Why TEFL is Different from Teaching English

While it might not seem obvious and up front that teaching English as a FOREIGN language is different than just the regular teaching of English that occurs in your home country, it really is and today’s post is about the how and why.

Recently a reader over at our sister ship TEFL Newbie asked the following question (slightly modified to protect the innocent!):

I will graduate with a BA in English and Secondary Education.  Do I need to get TEFL certified, even though I am certified to teach English and am a native speaker?

What an excellent question! My answer was, Yes, it would be worth your while to take some basic TEFL training. If for no other reason but to get the methodology that is used, which is different than that used teaching English to native speakers.

Why is TEFL Methodology Different?

Mostly because your students are very different.

Remember in first or second grade when the teacher had to keep telling us to stop talking in class?  Because she was trying to teach something to us?  Well . . . in TEFL we are always trying to get our students to talk in class.

Why?  Because EFL students rarely get a chance to talk in English – except in their classroom.   In fact, it might be fair to say that for a good majority of EFL students around the world the ONLY place they ever speak English is in their EFL classroom.

Many Other Reasons Too . . .

EFL students are very different from English native speaker students.  Even just a first grade native speaker probably has a vocabulary that exceeds that of most intermediate EFL students who have been intensively studying the language for years.

An EFL student might get to listen to and speak English only a few hours per week.  And not at all when school is out of session or they are not taking special classes.  Native speakers . . . well – we speak English and hear it constantly – it never stops.

English is Relevant for Native Speakers

We use English to communicate and live our lives.

For many EFL students English often is irrelevant.  They take it only because it is required or because their parents put them in the class.

They often can’t see any reason to get going with English as they never use it.  And any real need is abstract, such as needing English “to get ahead in life” or “to get a good job” or “to get in a good university”.  Usually things later on in life that don’t seem too urgent at the moment.

To start getting a handle on EFL student motivation review the previous post:  How to Have Enthusiastic EFL Students

EFL Teaching Method

There you have it.  Our students don’t have much opportunity to speak, listen or use English, so we have to create a situation in the classroom to get them talking – and talking – and talking some more.

And, English is often not relevant for our students, so we have to work hard to create a link between the language that needs to be learned and a real reason for learning it.  One that has a sense of relevance to NOW and not just to a distant future.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Because you are a native speaker and/or even a teacher of English, don’t assume you will know how to teach EFL students.  Their needs, abilities and motivations are dramatically different than those of native speaker students of English.

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