What if You Hated English Classes As a Kid?

Love What You Do (Even if You Hated English Classes As a Kid)

When I introduce myself as an English teacher to people who haven’t met someone teaching English as a foreign language before, they often get the wrong idea.

“So, you love Shakespeare?” they’ll ask. Or, possibly, “do you make your foreign students write book reports?”

They may imagine that I spend my free time composing sonnets, or debating the finer points of grammar over white wine spritzers with my other English-besotted pals.

The truth is, being an English teacher abroad is not about studying great writers or trying to get students to analyze Western literary tradition. Teaching English as a Second Language is more about communication than analysis—though there are of course, opportunities for this—and, surprisingly, many people who hated English classes at school when they were kids find themselves satisfied and happy as English teachers abroad. That’s because teaching people to communicate in a new language is a different skill than teaching native speakers to appreciate the advances and traditions of our own culture of English speakers.

Many people who are drawn to teaching English as a Foreign Language like it because they thrive on interacting with people, enjoy the challenges of coaching, and have a knack for being able to synthesize and simplify. Even though it helps to have an enthusiasm for the subject—English—the real thrills in the profession come from seeing a student’s eyes light up when they finally understand a tricky language point, and from watching a class improve its functional ability over a period of time.

Teaching English as a foreign language is often more like being a dance instructor than being the English teacher you remember from fifth grade. Your job as a new English teacher abroad will include introducing students to new steps (target language) and getting them to practice these steps until they can “dance” them fluently (use the language in practice).

So what does this mean?

So, does this mean that you can still teach English effectively if you have trouble telling a colon from a semi-colon, mix up your past and present tenses and favor the word “ain’t” in informal speech?

Be careful that you don’t confuse disliking English class as a kid with being an incompetent instructor of English as a Foreign Language. No matter whether you love English or just love the training aspect of being an English teacher, you’ll have to have the same proficiency in the mechanics of the language in order to teach it effectively.

As far as using regionalisms that we’re taught are “wrong” (like “ain’t”), as long as you don’t mind marking the differences between what you usually use when speaking and what is considered “standard English” for classroom use so that you can explain any discrepancies to your students, you may actually be doing your more advanced students a favor by giving them an example of “real” English.  However, it will be important for you to brush up on the gaps in your basic knowledge of the language, if you are missing any, so that you can be sure to present your students with accurate information. Just like any other job, teaching English as a Foreign Language will require learning some information to be able to do it well.  And, it will be important for you to know how to grade your language so that you can speak more clearly for lower level students.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Teaching English as a Foreign Language is not the same skill as instructing language arts to native speakers.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  You’ll need to know the mechanics of the language (grammar and structure) in order to teach well, but teaching ESL is not solely about these bits you thought were boring when you were a kid.


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Standard of Living for English Teachers Abroad

 If I teach overseas, will I live well or suffer for my dreams?

Don’t worry! Usually, teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) make more money than does the normal John Q. Public in their host country. This means that most English teachers are able to support themselves in a style better than most of the locals. Sounds good, right?

Hold on a minute, though. What if Mr.and Mrs. Public live in a hovel, with a leaky, corrugated iron roof and a dirt floor (plus or minus a couple of chickens)?

It’s good you asked. Teachers of EFL may find that their quality of life is modest. But modest can also be good. Of course, this is going to be different in each country you visit in your teaching career. For myself, I have never suffered a poor quality of life. And I’ve seldom or never heard other TEFLers complaining about this issue.

That’s because, even in countries that don’t pay much, teachers can still get by (or even prosper) in the local economy.

What should you be aware of?

People say you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but if you’re taking free accommodation as part of your employment package, then you should be prepared for the possibility that it won’t be at the same quality level as something you would pick out for yourself.

It can happen that your housing looks like it’s in the middle of a slum, that’s happened to me, in fact. But, in developing countries, appearances of low upkeep don’t always signify crime-ridden neighborhoods as they might in the West. In most places you would go to teach (particularly in Asia) , it’s unlikely that crime will be a big problem in your city.

When I lived in Korea some of my friends lived in the kind of area that back home I’d never have ventured into after sundown. It was a rabbit warren of back alleyways . . . However, despite its dodgy looks by Western standards, this Korean neighborhood was a perfectly safe place.

In the West, the press focuses on troubled areas and ‘hot spots.’ But in reality, when you’re traveling abroad you’ll find many places, and parts of Asia in particular, much safer than your average Western city.

How it’s been for me

I have always maintained a good quality of life while living abroad. I’ve taught in Taiwan, Korea (two times), Saudi Arabia and Thailand. I have never deprived myself of food, amenities or good medical care. (And usually, that medical care is much cheaper abroad than at home!)

Except in Thailand, I have always been able to save money after my basic living needs were taken care of. I usually was able to save at least 800 USD per month, and sometimes even twice or three times that per month.  Wherever it is that your TEFL career takes you, your salary should allow you to have a good lifestyle and to be able to take local or regional vacations without hurting your bottom line too much.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Do some research and check how much a job’s salary would work out to in local terms. You’ll see that some countries, even after your monthly expenses, you’ll be able to pocket 50 percent of your wages. That’s often a lot more than you could have done in your home country, even if the base wage is lower.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Ask about local crime rates and safety levels. In general, Asia is much safer than the West. Be sure and research destinations first if you’re going to Latin America, where crime can be an issue


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Why Teaching English Might Work for You

Teach English: Live abroad, live the dream

Imagine living the dream: traveling, exploring the depths of the world, experiencing and learning new cultures, possibly saving up to US$1000 or more, paying off your student loans or debts and making unforgettable memories.

It definitely sounds like a dream, but it is in fact the reality of teaching English in a foreign country.

Do you still need to ask, ‘Why teach English?’

Craving adventure? Bitten by the travel bug, suffering from wanderlust? Many people are choosing to teach English in a foreign country to see and experience the rest of the world without digging into their savings.

It’s a great solution, a great recipe – a reasonable amount of money, heaps of life and cultural experiences added to the fact that you can really have an enjoyable time working as an English Teacher. A year abroad is like getting a four-year degree from the University of Life.

TEFL Newbie fully supports the idea of traveling while teaching and wants to help you with all the choices and decisions. All the questions can be overwhelming: Is teaching English the right thing for me? Will I be able to reach my goals if I’m going abroad? Do I have a realistic idea of what it is like to live abroad? Will the new working environment be too different from what I am used to with a lot of stress and problems? Is it the right time for me to go abroad?

There are changes. There are challenges. There are rewards!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take note, life abroad can get addictive!

I have lived abroad for more than 20 years. I headed overseas as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1989 and again in 1992 as an English Teacher. I will always return to the USA, but just for a visit and seeing my family – I am experiencing life and enjoying every moment of living abroad and quite possibly will never live in the USA again.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Run toward life, not away

People who move to a foreign country as an act of escaping a problem or running away, will always take their problems with them and never learn to deal with them. People who move to a foreign country to reach a goal will most likely succeed and accomplish more than they came for.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Search, research and be realistic

It is important to figure out what kind of life you want when teaching abroad. The only way to get an overall idea of your new life and is to get an overall idea of the situation at the destination and then make the decision if you want that life or not.

I live on a tropical island filled with luxury resorts and have had a lot of questions over the years about jobs in these resorts. Expectations of these teachers are often way too high, thinking that they will get free lodging in a posh five-star villa, enjoy free “Michelin Star” meals and live it up in classy resorts.

If it sounds too good to be true, maybe it is.

Even though teaching in a resort is one of the best English Teaching jobs in the world, I’m sorry to burst your bubble . . . you won’t be living in that posh five-star villa and you won’t be enjoying free 5-course meals while toasting to living it up with expensive champagne.


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Last Place in the TEFL Sweepstakes . . .

Coming in last place.  Is that a bad thing?  Getting that not so perfect job to get started working abroad and seeing the big real world out here . . .

I have mentioned before that I am approaching sixty.  I am also a long distance runner and I regularly run from two to four and five or more hours several times a week.   When I compete in “races”, I have – twice – come in last place.

Was that a tragedy?  Was I a loser?  I thought it was a success.

If you don’t get the exact job or perfect situation teaching English abroad – is that a failure or a success?

Here is my thinking on why my coming last place can be a success.  Above and beyond just being an old slow guy…

In the two races in which I have been “last place” I noticed more than a few people running behind me who never finished.   Now . . . if I am the “loser” who came in last – who are those people?  I finished.  They didn’t.  I achieved my goal.  They didn’t.  Am I loser then?  I think not!

Teaching English Abroad – the Great Job Search Race

So if you don’t land the perfect job your first time out, are you a loser?   No!

Think of all those people who never even got started.  All those people who wish they could land a job, who wish they could work overseas, who wish they could see the great world out there, but never followed though.  I promise you there are at least TWO people who never followed up on their dream, on their desire, on their goal – for every ONE that actually goes out and does it.

The people who go out and do it are the WINNERS in my book.   Dreamers and those who fantasize just don’t count.  They never even cross the finish line!  They never even get close to the finish line.  They never even got started.  Too bad for them.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  If you don’t try, you can’t succeed.  Even coming in last can be a winning proposition.

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ESL EFL Road Show – Succeeding at TEFL Abroad

This week’s post is a mixture of several blogs from experienced ESL EFL teachers around the world and includes their ideas about what helps make a person successful teaching English abroad.  We hope you enjoy their perspective.

From TEFL Tips:

While jetting off to a foreign land may seem wonderful and exotic, living abroad can be stressful.  It certainly isn’t for everyone.  Some people succeed and others don’t.  Find out if you have what it takes to successfully live abroad.  Click  Here to Find out!

Sharon de Hinojosa has been teaching English since early 2003.  She started posting on Dave’s ESL Cafe shortly after and found herself regularly helping out other people and giving advice to newbies.  Over time, things progressed and she thought it would be a good idea to compile answers to FAQ that newbies often have about TEFLing and that’s how TEFL Tips got started.

From Istanbul Stranger

Most of the time, Stranger doesn’t completely suck at living abroad. Here are some handy tips that probably won’t make a lick of sense until you’ve managed to survive in another country for a couple of years, giving you newbies something to look forward to. Read about it  Here

Originally from Reno, Nevada and most recently from Portland, Oregon, Stranger came to Turkey almost 10 years ago. She had all kinds of education before that, which she’s almost done paying for. Stranger’s been working in the former Byzantium since she arrived, teaching adults at language schools and universities. She also did some freelance writing while on work-hiatus for baby-raising, and currently babysits grown-up children in the English prep department of a large university.

From Teacher in Mexico

Teaching abroad is a very select set of challenges to thrust yourself into. A new language, a different culture, strange food, and unknown risks are not what most people call fun. It takes a particular brand of daredevil or world-beater to see these hurdles as attractive. That particular brand of person is common among those that succeed in teaching abroad but the most important factor that each one knows is that it is imperative to have goals to succeed on, and the willingness to  . . .  Read More

Guy Courchesne, TEFL course instructor, Teacher in Latin America. Guy is a journalist and and EFL teacher that has lived in Mexico for 11 years. He has been teaching business EFL and TEFL courses for the last nine years in Mexico City, Acapulco, and Guadalajara. He is a member of Mextesol and also gives English teaching workshops to language institutes around Mexico. You can find him at Teacher in Mexico 

From our own TEFL Newbie:

People often ask very unrealistic questions about working abroad. It is as if all practical reasoning has been abandoned.  Do you really expect to be housed at a 5 star villa and fed gourmet food while you teach English at a resort?  Read more to find a happy middle ground and realistic approach . . .

Ted Tucker (your host here) is a retired TEFL educator and TEFL Teacher Trainer.  With an overseas career that started as a Peace Corps Volunteer in  Botswana in 1989 – he has been abroad ever since working in countries throughout Asia and the Middle East.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Working abroad is great fun, but use your head and have realistic expectations about what a life abroad can bring you.

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