Do you want to teach English abroad? Do you already have a teaching job? If so, congratulations! This is an exciting opportunity. It is your chance to help people learn a valuable skill in our globalized world.
English is the official language of more countries than any other language. People around the world view English as a tool for economic progress and governments even create initiatives to bring native speakers to teach in primary and secondary schools. For example, the English Program in Korea (EPIK), the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), and the Centre International d'Études Pédagogiques of France (CIEP) recruit university students from English speaking countries like Canada, USA, and Great Britain to come and teach English to their future generations.
In the summer of 2014, I was hired by the CIEP to live and work in France for the 2014-2015 school year. I spent eight months in the city of Quimper as a Teaching Assistant for the Ministry of Education of France where I assisted six professors and taught 218 students in a public high school. It was the best experience of my life and I want to share what I learned. These are my five top tips for teaching English abroad.
1. Review English Grammar
How many tenses does English have? What’s the difference between whose and who’s?
If you don’t know the answers, don’t worry! I did not know them either. Yet now is the time to start studying grammar. If English is your first language, then you undoubtedly speak it comfortably. As native English speakers, we dominate this language; it's natural, it’s like breathing. However, now that you represent our language to foreigners, you should feel comfortable speaking about its grammar rules. To be a good English teacher, you need to feel confident on this subject. (By the way, English has 12 tenses.)
Another benefit of studying grammar is that you can reflect on your own usage of English. There are common grammatical mistakes that we see every day. For instance, the mix-up between “your/ you’re”, and “there/ their/ they’re.” As an English teacher, you should never make these mistakes, and you must be able to explain why.
2. Change Your Accent
When working with your students, you want to ensure that you expose them to international English. You must make a real effort to regulate how you speak in front of them. By slightly changing your accent will help them learn better. For example, if you come from Canada or the United States then you probably pronounce “bottle” with a soft "t" called an alveolar tap. While I taught English in France, I pronounced some words like the British to emphasize a sound. So when I pronounced the word “bottle,” I said something more like “bot-tul” because it might be a challenge for a student to understand my Canadian accent. Remember that an ESL student is not primed to hear these phonetic distinctions and they can easily become confused, especially if we speak fast. They might hear "ball" instead of “bottle.” That’s why if you clearly pronounce the “t” sound, then the students can understand you easier. As a teacher, you want to make it as easy as possible for the students to understand you. In general, I recommend you speak slowly and clearly.
3. Write Down New Words on the Board
When a student asks you how to say something in English, I recommend that you write the word down on the board. This is a habit that you want to adopt early and use it when you mention a word that students do not recognize. The reason is that if this is the first time the student hears a word then they need to see the spelling to properly associate the sound with the written word. On the other hand, he or she may already know the spelling of the word but not understand your pronunciation of it. By adopting this habit, you will avoid miscommunication and help the student improve their vocabulary.
4. Get the Students to Work
When in class, find interesting exercises related to the lecture. The students will learn better by practicing. As a teacher, I realized that some students will pretend to understand material just because they’re bored. For example, in one complicated lecture about verb tenses, I asked students if they understood and they nodded like it was easy for them. But when I tested them, most students responded incorrectly. That meant they either forgot or never understood it. This led me to believe that the best way for a student to learn is not by listening, but by doing. They may understand the gist of the material, but knowledge will not replace practice, especially with a language.
5. Keep a Work Journal
This is helpful if you have to design your own courses. In my case, I worked with multiple professors and some of them gave me the freedom to design my courses. As time went on, I found myself needing to refer back to earlier work. I learned that I cannot trust my memory to remember what I did weeks ago, especially because I had multiple classes. I recommend that you keep a record of what you do in every class. It is likely that you will need to refer back to it at some point. You will use your notes to plan your future classes.
As a teacher, you have the responsibility to improve the knowledge of your students. The English language is highly valued around the world. You give your students more options in life. They will find better work and meet new people; in part, thanks to what you teach them. You will help them have a better life. Be proud of what you do! Good luck!
Beyond the Blog
- Want to learn more about opportunities like Adrian's? Visit the Centre International d'Études Pédagogiques of France's (CIEP) website.