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.

Teaching Internships in China


The Most Basic Requirement for a Teacher of English

Are you are “People Person”?

I hope so.

I don’t mean are you a manic do-gooder or over-achieving socialite – but just do you enjoy working with and being around people?

If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be a teacher – of any sort.

Do you enjoy helping people?

Teachers of English help people learn a new skill that is often required for a good job, for a better job and in some companies – required even for a promotion.

But if you don’t enjoy the basic human interaction of helping someone learn something, don’t be a teacher.

Conversely, if connecting with people and helping them learn new skills really gets you excited, then you are on the right path.

As strange as it might seem there actually are relatively unfriendly teachers who don’t seem to enjoy human contact.   Now – I’ve never been the life of the party and I am even quite shy around strangers but standing in front of a classroom and helping people really turns me on.  After a class that turned out well, I personally feel really charged up and even grateful to be a teacher.  If you are wishing to be a teacher or are a teacher, I hope you share that excitement with me.

TED’s Tips™ #1: DO take a good look at  yourself before deciding to be a teacher.  If you enjoy people and enjoy helping people, teaching is one of the more rewarding careers you will ever find.  If you don’t, you may find it a dreary path of class after class after class.  For me – I think it is one of the most exciting professions in the world.

Teaching English for Special Purposes

Develop your own ESP

Yeah – and I don’t mean Extra-Sensory Perception . . .
This is one of my favorite topics and one that newbies and especially us oldies ought to make sure we pay attention to.

There are many ways of being disadvantaged in TEFL around the world: If you are old, black, non-native speaker, not pretty, not handsome and the list can go on and on and we haven’t even talked yet about your skills!

How to deal with that discrimination? How to create an advantage for yourself? ESP. English for Special (or Specific) Purposes.

Most people have a work history from which they can draw draw special skills. And usually the older you are, the more in-depth skills and/or the greater variety of skills you will have.

I recently met an older guy looking for a teaching job in a wonderful destination resort area. He was older and not likely to be picked up by the local school system who like younger women for teaching the younger kids. Nor did he really want that type of job.

We talked a bit and sure enough – there was his ESP – he had been through corporate management training with one of the worlds larger five-star resort chains.

Let see – teaching screaming kids in a hot classroom – or teach hotel receptionists in small groups in an air-conditioned corporate training room? Up to you as they say . . . Me? Give me the hotel job! So that is where this man is headed. Nice resume focused on TWO things: His hospitality training and experience and his TEFL training and experience. The perfect ESP marriage.

So let’s beef up his job search a bit. Not just hotels and resorts, but what about colleges and universities that have hospitality training programs?

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take a good look at your resume – before you got into TEFL. Identify what ESP skills you might have. Exploit them!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t forget colleges, universities, technical schools, specialized vocational secondary schools and more who might also value your EXTRA skills.

Don’t ignore your ESP advantage. It will not only open many more doors for you, but you will also likely teach people with similar interests as your own. You’ll probably like the higher wages that ESP classes tend to pay too.


Do I Need TEFL Training?

English teaching wannabes and newbies usually ask several questions here:

Is TEFL training required to get the job I want? Do I have to have it?

Would it make a difference if I had it?

. . . and the answers are: sometimes, sometimes and yes.

Some countries require a TEFL certification before they will approve your legal working papers. Thus – before you can work in Thailand, Indonesia and a few other places, you need to complete a good TEFL course.

Most countries don’t require any TEFL training at all, but the better employers will prefer their new hires to have had some training. So, in fact, TEFL training may be required for a move up the food chain or even give you the ability to start out in a preferred position.

And while many countries and some jobs that don’t require any training at all, it shouldn’t be about just getting by with the minimum and, if you are lucky, just doing a mediocre job.

Will TEFL training really make a difference?

You bet! There are several ways in which you may benefit from TEFL training. First is that many employers will pay a small premium to teachers that have some good training. While often not much on a monthly basis, it adds up across a year and tends to easily pay for itself in only one or two years. Add that to the idea that you can probably land a better job than the one you would get without training and you might be seeing an even better return on your investment.

Those are the good practical reasons for getting yourself some training. There are also some ethical, moral and emotional issues to consider.

The first is that you owe it to your students to get yourself some training. Students, in most foreign countries, pay a lot of money to sit in your class. Wouldn’t it just be fair to know what you are doing?

While teaching English overseas is not “brain surgery” or “rocket science”, it does require some skill to do it well. And as long as you are changing your life and heading overseas – why not do it right and feel good or even GREAT about the service you provide to your students?

The days of just showing up at a TEFL job and “chatting with the students for an hour” are long gone. Language schools these days would like you to provide some real teaching in their classrooms. And students almost intuitively know when a teacher knows what they are doing – or not.

One of the best reasons for getting yourself some training is that you will find preparing your classes much easier and you will enjoy your work more knowing that you are providing a quality service and not just skating by on someone else’s money. Best of all, you will sleep better at night.

It’s about doing it right – and feeling good about it.

Now . . . not everyone can afford four to six weeks of not working and the costs of a full blown TEFL certification program. In the following post we will talk about some good alternatives to the commercially available courses.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training. You will enjoy yourself more and do a better job.
Remember how lousy teachers really turned you off when you were still in school? Yeah, don’t be one of those.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you can’t afford the “Full Monty” of a four-to-six-week course, check out some of the alternatives we will talk about tomorrow.

TEFL Teacher Training

Teacher Training for EFL TEFL ESL Teachers
Teaching Methods for Teaching English Abroad

We are only a couple days old – please come back soon when we will be up in full force.

Meanwhile – you can check out our sister publication: TEFL Newbie a website for both TEFL Rookies and people just thinking about a life abroad.

Come back soon – you’ll be glad you did . . .