first few minutes. This way, I can determine their interests/personalities and use the first few minutes of class to bring out my personality as much as possible.

3. How to Get Around Missing Routines

Finally, when we teach someone on a regular basis we rely on a routine. We do this to efficiently cover as much material as possible, meet all four modes of language, and direct the students’ attention to specific purposes. Since students don’t know my routine, I try to explain it during the first few minutes of class each time. I also try to have my routine displayed at the beginning of class and also on our shared notepad. This way, they know what to expect from class and what activities they will do for that day.

What are the challenges?

Technology. Sometimes there are issues with the Internet (usually on the students’ end) and you can’t hear students. Other times, students won’t show up for class and you won’t get paid for the full time. Also, online teaching makes about half as much as in-person teaching.

learning a language online

What are the benefits?

Lots! For one, the EF EnglishLive product offers conversational English classes 24/7. You can work as often or as little as you choose. I like teaching early weekend mornings and evenings while my girls sleep. Secondly, there’s little-to-no prep work required and very brief grading – you just teach! The curriculum is provided. Thirdly, I teach students from over 100 countries. Many are highly educated professionals, so they are always teaching me something new. Finally, as long as the top half of you (the half that’s visible on camera!) looks professional, you can teach in slippers and sweatpants with little makeup!

Why did you choose Education First as your online employer?

First of all, I enjoy how I can teach their curriculum however I want with my own teaching style. Other online platforms are stricter about the words you use or the language teaching methods you emphasize. Secondly, I am more experienced with teaching adults than children, which is what the majority of online platforms cater towards. Finally, I like how you can teach any hour of day or night due to the school’s presence over all time zones.

What is a typical session like (length, content, structure of class etc.)?

Typically, I introduce myself to the student(s) and try to learn their reasons for language learning, their level, personalities, and any room for improvement during class. After the introduction, I supply a mix of conversational questions, grammar exercises, and vocabulary exercises. These are all focused around a theme and a task within the theme. Students usually do some kind of wrap-up activity or summary at the end related to the final task goal. Group lessons last 40 minutes and private lessons can either last 20 minutes or 40 minutes. I then write a brief assessment of each student’s progress.

Stay tuned for additional interviews with Caroline to find out more of her online teaching topics, techniques, and other benefits for taking online classes.

by Leesa Truesdell

TESOL in the United States Versus TEFL Abroad

by Caroline Hazelton

TESOL in the United States

I’m an English as a Second Language teacher (not to be confused with an English as a Foreign Language teacher) and I have chosen to remain stateside in America. When I first announced the intentions of my career, I was completing an internship in Guatemala. My teammate replied “Why stay in the States? You’ll lose the adventure.” For those of you considering a career in ESL, here’s why I choose to teach English as a Second Language in the States versus teaching English as a Foreign Language abroad.

What’s the Difference?

First, let’s take a look at the difference between English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). It’s all about (as a real estate agent might say), “Location, location, location!” The difference lies in what the majority of a country speaks. If I’m in an English-speaking country teaching English, I’m teaching ESL. However, if I’m in a non-English speaking country as an English instructor, I’m teaching EFL. Both have distinctly different purposes. For example, one learns English to live and survive while the other learns it for vacations abroad/communicating with foreigners. Both are used interchangeably at times but are vastly different in purpose.

But now, let’s get to the answer of what my teammate asked me while we were in Guatemala: “Why?”

Why stay in America to teach English?

English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

Here’s my story. Here’s my “because” to that teammate’s (and possibly your) “Why?” These reasons are not for everyone, but rather that of my own.

I find working with immigrants to be of great purpose that I can fulfill.

Nine years ago I taught my first ESL class to a group of Central American immigrant women at an inner-city mission in Texas. After an entire summer of using my gifts of language and teaching to meet their needs, I found a career that I forever wanted to be part of because there was a purpose that I could fulfill. I meet people with stories of horrors beyond our privileged American first-world-problems-self can dream of, but they have found refuge in our homeland. I watch their English grow, and opportunities open for them. Plus, I get to teach about my home. I get to be the “know-it-all guide” of my beloved homeland – and it’s rewarding. I never stop feeling blessed whenever I’m teaching ESL students because I can give them part of what they need.

The flexible hour possibilities of ESL leave time for a family or a second job.

TESOL in the United States students

In addition to being a language buff, I’m a wife to a successful scientist and mother to two young children. At this moment, I can’t work a full-time job due to my family responsibilities. ESL classes are held in the evenings for students employed during the day, so I can stay home with my children but still do what I love. ESL classes are also held in the mornings or afternoons for housewives or international students. I can always pick up more hours as my children get older. Additionally, the part-time commitment to ESL allowed me to work a “main job” as a Spanish instructor before my second daughter was born. I look at my life teaching ESL part-time while still having ample time at home with my 1- and 3-year-olds plus supporting my husband and his career and I think, “Man, I’ve got it made in ESL!”

You experience the world without the unknown.

English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

I’ve always had a deep love for foreign cultures, so it shocked me when my months overseas during undergrad left me lonely and miserable. In personal experience, I’m more of a short-term tourist than a long-term visitor abroad. Yet I cannot stop learning about cultures beyond my own. That’s why I love ESL – you experience the world while enjoying the familiarity of your own nation. I am able to enjoy other countries simply by teaching a class! Nonetheless, there’s always room to hop on a plane (we are headed out to Polynesia in April for my husband’s conference!) should I want. 

Things to Point Out

I wanted to wrap up this post by a few pointers:

  1. I did not address the growing popularity of English as a Foreign Language online learning platforms as a flexible option. In fact, I teach on one right now.
  2. Remember that EFL and ESL still follow the rules laid out for second language acquisition. The difference is the curriculum (suited for different audiences and needs) and motivation (ESL students have more at stake than EFL students).
  3. Although I wrote about teaching immigrants, there is no “one size fits all” student in ESL. You see immigrants, visiting scholars, international students, visiting tourists, refugees (different political classification than immigrants), etc.

Guys, don’t worry about losing the adventures of teaching English abroad – in ESL the world comes to you. ESL is for us language nerds who need to be doing humanitarian work or for that person who loves other cultures but needs to stay in their home country. And with good reason – the current political climate of our country loves to build walls. Go rogue. Don’t build walls, but tear them down in ESL.

Students in Guatemala