Advantages and Challenges of Teaching ESL/EFL



When I landed at Taipei International Airport near Tauyuen, I spoke not a word of Mandarin and had with me only a small purple bag of carry-on luggage and my wits. I had spent the last six months or so in Southeast Asia, practising yoga and meditation, living in a palm-thatched hut on a beach of one of Thailand's small southern islands, which at that time was rural, quiet and still remote, and travelling simply, quietly, and cheaply. Once I came to a point where I clearly needed to earn some more money, the opportunities at hand were to teach English in a country where people paid money for the commodity I had. Japan, Korea and Taiwan were three destinations people pointed me to, and I bought a ticket to Taiwan.

Teaching English as a Foreign language is an option both for professional teachers with experience, training and credentials, and for travellers whose credentials are native speaker fluency and a university degree in any field. In fact, it is a wonderful opportunity to travel, see something of the world and immerse yourself in a culture with the chance to stay there for long enough to go beyond being a tourist dillettante and actually explore and understand something of your host country as you get to know your students.

Challenges of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

1. Since English language training is such an important commodity in the world market these days, there are many unprofessional schools who are primarily looking for students' money and are less concerned about providing good service or quality teaching.

"If you want happiness for a lifetime, help the next generation."


It is easy to end up contracted to one of these schools if you sign a contract from outside the country. If you don't like the way a school you work for does business, leave.The school program may lack structure. There may be few resources, no textbooks or inappropriate texts, and no clear progression in skills development from level to level. Since students don't see real progress in their English, they leave for another school, which means students are constantly new and you can't get the satisfaction of seeing students progress. Some of these schools are conversation clubs, which you may enjoy, but after some time I find that gets boring. In a country where English is not the primary language, it may be difficult to access teaching materials, such as English books, or newspapers. If you are in or close to a big city like Hong Kong, London, Cairo, Bangkok or others, there are English-language bookstores that serve the expatriate community, and you can make a trip there from time to time to stock up. It is a good idea to bring a kit of your own supplies, as I discuss later in this article. You can also find lots of free materials on the internet, such as:

2. However, you may end up teaching in a town that is remote or may have unreliable internet.

"Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education."


connection and electricity, so be prepared for that. Always have a backup plan for your lesson.

3. You may end up living in a remote area, which is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the language and culture of the host country, but may be lonely. Bring what you need in terms of inner resources and books, personal writing material, hobbies, etc. to be happy in a certain degree of isolation. In most places you go, certainly in any city, there will be other expatriate English teachers and you will make friends with them as well as with local students.

4. You may live in cities that are highly polluted, which has serious health concerns.

5. Although life abroad can be very stimulating and comfortable, after a certain number of years the expatriate lifestyle may be unsatisfying for growth on deeper levels, and you may feel the need to come home to be able to contribute to society through citizenship and family.

Teaching English as Second Language

Teaching ESL meansteaching English to non-native speakers in an English-speaking country. These may be immigrants, short-term students, or international students who are aiming to complete their education at a European, Australian or North American university. In the past few years I have been teaching English as a Second Language to international students and immigrants in Canada. This has its own advantages and challenges.

If you go abroad to teach EFL

1. Consider going without signing a contract from your home country. Lots of schools come to North America or Europe and recruit over the internet, and one of these may be a good choice for you to help you get started with a visa and a place to stay when you first arrive. However, you need to be aware that these are not the best jobs, usually. Many of them pay a local scale of salary,not the expatriate scale, and may not pay much more than your living expenses. Jobs vary, and you need to ask questions. Given that English is such a valuable commodity in the global business environment, many schools set up as businesses more concerned with taking students' money than with offering good service and clear, structured programming where students can progress. I have been asked to teach in places that didn't have a curriculum or books, and teachers had to spend a lot of time preparing lessons while being contracted to teach 30 or more contact hours per week. Calculate spending at least an hour planning and marking for every hour you teach, so 30 contact hours means at least a 60-hour week. Is the salary they are paying you worth your time? Once you get to a place and start to know your way around you may be able to teach private students or find jobs in companies or publishing houses or newspapers that pay better and give better conditions, so keep your eyes open and ask people that you meet, including other teachers and your students.

2. Bring a kit of supplies--an anthology of short stories, and short short stories, a book of dialogues, a few Penguin Simplified readers, some classic children's books, the whole series of BOB phonic readers, a few classic young adult novels, a half dozen simple science and biography books, a few issues of evergreen magazines such as Discover, a grammar book (Azar), and possibly a 6 or 7 level series of ESL text books, a songbook with lyrics of English classic songs (country and western, easy listening, whatever you like--slow beat and simple words), a listen-and-read set of children's songs like the Wee Sing series, a teach-yourself-how-to-draw-cartoons book, your camera, a hand-held digital voice recorder, and your laptop. A whiteboard and set of dry erase markers with a brush will also be useful.

3. Here are some suggestions for core supplies:

4. Get training if you can. A TESL (Teaching English to Speakers of Another Language) Certificate is really useful. Depending on your program, it may be a fultime intensive program for a month, like the one offered by Vancouver Community College in Vancouver, Canada, or spaced out over several months, like the one offered byThompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. Check it out in your neighbourhood and see what is available. This will give you specific training with short courses on how to teach grammar, pronunciation, phonics, reading, writing, listening comprehension, how to manage your classroom, and how to plan a lesson and incorporate elements like warm-up, review, new skill, structured practice, learning task, written follow up, and wrap-up activity or game. You will easily find work abroad without a certificate or training, but you will enjoy the work a lot more if you have some skills and a sense of how to manage the class from the first day you stand in front of it and find thirty or forty expectant pairs of eyes looking at you as if you were some kind of foreign expert.

5. Bring paper copies of any certificates and diplomas you have. This will save you the hassle of having to send for them later if you want to try for a better type of job, for example teaching at a university. In some countries, for example China and Taiwan, authorities are not interested in seeing your transcripts, they want to see the degree, with the name of the university on it and the official seal. They really like official-looking papers and corporate seals more than the nuts-and bolts of what you actually studied and whether you aced your courses or not.

6. Be prepared to be flexible, go anywhere, teach anyone, work nights and weekends, when most business people and students have free time, be friendly, keep a positive attitude and a sense of adventure, know that things are going to go wrong--electricity will fail, the classroom may flood, the photocopy machine will break down, the internet will stop working, you may show up for class and find out you just got fired with no notice, and so on.

Teaching ESL or EFL is wonderful work with lots of room to be creative, incorporate the teacher's own interests into the curriculum, and grow with the students. I love the contact with the international forum and the intellectual stimulation. The work is varied and flexible, with lots of opportunities to develop it in your own way.

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