Stressing Out about Pronunciation

Okay . . . not that kind of stress

Say What?– Part Two of Pronunciation in EFL

First, let’s quickly recap Pronunciation Part One and then we’ll move on to all the good stuff in Part Two.

So, in the last post we talked about some critical things– “linking,” “reduction,” and how to use a good respelling system. To truly help your students with their pronunciation, you’ll need to grasp these ideas. I’d also like to remind you that if you didn’t have time to read the linked downloadable documents at the end of the last post, you should make time to do it soon.

Today, in Part Two, we’re going to round out the idea of teaching how people really sound when they speak English.

Stressing Out–Words and Sentences Need Some Stress

Different languages not only have different alphabets, grammar and accents, but they also lay different stress patterns on spoken sentences.  Your students may be able to nail tricky things like the past tense and the “th” sound, but can they stress their sentences like a native speaker?

In English, when we say a polysyllabic word—two syllables or more—we always stress one syllable above the others. This is so natural to us that it’s hard for some people to hear this stress unless they practice listening for it. If you aren’t sure how to identify stress in spoken English, perk your ears up for tone, length of time, and loudness.

Here are some examples:

Banana – to native speakers of English, this fruit sounds like buh NAEH nuh

Say it aloud and listen carefully—the second syllable is slightly higher in tone, lasts longer, and is pronounced as slightly louder.

But, if you’re teaching Thai students, for example, it’s more natural for them to say: buh naeh NUH

This is another reason that respelling words is important to help your students learn how to properly pronounce and stress words. You can rewrite the stressed syllable in capital letters.

Now, not only words but sentences have stress patterns that students will need to learn and when you use a respelling system it will help your class decipher these patterns as well.

Words that the language deems not as important often reduce in time, loudness and tone. While other words are more critical to meaning and therefore have more more stress-they are louder, longer, and have a higher tone.

But how do we know which words are important or not? The English language seldom has any rules that are ALWAYS true, but here is a rule of thumb to help you teach stress: Important words, or “Content Words”, are nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The rest of the sentence will be made up of less important words, or “Function Words.” These consist of pronouns, helping verbs, conjunctions, and prepositions.

To illustrate: “My name is Bob,” when written showing sentence stress: my NAME is BOB. The words “Name” and “Bob” are the most critical parts of the communication.

However, a word of caution. It’s possible to overdo word and sentence stress in the classroom.    Always remember that you need to speak naturally when teaching your students stress. Keep in mind you want your students to speak naturally too—and overstressing words and sentences can sound as bad as stressing them incorrectly.

Here’s an analogy that may help you organize your thinking about sentence stress: When you’re having a phone conversation on a mobile or cell phone, sometimes bad connections break off some of the words. But you don’t need to hear every word of the conversation—you can glean the meaning of the sentences by picking up the important words—precisely the words that are stressed in a sentence.

Teaching students how to stress individual words and groups of words takes time and practice. Again, though, this practice is worthwhile and your students will be much better English speakers because of it. If you make some mistakes along the way, it’s not the end of the world. Trying it out and working with it will develop your skills and your students’ skills and get you further down the road of being a great teacher.

To learn more, check out some of these great resources:

Word Stress – an excellent resource page at English Club.

Sentence Stress  yep, our friends at English Club again . . .

Kent University Phonetics Resource Page – this website is sometimes offline, if it doesn’t work, try it again later.

The British Council Pronunciation Page – many excellent articles on different pronunciation topics.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t stop reading now—check out the links above and familiarize yourself with sentence and word stress

TED’s Tips™ #2: Practice makes perfect, so put all these ideas together, practice and then work with your students to TRULY help them improve their spoken English skills.

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Ready, Set . . . Read!

Read at lightening speed!

Tips for Teaching Reading in EFL

One thing that new teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) may not realize is that even quite literate students may not understand how to read efficiently in a foreign language.

People, especially adult learners, don’t learn reading skills in a new language the same way they learned to read in their first language. Also, they may not know how to apply some reading skills in English, even though they can implement the same kind of skill in their native language.

For example, once when I was a teacher in Saudi Arabia, I was asked to teach a group of people learning to be computer programmers. These budding programmers were expected to learn all of their material for all of their computer courses in English. Unfortunately, when I started with them their English skills weren’t good enough to start with their most basic requirement—the heavy Introduction to Computers textbook we had. It was the same kind of textbook you’d find in a Computers 101 course at a community college in the States or in Britain.  And these students were probably already quite good at computers, but they weren’t good enough at English to tackle that textbook. This was, as you might imagine, quite dispiriting for the students.

To get around this problem, and to prepare them for this key course in their studies, I taught them not exactly the textbook material, but instead how to read the textbook. By learning how to read the textbook, they also learned the introduction to computers, and a whole lot of useful English target language.

Break it down

Right away, in the first class, I told the students that I also believed the book was difficult, but that we were going to break it into pieces so it would be easier.

First, we went through the table of contents and discussed as a group what the entries there might mean.

Next, we flipped through Chapter One, like a native speaker might do when going to a bookstore or library, and checked out the illustrations. We discussed what those pictures might mean, and then we looked at the captions.

After we felt comfortable with that, we went through the section headings in the chapter and discussed those. Next were the subheadings.  Then we hunted through the first chapter looking for words that were bolded or in italics. We checked out the sidebars. Basically, we looked at the chapter in safe-seeming chunks so that by the time we were down to the plain old reading of the chapter, the students already had a clear picture of what the text would mean. We joked about it, that we already knew it, and I was pleased that my students were no longer intimidated by it.

Survey the (reading) territory

This technique, looking over the parts of a text before reading, is called “surveying.”  When students survey a text, they don’t read it word-by-word. They look for key ideas, especially in headings and subheadings and they go through larger passages for facts or details. Native English speakers routinely use this skill when they don’t have time to read everything—in college courses perhaps.

Teaching this technique (along with skimming larger pieces of text and scanning for specific details) helps English learners.  Get your students to guess and predict what will be next in the text.

Guessing and predicting are important reading skills for your learners. Getting them to guess and predict from context is a great way for students to soak up new vocabulary. When native speakers come across an unfamiliar word in our own language, we can usually make good guesses about what it means from the context. In fact, much of the vocabulary native speakers have comes from casual exposure to words in books and other material, rather than from word lists and memorization. This skill is doubly important for non-native speakers.

Rather than just supplying your students with definitions of the words that they don’t know when they do reading exercises, try this: Get the student to read the sentence or paragraph and let the rest of the class guess what the word may mean. This can help the students hone their reading skills as a group.

Reading and listening are more similar than you think

For EFL purposes, reading is one of the four major skills in English. Writing, speaking and listening are the other three. You may be surprised to learn that the reading and listening skills are very closely related. They are both “receptive” skills.

If you are reading or listening, you are receiving the information.  When you speak or write you aren’t receiving information, you’re broadcasting it.  So these skills can be grouped together in pairs. When students use receptive language (reading and listening), they have information coming to them and they have to interpret and comprehend that information. They need to take in the big ideas and important details and dismiss the inessential information.

As you might realize from my description of the Saudi students, I have always found reading to be one of the most fun skills to teach and your students will enjoy it too if you use these ideas.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Break hard, scary portions of reading material into smaller, less threatening chunks.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Surveying material and guessing and predicting meanings of vocabulary words are great exercises to improve your students reading skills.

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Tips for Teaching Pronunciation in EFL

How to Teach Pronunciation to EFL Students

Getting English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students to correctly wrap their tongues around English words can be a puzzle for teachers just learning the ropes of teaching English abroad.

But even though pronunciation is an area of difficulty for the untrained teacher, a little training and practice will soon have you giving very productive pronunciation lessons to your students.

In this post we’re looking at Pronunciation and especially the importance of Stress, Rhythm and Intonation.

Pronunciation problems are no laughing matter– though ordering “flied lice” in an Asian restaurant may be the English-speaking world’s most universal joke. Usually the reason that EFL students have problems with pronunciation and stress is because their first language may lack certain sounds. Many languages don’t have the same strings of consonants (“consonant clusters”) that we do in English. For your students, the phrase “tongue twister” may apply to the whole language!

Not Sure How to Say It? Respell It.

A good technique to get closer to native-level pronunciation for your students is for them to use a respelling system.  There are several different methods for respelling words so that the students memorize a closer approximate to the spoken word.

One famous method is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). However, this system is complicated, and only a few students will know it before coming to class. Unless you work in a school that uses the IPA across the board, you may have to spend a lot of valuable class time pre-teaching the IPA to your students. That’s fine if it helps them learn better pronunciation—but if their next teachers don’t use it as consistently as you did, the students may feel that time was wasted.

In addition, there are at least ten other major phonetic systems you can find in dictionaries and books on pronunciation and listening. Unfortunately, the English-speaking world has never gotten together to agree on something to use universally.

I recommend the simple system author Stacy A. Hagen uses in the listening book Sound Advice and in the pronunciation book Sound Advantage.

You’ll notice I’ll use this system below, and it will be in some of the downloads available at the end of both this post and the next one, Pronunciation Part Two.

Whichever system you choose, it’s critical that you pick one that is intuitive and easy to use. Without learning correct pronunciation, students learn the language but can’t verbalize it properly. Every EFL teacher has had the experience of a student speaking clearly, but incomprehensibly, because of poor pronunciation.

All a student’s listening comprehension and vocabulary skills will be for naught if they can’t communicate verbally because of poor pronunciation.  But don’t worry—this is where you come in!

Don’t Talk Down to your Students

Speak normally to your students. They MUST hear natural, even quick, pronunciation. This will help them learn. Speak as you would every day, and save the one-word-by-one-word speaking for badly acted movies. Slow, emphatic speech is unnatural and is a sign of a poor teacher.

Talking too slowly or with strange emphasis will harm your students for two reasons.

First, of course, the students are going to mimic your style of speech. If you speak unnaturally, then it follows that they will as well. Secondly, the moment they meet another English speaker outside the classroom, they will be at a disadvantage because they won’t understand what they hear.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t slow down a little to make sure your students have understood the basics of your lesson. However, it does mean you should strive to speak naturally for the bulk of your class time.

To help your students understand native speakers  when they actually hear them in real life, you are going to have to TEACH natural speech during your classroom time.

Link it Up — Words Don’t Stand Alone When You Say Them Naturally

Think about this:

The sentence ‘My name is Fred,’ really sounds like Mi naeh miz Fred.

And, ‘How much is it?’ really sounds like How muh chi zit?

When the ending sound of one word attaches itself to the beginning of the next word, we call this “linking.” Take a look at the bottom of this post for some more information on this.

“Linking” is important for students to listen for–but if you as the teacher make a habit of over-enunciating words and speaking mega-slowly, then the students will only be listening to hear the text-book clear ‘How much is it?’ They won’t be able to comprehend the real-life speech sounds of ‘How muh chi zit?’

Coaching students in linking and how to recognize and use it is one of the responsibilities of the professional EFL teacher.

Another example to ponder:

Take a deep breath and say the following sentence quickly and naturally several times: Sue wants to get a better water heater.  Listen to yourself repeat it.

Rather than a clear, crisp eight words, you’ll probably hear yourself say something like:

Sue wuhnstuh gettuh bedder wadder heeder.

The above sentence is an example not only of linking but also of “reduction.” Reduction occurs when some words glue themselves together and some sounds shrink. You can find out more about reductions at the bottom of this post.

Resist the urge to dismiss respelling as unimportant. Many untrained EFL teachers have said “But, I don’t talk that way,” missing the point that, well, yes they do—you do, I do, all of us English speakers do.

To IPA or not to IPA

Coming into teaching English for the first time, many teachers wonder if they should put the time in to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) by heart so they can fill up their classroom boardwork with respellings using it.

The quick answer to that idea is a big old No—it’s most likely the students won’t know the IPA to begin with, so if you start using it in class they will be confused.

Instead, I recommend browsing through different texts and then adopting a method that’s simple and clear—like the system I illustrated above.

Newbie teachers may be worried that their students will begin to write using respellings instead of the correct spelling of words. This won’t happen though, if when introducing a new word you make it clear that the respelling sounds like this, but is written like that. It’s as easy as pointing at the respelled word and telling them, “Class, it sounds like this.” Most of your class will “get it” intuitively.

Now, about accuracy in your respellings. Is it dire if you can’t figure out how to respell something completely correctly? Of course not, but be as sound-perfect as you can. All of us native speakers have differences in how we pronounce words and so the respellings may come out differently too.  You’ll get better at it as you practice it.

Want to explore more about this?  Here are some good Internet resources on the topic:

Linking – downloads as a Word document.

Pronunciation Notes – another Word document.

Here are some basics from English Club on Linking.

TED’s Tips™ #1: To teach pronunciation, you need to develop an ear for how you and other people speak. Listen to yourself and others—not how you think they speak – but how they truly speak. I bet you’ll be surprised, and this is what teaching pronunciation is really about – the reality of what spoken words and phrases really sound like.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Find and practice your own simple respelling system. Test it out before bringing it into the classroom. A good simple system will help your students more than you can guess.

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Overseas Money Management

Should I Invest Money While Abroad? 

After you’ve been working overseas for awhile, you may be in the happy position to have a bit of extra money that you’d like to invest. The next question is then how and where should you invest it?

I am not a professional financial consultant, but my deep-seated opinion is that, unless you are planning on spending a very long while abroad, you should invest your money in the country you are from.

From time to time, you will learn of some new or exciting investment chance overseas, perhaps in the country in which you’re working.

These deals may be tempting, but I’d advise against investing in these plans unless you have already lived in the country for a while and have a very good knowledge of the financial and legal system of that country.

As most foreigners don’t know much about money and legal matters abroad, we are often targets for unscrupulous parties trying to make a buck off of us.

Of course, there is plentiful financial advice on-line, including global tips from Motley Fool, but I’d say that unless you already have first-hand experience and know-how, you should take this advice with caution.

Even if you research something well, there may be small details or fine print that you weren’t aware of which can make overseas investments riskier than investments in your home country, where you’ll have a better grasp of the legal ramifications.

Investments For The Years to Come

That said, if you have chosen a foreign country that you’re planning to stay in for the rest of your life, perhaps you’ve retired there or have gotten married there, then perhaps you might consider investing in that country.

First though, listen to anecdotes from the people you meet who have already invested there. Research everything carefully, you’ll be glad you did.

Hot Air On-line

As frequent readers of this blog know, I often recommend people check discussion boards on-line for good on-the-ground advice about foreign countries. However, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who know nothing about investments posting about money matters (especially on the TEFL discussion boards). I have thirty years’ experience in real estate and the stock market, and an MBA, but I’ll often get people half my age, with no experience at all, trying to give me their own “hot tips.”

A lot is said about foreign currency trading, property investments, etc., but in reality, flipping a coin may be a more informed decision. So, take all on-line advice carefully.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Before you put your own, hard-earned, money into an investment scheme, research diligently or even consider paying a professional for some advice.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Consult an English teacher for advice on grammar or lesson planning. Don’t consult one for investment advice. Just sayin’.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  Do consult a qualified financial consultant – from your home country – before making any significant decisions.  Even then, be careful.

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The Long-Term TEFL Plan

What should I be thinking about if I’m planning to go abroad for a long time?

If you are contemplating a life away from your home country, there are a few topics I recommend mulling over before you go.

The first thing I urge you to seriously think about is networking. Not just networking with your new job either, but back home.

Next, I’d recommend taking some time to consider how you can continue your education or improve your credentials.

After that, make a list (mental or on paper) of the other things you would think about if you were NOT going overseas.

Let’s look at the first two of these a little more in-depth.

Your Safety Net Abroad

With the constant barrage of social media, it might be easy to forget that, yes, networking serves a purpose other than to let your friends from grade-school know what you had for breakfast. In fact, networking is the age-old way of lining up great new jobs and accumulating favors that may later be useful to you and them. Contacts and networking are an important part of your job-hunting toolbox overseas.

Any time a colleague moves on to a new job, make sure you maintain their contact information. You might meet up again and when you do you may be able to help each other.

Your Web of Friends At Home

Just because you’re now focusing on your new overseas career, doesn’t mean that you can throw in the towel with your ex-co-workers and pals in the motherland. Keep in touch with them, because one day you may want to head back to your hometown. Don’t forget to invite them to visit you in your new life, and, when they do, play the host with panache! Help them have the vacation of a lifetime!

Don’t Be A Stranger When you Go Home

On the times that you do go home for a visit, make sure to reconnect with your old office mates, supervisors and buddies. Take the time out to have a nice visit and keep those contacts fresh.

In my experience, finding work “back home” is more difficult than it is overseas and if you have a ready string of personal contacts to tap when you go back, you’ll be less stressed.

Continue Investing In Your Education

Another tip that I think is crucial to long-term success overseas is continuing education. Take all the opportunities you can to take training courses, attend symposiums or conferences, or even pursue a higher degree—perhaps through on-line learning.

I’ve seen many jobs overseas that require a fraction of the time commitment most Westerners are used to giving to their careers. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a position with three days off per week or extra-long vacations, then use that extra time to boost your job credentials. Later, this may mean better salaries, better benefits, increased respect in the workplace, and (best of all?) maybe even more free time!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Out of sight should not be out of mind! Even though you aren’t in your home country anymore, you should continue to tend to your back-home relationships with friends and colleagues. Pay even more attention to this now than you did before you went abroad.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t let important contacts abroad slip through your fingers! If you wish to be overseas for the long run, then networking will be critical to your success in finding well-paying jobs. That doesn’t mean you can just take-take-take, though. Networking is a two way street, and helping a friend in need is always good karma.

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Family Ties When You’re Not There

 What If my Loved Ones are Elderly?

If your family members are ill or aging, it can be a very difficult decision between going abroad or staying home to be near them.

There is no “right” answer. The best answer as to what you should do lies within you.

I deeply regret that I was not with my family when my mother, and then my father, passed away. I feel like they would have been comforted knowing that I was there.

The possibility of a loved one passing away while we are out of the country is something that I think all of us are aware of, especially as our family members get older. As death is often unexpected, we are unable to take measures to be back in times of catastrophe. And, even if we knew that someone was quite ill, is it likely that they would want to you to come back and idly sit a “death watch?” I would say, in most cases, no.

Because I knew that I wanted to stay abroad for most of the rest of my life, after I left the United States I made a concentrated effort to keep my ties to my family strong and healthy despite the distance. I went home on visits as often as I could, wrote and called my mother and father more frequently than I had before. In other words, I made sure they knew I loved them.

I didn’t just show it either, I also told them, many times, and with purpose, that I loved them. I knew that later I wouldn’t want to regret that I had not said something or not done something. And now, I’m happy that I took those precautions.

Unfortunately, both my mother and father were sick for quite a while before they passed away. To make sure that I was with them at the end, I would have had to let go of my own dream of living abroad, come home and stay there for years. I decided that I needed to pursue my own life, and I think that they understood and supported that decision – and what it meant.

However, I will tell you that, even though I am happy with the choices I have made, it hurts that I wasn’t there with them, at the end.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Before you go abroad to work, smooth things out at home. Make sure your relationship with your parents or other important family members is solid and meaningful. This way, you will minimize later regrets should they pass away while you are overseas.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t just tell them you love them, show them you love them. Make an extra effort and be sure work out any grudges or bad feelings from the past. This will bring you peace later. Take my word for it.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Sorry, no one said all this was going to be easy.  Life decisions can be difficult.

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TEFL Training – Staying Legal

If you’ve done your homework and selected a great overseas in-classroom TEFL school with top-notch instructors, the next item on your to-do list ought to be figuring out what kind of visa your destination country will require you to have during your course.

In some places, depending on your own nationality, you won’t need to do anything special beforehand. Many countries have reciprocal agreements that allow their passport holders to receive a “visa on arrival” directly at border control. However, sometimes the process is more complicated and requires advance planning.

Before you get on a plane or hop on a train to your in-classroom TEFL course destination, here are some questions you should ask:

1. Is it necessary to get a visa before I arrive in the country?

2. If I don’t have to get a visa before I come in, how many days/weeks/months will I be legally allowed to stay in the country?

3. If a visa is required, how much does it cost?

4. Is the visa process difficult, expensive or lengthy?

5. If I want to stay in the country longer than the original allocated time, can I extend the visa?

6. Will the school help me get/extend a visa?

7. Is the length of time of the visa long enough to encompass the whole TEFL Training course time or will I need to extend/get a new visa before it is finished?

8. After the course, if I want to work in the same country, is it easy to convert the first visa into a visa suitable for employment?

9. If I’m not allowed to convert the visa, what will I have to do to make sure I can work legally when I find a job?

10. If later I have to do a “visa run” (usually—cross the border into a neighboring country to apply for a new visa) to get a working visa, how much will this usually cost? Is the cost of the trip and the new visa the responsibility of the employer or the teacher?  Is that cost negotiable?

11. If I can convert to legal work documents, how long will that procedure take, and what will be required of me?

TED’s Tips™ #1: Any and every in-classroom TEFL course will have a good, clear and definite answer for every one of these questions.   If they don’t have the answers, then there is obviously some sort of problem.  Red flag.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Get legal and stay legal. Although your school or employer may pay for your visa, your visa status (valid or expired, for example) is your own personal responsibility. Find out the rules before you enter the country.

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The Teacher Trainer – the Key to your Skill Development

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Where, What and How of picking your in-classroom Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training course.  Another important question is Who – who is going to to be your primary instructor during the program?

At some schools, there will be only one main teacher for each batch of trainees and other experienced teachers may help with the Observed Teaching Practice (OTP). At other schools, trainees will rotate through several teachers who will each guide you through different components of the program.

Both of these methods work well, however before you give your hard-earned cash to an in-classroom TEFL Certification program, you would do well to find out the answers to the helpful questions below.

Before we get to the questions though, I can guess some of my readers are asking “Why bother to interrogate the instructor(s)?”

Well, once upon a time, one of my freshly graduated teacher-trainee students was hired to provide teacher training at a competing school. Even though this person had never really been a teacher, he was now lecturing and guiding certification candidates.

So, to make sure that your instructor is the real deal, email, IM or call your teacher trainer with these questions:

1. What are your qualifications [higher education, types and levels of certification, etc]?

Even though TEFL Certification and CELTA courses are suitable for high school graduates with no tertiary education, if you can study under a trainer who has a relevant degree, you can guess that he or she will be much more likely to truly understand and be passionate about how teaching and learning work.

In my book, it’s best if a teacher trainer has a MATESOL (yep, that’s a master’s degree in TEFL) or at least a master’s in education plus higher TEFL certification like the PGCE, DELTA, etc.

2. How many years of teaching experience do you have? How many countries have you taught in? Do you have other related experience?

An ideal trainer will have more than 5-6 years’ experience living abroad (if in more than one country, so much the better). It’s preferable if they have experience with more than one age group (kids and adults) and with more than one kind of institution.

The reason this is important is because if they have the right breadth of experience they’ll be able to understand the problems you might encounter in your own career and be able to guide you more efficiently as you embark on your TEFL career.

3. What kinds of students have you taught, and in what kinds of schools or institutions? What about tutoring?

This question is important because you’ll benefit if you can find a trainer who has worked in the same setting that you’re interested in—want to work in a Kindergarten in Asia? Well, if your trainer only taught university students in Europe, they may not be able to guide you as much as you hope. (college or university vs. public school and/or language school vs. corporate classroom training)

4. Do you enjoy teaching? Why or why not?

This might seem like a throw-away question, but unfortunately there exist teacher-trainers who only use their job as an excuse to live abroad. If you take a course from someone who doesn’t have a passion for teaching, you’re risking taking on their own bad attitude when you begin working. Instead, find someone who can inspire you and teach you how to teach with enjoyment. Starting your TEFL career should be a positive life change, not another excuse to complain.

5. What do you enjoy about teaching?

Don’t just take their first answer at face value. With this follow-up question, you’ll be able to listen carefully and divine whether they truly enjoy teaching or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1: I feel strongly that your teacher-trainer should 1) have at least 5-6 years’ experience 2) have that experience divided over two or more countries 3) have it in two or three different settings (language school, public school,corporate, university, tutoring, etc.) 4) have experience with both adults and children 5) have advanced formal education—ideally a master’s degree.

Of course, you want the best, but in my experience such trainers are not common and you need to look a bit to find them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be a comparison shopper. Look past slick marketing, whiz-bang websites and mumbo-jumbo curriculum to find the absolute BEST teacher-trainer you can get. At the end of the day, that teacher-trainer is your best tool for making yourself into a great teacher.  You are going to spend a lot of money for that course, be sure you get the maximum value for it.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  Perhaps only my bias, but the teacher trainer is the most important consideration of all the factors.   A good teacher can overcome bad curriculum and bad materials, but good materials can not overcome a lousy teacher trainer.  Get a good teacher, get a good start.

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In-Classroom TEFL Courses – Which one is Right for You?

Most TEFL training schools will let you spend a day in the classroom to help you decide if you want to take their course – or not.

Sorting out a good in-classroom course requires a bit of research and we start that process here.

Even though there is no agreed-upon standard in the world for what you learn in a TEFL Certification course, many nations have formed their own requirements that such schools must meet.

The government certification process of a TEFL Certification school can range in intensity to a just-for-show rubber-stamp review to a complex and detailed checklist of course content and trainer qualifications.

To help you narrow down which in-classroom TEFL Certification course is right for you, here’s a handy list of questions I think all TEFL course participants should ask schools before they sign up (or pay!) for a program:

1. Where does the school’s license come from?  Is it issued by the national Ministry of Education, by a local education department or simply by a city business licensing agency?

Clearly, this can give you an idea as to how arduous the evaluation process is.

2. How many hours of in-class instruction will the course include? Most TEFL Training schools world-wide offer 100 or more, so you might be able to call this an “international standard.”

3. Will the course cover grammar? If so, what exactly will you practice or learn?

You want a TEFL Training course that not only reviews the proper structures with the trainees (most of us need a brush-up when we’re starting out) but also explains and illustrates how to teach, correct and explain grammar to your students.

Of course, most native speakers will be able to intuit correct (and incorrect) grammar when they hear it, however they might not be able to explain clearly and simply to students why a sentence is right or not.

4. Will you learn teaching methodology in the course?

This is critical. A good TEFL Training course must include methodology.

5. How many hours of observed teaching practice (OTP) will the course include?

Most programs around the world offer a minimum of 6-8 hours—another informal “international standard.”

6. When you do OTP, who will observe and evaluate you?

It’s best for you to get your OTP feedback from teachers who have some experience under their belts—ideally five years’ worth or more. At some schools, you’ll find student teachers evaluating each other, which – while helpful – is not optimal.

7. Who will your OTP students be?

It’s best to teach “real” students so you get a feel for the true experience of Teaching English as a Foreign Language. You’ll find some schools just have mock students (your student-teacher peers, for example) for OTP.

8. For what common learner difficulties will you be trained (for that country/area)?

As I like to tell new TEFLers, the best reason for taking your TEFL training course in the country in which you wish to teach is that you’ll learn what errors and problems are typical of that country’s students. This gives you a leg up when you get to your first job. However, your TEFL course should also teach you how to anticipate and correct common problems from all over the globe, not only your destination country. What if you want to move one day?

9. Will your OTP students be the same for all of your sessions?

There are pros and cons to having the same students for all of your OTP sessions. If you have different students each time, then you’ll get to experience an assortment of student problems and levels, while if you teach the same students over a number of classes, then you’ll experience and understand how to plan and organize sequential lessons so your students continue improving.

10. How old will your students be?

If you can get a chance to experience teaching both adults and children, or at least a variety of ages, you’ll come out better for it. However, in practice, not all training schools can offer you this.

(The next question is a follow-up to number 10:)

11. If you’re specifically interested in teaching one age group (i.e., kids or adults) after you obtain your certificate, will you be able to teach them during the OTP? If this isn’t the case normally, would they be able to arrange it for you?

12. Does the listed cost of the course include books and materials?

It’s best to know this before you go, as books and materials are not cheap. Many schools only require that you bring your own board markers or other stationery-type materials, while others will give you some suggestions as to books or other learning tools that would be useful, but not mandatory, for your course.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t sign up for the course, and certainly don’t pay for it! These questions are simple, and should be easily answered. If a school can’t or won’t answer them, then buyer beware!

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you live near the school, ask if you can go to the course and sit in for a day for that fly-on-the-wall experience. However, be forewarned that not every day of your TEFL course will be full of fireworks and excitement, some days will be spent poring over lesson plans and doing other time-consuming but necessary work.

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TEFL Choices

What if you can’t afford an in-classroom TEFL school in your home country?

People who dream of going abroad to teach English may come across one of the world’s oldest stumbling blocks when they start looking at Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) schools—money.

Of course, it costs money to attend one of these programs, and it also costs precious time. An in-classroom TEFL certification course will take at least four weeks of your time—and not everyone has both the ready cash and that many weeks of free time available to them.

If you have got that, then great – but those who are worried about finances should look at going abroad to take the course.  It is really the best of all options. I always advocate taking the TEFL course in the same country that you want to start teaching in anyway. Plus, if you look at TEFL programs in your home country, they will typically be more expensive and won’t give you the same kind of real-world experience that you’d get if you took it abroad.

Why Go Abroad for your in-classroom TEFL School?

When you prepare for your TEFL certification overseas you will get classroom practice with students who will have similar language learning traits to the students that you will actually work with when you get a job. Also, in your downtime from classes you’ll be able to network, settle in to the culture and get an idea of which would be the best schools or institutes to work for.

In addition, your TEFL instructors will be able to give you lots of country-specific advice, because their experience in the region will be directly relevant to you. This can be a great help for the newbie TEFL teacher, and you don’t want to miss out on help, do you?

Not sure yet?

There are other options if you are truly hesitant about taking an in-classroom TEFL course abroad or domestically or just can’t afford it. Programs like the Literacy Volunteers of America can also train you up and get you experience as a volunteer tutor that will give you some insight into the world of TEFL. And you’d be helping  a group of people who need you!

The umbrella organization is ProLiteracy:  to contact them for their options outside of the United States – Google for similar programs.

For a self-study approach, I recommend TEFL Boot Camp.  It’s inexpensive and includes most of the content you’d get at a full-length in-classroom TEFL certification program. You’ll get tutoring, assistance and a certificate at the end and it has great information to get you started down the right path.

Or, another even less expensive option is to download the TEFL Training for New Teachers eBook . This includes most of the same information as the TEFL Boot Camp website, but with added bonuses: Two Peace Corps TEFL Training Manuals – designed for new EFL teachers— and Fast Track Grammar Review for EFL Teachers. This will probably cost less than US$15—what a good way to get your feet wet!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Train your brain.  Good teachers get training—and in TEFL, any training you get will be better than no training at all. You need to learn what to do, how to do it and when to do it in an EFL classroom.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Practice. If you can, get some real teaching experience—volunteering is fine—before you go overseas. It will boost your confidence and make your first class that much better.

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How to Tell if Your TEFL Training Center is all Hype or the Real Deal

This post will start a series on how to assess an in-classroom Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training course.

When would-be TEFL teachers look up training centers on the Internet, it’s challenging to sort through all the schools’ claims to find what is truly necessary for a great TEFL learning experience, and what is just so much marketing fluff. It’s important to also think about your individual needs and try to match yourself with a school that can offer the best course for you.

 Some tips. . .

Although at first glance the Internet offers an overload of information on in-classroom TEFL training centers, in this series we’ll look at what key questions you can use to evaluate a school.

Remember, though, that the best answers are as unique as the people asking them, and that (unfortunately) the answers to these questions won’t always help everyone.

And some even more important tips:

Don’t believe everything you read in online forums. Internet forums are useful, but DON’T take the opinions there as gospel.  There are a few training centers which hire people to post favorable comments about them on popular forums (and hire them to bash competing schools, too).

It’s also likely that in online forums you’ll find CELTA graduates who belittle any other kind of training as substandard, TEFL Cert grads who think the CELTAers are snobs who did too much unnecessary busywork… in, essence, there’s office politics even on the Web.

But, don’t worry too much about that yet. What’s important is that you wade through it to find a teacher training program that suits you. In this series I’ll offer some checklists so that you can compare school features and be happy that when you choose a school, you choose the right school.

My following post in this series will handle schools and accreditation. How much does accreditation matter? Tune in next week.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Do your research on the school’s features, not on how well its website is designed or other superficial aspects that won’t translate into the experience you’ll get there.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t just follow the herd. Even if your best friend loved his TEFL school, it doesn’t mean that you will. Choosing a training center can be a highly personal decision.

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ESP-ecially Interesting – Teaching English for Specific Purposes

Okay . . . not that kind of ESP

Great. You’re all set. You want to re-make your life and start a new career as an English teacher. You kiss goodbye to your old job and catch a plane, never to look back.

Hold it!

Even though choosing a career in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) often does mean a complete shift in your work life, don’t ignore the fact that a lot of your previous experience and education may come in handy in the English classroom, even if your old job had nothing to do with languages or education.

If your background means you can get a job teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP), then you’re already a few rungs up the TEFL ladder, in terms of prestige and, (who are we kidding?) pay.

As an example, consider someone who has training in the Information Technology, or IT, industry. When she transitions to TEFL, it would be logical to start the job hunt looking for a a position teaching English in secondary or tertiary institutions that have an IT specialty for their students.

There are plenty of examples of occupational specialties at schools and institutions overseas that require English training along with their vocational or academic training. Worldwide, people need English to publish papers at university, research for said papers, study advanced degrees and to start up many businesses.

It’s in your best interest to utilize all your assets when finding a job and your background is one asset you shouldn’t ignore. If you have knowledge or training in a special area, then you will already understand and be fluent in the jargon of that businesses, you’ll understand how the business works, and you may have an enthusiasm about it that other teachers won’t have. This will make you attractive to prospective employers.

Here are some more examples—by far not an exhaustive list, either—of areas of special knowledge that come in useful when teaching English overseas:

●            Nursing

●            Aviation training

●            Marketing and Business

●            Engineering

●            Pharmaceuticals or anything else related to medicine

●            Hospitality and Tourism

●            Law

●            Construction Technology

●            Basically any other subject that you majored in at university

When looking for a job teaching students specializing in your ESP area at a university, avoid approaching the English Department first. A better tactic is to introduce yourself at the department in charge of your skill area, and then request that they recommend you to their colleagues in the English Department.

Some helpful links about ESP: Here are a pair of great examples of ESP work that new TEFL teachers may be qualified for: Hotel and Resort English and Business English. This might entail teaching a few motivated, engaged receptionists or concierges at a 5-star hotel (or maybe even at a resort on an island!). What sounds better, that or teaching 60 bored middle-schoolers all playing with their smart phones instead of listening to you, the teacher? See, ESP has its advantages!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Look within yourself to see what the BEST English Teaching Job is going to be for YOU. What will get you both maximum enjoyment and maximum pay? It just might be related to your personal skills, experiences and education. Don’t ignore your unique strengths—you might be hobbling yourself AND your new career.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Just because you may be new to teaching English doesn’t mean you have to start on the bottom of the heap. If you’ve got marketable skills, then by all means approach colleges, universities and businesses directly.

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Certifiably Different – TEFL vs. CELTA

TEFL Certification or CELTA? CELTA or TEFL Cert?

Many people new to the business of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) are confronted with this question when they decide to get in-classroom training before they start teaching.

So, what is the difference between the two training courses?

Like the old saw about apples and oranges, they are really just different kinds of fruit. All quality in-classroom TEFL training programs will impart teaching methodology, grammar, observed teaching practice (OTP) and peer demonstrations, no matter which kind of course you pick.

A good program will also teach the trainees about the special problems that local EFL students have—which is why I always encourage people to take their in-classroom training course in the same country they’d like to get their first teaching job in.

These programs are typically intensive, and trainees learn A TON over only a few weeks. So, if you’re signing up for one of these courses, don’t be heartbroken if you spend more time studying than partying.

The main difference between CELTA and TEFL Certification programs is that CELTA is a franchised business (McDonald’s fast food and 7-11 convenience stores are other famous examples of world-wide franchises) and thus the course content will be standardized wherever you take it. Because of the franchise, CELTA-issuing schools pay royalties for every teacher they train. These royalties usually translate into a significantly higher price tag for the course.

Another difference is that CELTA aims toward teaching English to adults—that’s what the “A” in CELTA stands for—and so if you want to work mainly with kids, you might look for a TEFL Certification program that also trains up teachers of young learners.  Most TEFL Cert programs will offer many different kinds of practice to their trainees—including both kids and adults. Even if your primary goal is not teaching children, many teachers end up teaching children at some point in their careers – even if only for a few classes, so this is something to consider.

As in many industries, you’ll find some people who think the way they trained is the best way—and in this bickering about who’s the top dog, CELTA often comes off as the elite choice. However, you’ll also come across people who cheer for the TEFL course they went to—just as they might have loyalty to their local university, high school or sports team. People sometimes want to feel that their program or school is BETTER than any other one, because that’s the one into which they have invested their time and money.

That said, here’s another thing to think about carefully.  If you are set on teaching in Europe, a CELTA is often preferred may sometimes be thought of as the only “valid” training program for teachers of EFL. However, this might also be because the school or training center you want to work for is also a CELTA franchise. So, they might want to you to pay them for training before they give you a job.   It is not unusual for franchise schools of any brand to prefer people who took their course.

But, what if you don’t have a CELTA and you really want to work for a CELTA-issuing franchise? Even if you only have a TEFL Certificate, you can urge them to let you do a demonstration lesson. This will show you if they are interested in the SKILLS you have as a teacher, or if they only want you to have their expensive piece of paper.

In my experience, you don’t often find TEFL Cert schools who refuse teachers who had other kinds of training. Usually when you apply they will accept your TEFL Cert no matter where you got it—as long as it meets the internationally accepted standards.

TED’s Tips™ #1: You should probably take the CELTA if you want to teach in Europe. But if you want to go elsewhere, odds are your employer won’t care which kind of teaching certificate you have.

TED’s Tips™ #2: For whichever program you decide, try to interview the main teacher-trainer at the school you want to attend. Feel out whether or not they are PASSIONATE about teaching. If they aren’t, that might be a sign you don’t want to go there! But if they do sound like they truly love EFL teaching, then they might just be the best teacher-trainer and have the best course for you.

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BaNAna or BanaNA?

A Word Spoken Any Other Way…

Teaching Pronunciation in EFL, Part I

When teaching English as a Foreign Language, we have to be careful not only of WHAT we teach students to say, but of HOW we teach students to say it.  This is pronunciation. And pronunciation is something that new teachers may do quite poorly (and often incorrectly).

If you’re a new teacher, how can you avoid some of the pitfalls your peers will be making when it comes to helping your students with pronunciation?  Read on.

Three main elements to pronunciation

There are three main things to take into consideration when you’re teaching students how to speak with proper pronunciation. Those three elements are

1) stress

2) rhythm

3) intonation

In quick-and-dirty definitions, stress is about the words—and parts of words— we emphasize when we speak, rhythm is the ‘beat’ of the language, and intonation is stress within a sentence.

Confused? Don’t be. The two areas hardest to understand for native speaker teachers are rhythm and intonation—because most native speakers don’t pay attention to these qualities of their own speech.

Your students will probably understand the rhythm of English more intuitively than you will, because the human ear is often more attuned to rhythm in a foreign language than in its own.

The music in language

You may be familiar with the idea of ‘tones’ in language in relation to Asian languages like Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai. Yes, these languages use tones to convey meaning, but so does English! Well, not tones really, but intonation. For example, when we ask a question, we raise our tone at the end of the sentence. This is how we can hear the difference between the sentences “Give me some money!” and “Give me some money?” In the second example, your voice will have a slightly higher pitch at the end of the sentence than it did for the first sentence.

Don’t stress about stress

Now, let’s go back and look at stress. Different languages have different rules and traditions for what part of a multi-syllabic word should carry stress. English has a certain pattern that we use. For example, the homely word ‘banana.’ In American English we say, roughly, ‘ba-NA-nuh.” The second syllable is drawn out to say ‘naaaa.’ That second syllable is longer, slightly higher pitched, and maybe a bit louder than the ‘ba’ at the beginning and the ‘nuh’ at the end.  But a Thai person, using Thai stress rules and applying them to an English word (as many students would do) would say ‘ba-naa-NUH.’

If someone came up to you and said, ‘ba-naa-NUH,’ would you immediately know what they meant? Maybe not, and that’s why it’s important to teach students how to properly stress words they learn in English.

One of the reasons that native speaker teachers are so sought-after is that we use these little tricks of language intuitively. We don’t need to think about whether or not we need to raise our pitch when we ask a question—we just do it. And if you can get a good idea of what your students need to do to speak like you do, you’ll be able to help them immeasurably in their quest for better English.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Remember the three parts of pronunciation—stress, rhythm and pronunciation.  We’ll work more with them in the next post.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Listen to how you say multi-syllabic words. Why do you put stress on one part of the word and not on another. What happens to your ability to understand the word if you change stress?

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Painlessly Teaching Writing in EFL

Teaching writing can be painful if not done correctly

Of the four skill areas emphasized when teaching English as a Foreign Language (speaking, listening, reading and writing), most teachers fear writing the most.

But—like the ‘bogeyman’ shadow in a child’s bedroom—teaching writing is really nothing scary at all.

After this post, writing might be your favorite subject!

It is true that teaching the skill of writing may require of your students a bit more effort, and you a bit more time and patience than the other skills.  However, that all pays off once you’ve got a handle on it—then, teaching writing may become your favorite skill area.

Why?

If you use a sensible method and some good materials, like the ones I link to below, your students will be thrilled by the steady progress they make.

Writing equals thinking

The thing is, writing takes a bit more thinking than most activities in listening, reading, or even speaking.  And often, students come to class believing they are good writers already—and they may be good writers, but are they good writers in English? You may find, to your dismay, that students proudly present you with writing assignments chock-a-block full of tortured prose, or even gibberish.

To get your students to an acceptable level, let’s say the level they need if they want to study or work abroad or if they need to use written English in their job, you’ll need to build up their skills without breaking down their level of confidence.

Begin at the beginning

By far the best tactic for teaching writing is to start at the beginning. As Maria in The Sound of Music said, that’s a very good place to start!  Go back and review the most basic skills. Sure, you may have a few students who roll their eyes at you and tell you, “Teeeaaaacher! We know how to do that!”  And they may know it, but you must check, because it’s difficult to build a castle on an uneven foundation. If you are in the situation where your students and you are at odds over what they know and how well they know it, make sure you don’t crush their enthusiasm for learning with your corrections. Tell them you think their writing skills are good—you just want to make them better.

Two well organized writing manuscripts show the way:

Sentence Writing and Intermediate Writing

I strongly urge you to download these two writing-related e-books that I link to in this blog post. These manuscripts are highly structured manuals for teaching writing well, and are organized so that students’ proficiency will build easily and naturally as you lead them through the steps outlined in the book.

Before you take them into class however, make sure you spend some time looking at how the books are organized. Take a minute to understand the whys—Why is this lesson first? Why is that lesson next? Understand how the blocks follow one-by-one to build a strong support for your students’ writing prowess.

Of course, you’re going to see plenty of grammar in the book focusing on writing sentences. Truly, if there’s one skill where grammar is critical—it’s in writing.

Also, notice that the books are designed to lead your students to writing success a bit more slowly than your average textbook may demand. Most textbooks I’ve worked with lead the students through their paces before the learners have had a chance to master the steps. It’s much more effective if the teachers can integrate what the students learned last week with what they will learn this week, even going back further in the sequence as necessary.

And that’s what my friend and I organized these two manuscripts as a methodical approaches to building your students’ confidence and skill in writing without going too fast, or missing out any of the important pieces of the puzzle.  I hope you enjoy them!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Teaching writing is not a race. Don’t go too fast through the lessons—you won’t be doing your students any favors.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Look at these two writing textbooks and notice not only the particular exercises we recommend, but also the order in which we put those tasks.

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