Teaching Functions in the EFL Classroom

Teach Functions to Increase your Students’ Motivation

Why do so many TEFL courses put emphasis on teaching grammar directly as the goal of a lesson rather than teaching it indirectly and related to the direct teaching of functions?

I think it is because either they are lazy (putting together a grammar lesson is fast, easy AND boring!) and/or they don’t always really understand the purpose of learning English. Sad to say – but it sure seems to be true.

Very quickly, first, lets talk about what a function is. It’s simple: a function in teacher-talk is a specific task. So teaching students the English needed to find and rent an apartment, for example, would be a function. Most often functions are stated like this: Asking and Answering Questions about Renting an Apartment. Or in occupational language it might be the language required to deal with a customer complaint at a business or to inquire about the details of a service or product. Then the function might be: Dealing with Customer Complaints or Answering Customer Questions about Servicing their New Honda.

Let’s try a few more functions: Asking for Permission to Stay out Late on Friday Night. Expressing your Opinion about [fill in the blank].

Teachers who teach functions will generally have a much more motivated group of students. Why? Wouldn’t you rather learn how to do something than to learn – let’s say – about the future perfect progressive aspect of verbs . . . Ow! I almost fell asleep just writing it.  Students are motivated by learning functions that are relevant to their daily lives.  Future Perfect Progressive, on the surface anyway – doesn’t seem relevant to anything.

Particularly if you ever teach Business English or English for Specific (or Special) Purposes classes – you should always be teaching functions.

I am not suggesting never teaching grammar, but teaching grammar in the context of a function makes much more sense to students and gives them a motivation to use the language – rather than just the raw information of how to use a grammar point.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Teach functions rather than grammar points.  Your students will thank you and you will feel far more productive.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Motivate your students to learn even more by asking them what they would like to learn to do or deal with – in English.

Benefits of Teaching Abroad: Open your Eyes!

Learn More about your World

I don’t usually spend much time on WHY you might want to teach English overseas, but I guess it is time to express a few ideas on the idea.

This notion is best approached from a personal perspective and for each of us, that perspective can be very different.

What Have I Learned Overseas?

#1. How poorly the education system in my home country educated me. Did you know there are as many as 1.8 Muslims? Or even 1.6 billion Buddhists? Where was that in our education? Do you realize that Christian cultures are a minority in the world, not a majority? So why is your calendar date based on Jesus Christ? I don’t mean to be offensive here, just to help you see that there is another world out there.

#2. Do you know that in some countries it is the year 1430? And that Thursday and Friday or the typical days off? That’s the Muslim calendar.
Do you know that in some countries the year is 2553? My car registration is due in June of 2553. That is a calendar dated from the enlightenment of the Buddha. Wednesday is the holy day in many Buddhist cultures and some businesses will close that day.

Did they tell you that at school? Did they even KNOW that? I suspect not.

One of the very best reasons to get out and see the world is to realize what is really there. To understand how little your education reflected the real world out here.

#3. Understand ALSO how you are aren’t really any different than the rest of the world. My wife and I were talking just yesterday about how tourism is severely down in the area where we live, due to civil unrest in the capital city over 600+ miles away (1000 kilometers). Is it unsafe here? Not really. What about 9/11 in the States? The Oklahoma City bombings? The race riots in Watts and many other places, Waco Texas? The London bombings? Madrid bombings?

Yes, much of the world has problems, but we tend to turn a blind eye to those things in our home country and to be fearful of things in other countries.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get out there and see the REAL world, not the one your education painted for you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Learn to survive and thrive in the REAL world. It is the only hope for your home country. That people see, understand and can operate successfully out in the world at large.

International Recognition and Acceptance of TEFL Courses

This question finally needs to be answered! As usual this post is inspired by questions asked by our readers.

The question asked was:

I just do not know much about [a certain language training organization] and how widely recognized it is.

The truth about “international recognition” is that there is really no such thing. ALL TEFL course providers address it as it is one of the most commonly asked questions, so it has to be answered. And we all join such organizations as we need an answer when people ask.

The reality on the ground is that schools either accept an online course or not. I’ve never heard of a school accepting one brand or another and chosing to not accept a different one based on organzations of which they are institutional members – or not.

This is also true of the Full Monty courses (100-120 hour in-classroom TEFL course). Employers generally accept them or not. Often whether schools want certification at all or not is more the result of the legal requirements for a work permit rather than their personal preference.

In fact, it is only the Full Monty (if I may use that term!) courses that SOMETIMES have a problem as countries that have a strong preference for British English will sometimes prefer a CELTA. If I was going to teach in the EU – CELTA might be the way to go.

In Asia and most of the rest of the world, no one cares. And the the great majority of times I’ve seen a name brand mentioned in a “Help Wanted” type advert was when the school looking for people also SOLD that name brand.

In other words, ECC chain of schools in Thailand, for example, tends to prefer CELTA as they are a school that sells CELTA courses, so of course, they would prefer their name brand. BUT they don’t exclude someone who took the course from Text-and-Talk or from TEFL International, as examples.

As a general rule, most people giving advice on forums about “international recognition” don’t know what I have written here. Most have an affiliation with a brand – or a school – from which they took their course and tend to repeat what they have been told. And some believe that there is really one guiding force out here for such courses. There just isn’t.

I’ve trained teachers in Korea, Saudi Arabia and Thailand and have never run into that one guiding force. Additionally I’ve taught in general in the USA, Botswana and Taiwan. Probably most of the people giving advice on forums have been in one country maybe for a year or two, may have a personal anecdote or two, or heard something from someone else that they are repeating, but they just don’t really know. (Just my opinion!).

You might want to read: TEFL Course Standards
I wrote that several years ago. But the whole nature of that website is set up focusing on the Full Monty type courses and if you decide to take one at some point – use the five checklists provided on that website to help you decide on from whom you might want to take a course.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you plan on teaching in Europe, take the CELTA course. But another popular course in Europe is TEFL International, they are gaining wide acceptance these days.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you plan on teaching any where else, name brand is not going to matter.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Questions about Online TEFL Training

I got an email today with some excellent questions about online versus in-classroom TEFL Training and I will address those questions here.

The person wrote:

I have heard a lot of talk on these TEFL forums and I understand that a 120 hour course is necessary and this is what I will do.

Usually 100 hour courses are okay too.

However, I have heard from many people that if an online program doesn’t have at least 6 course hours of supervised teaching practice with real ESL/EFL students than I shouldn’t bother.

Generally speaking a course with supervised teaching practice is FAR better for improving your teaching skills. Such courses, however, are also quite expensive. Usually starting about $1300 and going up to $2000 and more. And you’ll need to take four weeks off of work to do it and support yourself somehow at the same time.

I am semi-retired teacher trainer and YES, absolutely – if you can take a full in-classroom course with a minimum (try to get more!) of six hours of observed teaching practice, do it!

If you don’t have the time or money for such course (many people don’t – I didn’t when I started out in 1992), then an online course is fine.

I’m assuming your course doesn’t because its online. [referencing TEFL Boot Camp]

You are correct, we don’t offer observed teaching practice.

My question is, will an online course hurt me with my chances of employment?

Of course not! Most people look for TEFL jobs with no training at all. How would showing the initiative to at least get some training hurt your chances? Many places want a TEFL cert and don’t care if it is in-classroom or online. I place people in China and the schools there want a TEFL Certificate (see my website and the jobs list at: TEFL Jobs China) – The schools we work with don’t care online/in-classroom or not and don’t specify or require observed teaching practice as a part of the training. They are just happy that you got some training to learn to do a better job. This is true many places around the world.

Summary: Yes – an in-classroom course is a superior option. But the differences in price and time commitments and the ability to take the course when you can is why online courses are successful and so many people take them.

Usually people on internet forums want you to do what they have done. So the people telling you to do an in-classroom course – probably took one and want to persuade you to do what they have done. And – it is a GOOD idea! Just expensive and time consuming.

If you know you are seeking a career and want to work abroad for many years – then definitely do the Full Monty. If you want to just teach abroad for a couple years or aren’t sure how long you want to do it – or even if you would like it – then do an online course to test the waters. Nothing says you can’t go back and take a full course later.

If fact, I am working on an arrangement where if you take the TEFL Boot Camp course and later sign up for a full course at one of two schools in Thailand – we refund your TEFL Boot Camp course fees. That is a good deal!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Some training is always better than no training at all. Get what you can afford to help you do a better job.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Take a full four-six week in-classroom course if you can. You will leave the course a better teacher than you will with any other course.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

TEFL Job Search: Finding that Job Teaching English

Maximizing your Options when Looking for a Job Teaching English

Just a few ideas here as I often see people using inefficient strategies in looking for their next job. Don’t put yourself in the back of a big queue like the one to the right, get yourself in the front of a very short line for more opportunity.

If you look only at current job openings on TEFL websites for your next job, you are missing out on huge opportunities.

Go to any jobs website, particularly the ones where they don’t scroll the older jobs off the list and start researching the schools that are NOT advertising now, but were advertising three months, six months or even a one year ago.

Build yourself a nice database of schools and send them your resume/CV and a letter of interest. The odds are that when they ran their advertisement (depending on which website where it posted) they may have been swamped with applicants. Websites like Dave’s ESL have so many people reading them that you can face pretty intense competition even for simple entry-level jobs right at the time they are advertised, but that is not true perhaps a few months later.

Those busy websites like Dave’s ESL are great for the school that is advertising but not so great for you. Ideally you want minimal competition so that you can have your choice of several jobs and take the one that most suits you. The best way to do that is to contact those schools that advertised in the past but are not now advertising.


Because many schools have ten, twenty and sometimes as many as a hundred or more English teachers. Any school that has about 10-12 teachers is, on average, going to have an opening about once per month. Wouldn’t it be nice if your information showed up in their inbox? Just when they needed it? Large schools often have multiple vacancies and know they are coming, but don’t want to advertise until they have to (advertising can be expensive). In some cases they are waiting for you to send your information in.

I’ve never worked at a school that enjoyed looking for new teachers. This task is always piled on top of other duties and is really time consuming. Given the option of contacting a teacher who just sent their information and is appropriate for the job versus running an advertisement and having to sort through many potential candidates, most schools will opt for contacting YOU first.  And if you fit the bill, the job will be yours.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Schools are often waiting for you to contact them. Don’t wait for them to advertise.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Apply when there is minimal competition, not right after a school advertises on a major website.