Each year, thousands of people travel to a foreign country on their way to positions teaching English to the people of their host country.
Often these teachers wonder how to serve the needs of the students in their classes, how to apply the ESL methods they have learned to the ESL/EFL environment they find, and how to earn the respect and thanks of the people they will teach.
This article is the result of two surveys conducted in Hungary and China. Both surveys asked teachers and students who have worked with American or other native-speaking English teachers to express a consumer's view of what works and what doesn't when a person is a visiting teacher of their native language in another country.
“You will probably teach some classes you didn't anticipate”
If you are American learn non-US varieties of English, especially British. Students in other countries are confronted with many forms of English. Historically, British English has usually been preferred. In Asia, it's the American English that has had preference in the past decades.
While this situation is certainly no longer so clear, students now are exposed to teachers and materials from at least North America, Britain, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand, and they are frustrated by instructors who correct what they learned from another native speaker.
As a minimum, instructors teaching overseas need to be able to recognize the variant vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntactic forms of British and American English.
Ideally, they should be able to help students master the written forms of either major variety and should be familiar with the forms found in other countries, as well.
Learn about your students' language and about common error patterns. The biggest advantage of the L1-speaking teacher over the native-speaking teacher is that the L1-speaking teacher can quickly make a complex grammatical point by a comparison to an L1 structure or by using L1 terms.
The more you can learn about your students' language before you arrive, the more effective you can be in the classroom (as well as in every area of living).
Learn about the culture and about the educational system.
It is crucial to a good teaching experience to match your instruction with the expectations of the school and with the needs of students.
While this seems obvious, some respondents commented that English-speaking teachers would not prepare students for required exams or would fail to adapt their grading system to the local system.
The Chinese respondents, especially, felt that the native-speaking teachers failed to modify their teaching to the Chinese way of learning. Thus, it is necessary to find out as much as possible about the kind of teaching, grading, etc. that you will encounter.
Respondents on both surveys raised the issue of the attitude of English-speaking teachers towards the host culture.
Many of them found their visitors lacked basic knowledge of their culture, or ignored basic differences, or actively exhibited a prejudice or sense of superiority.
Prepare non-offensive materials to take or send. No matter where you are going and no matter how much you think everything has been worked out, you will probably teach some classes you didn't anticipate. You may teach an entirely different set of classes.
This must not deter you from sending or taking teaching materials because depending on where you are going, you may find no easy access to photocopying, no slide projectors, no books, or a wealth of completely unfamiliar materials.
—How can you prepare materials when you don't know what you'll teach?
Take a lot of good material. If you have a favorite set of materials, prepare to take or send them with enough copies for a class. Take a large variety of material. But many of our ESL materials are offensive abroad for their content, their presentation, or their cultural assumptions.
Many of our ESL materials assume students are in the U.S. and want to live here. These can be offensive to students overseas who simply want to study the language.
Materials that present an American view of sensitive issues or that look critically at the points of views of others may be equally offensive.
Teach diligently and explain methodology. A great deal of teaching overseas is teacher-centered, and teachers are expected to plan each part of the lesson thoroughly. Students and teachers responded negatively to what were perceived as unplanned classes.
Conversation classes are particularly
likely to be viewed as just "talk"
Work within the system. This means, first of all, work within the educational system of the country and consider the examination or evaluation system in your teaching.
No matter how you value American English, if students are tested on British English, you will need to help them with British forms.
No matter how much you value speaking, if students are only tested through written exams, you will need to give written English enough attention.
Recognize that you are entering a place where people have been teaching and learning EFL, and they have often gone through rigorous training.
Most work hard to keep abreast of current methodology. Hence, it is a good idea to identify the EFL/ELL methods used in the country and incorporate some into your teaching.
If the primary or only method of teaching is rote learning, students are used to it and may consider it the only legitimate method. You may need to use a bit of it (or at least have students use it on your materials) until you can demonstrate that the other activities are producing better effects. Your L1 colleagues are a great source of knowledge in this area, and you can learn a great deal from them.
One of the most poignant comments in the responses was that "some can't understand that they've come to work in an already existing system, which they don't necessarily have to change."
This criticism of native-speaking teachers is, we think, well deserved. We have seen several EFL teachers who tried to show people in other countries the way to teach English. Even worse, are those who try to "show these people" how to live.
Recognize your role as an outsider
As an outsider and foreigner, you are
going to be treated as different and special — in both ways you will
appreciate and ways you won't.
They won't expect you to know everything. It usually means you can ask for help. Also, it has the added benefit that you won't have to serve on committees, attend meetings, and do a lot of other work that people have in their home countries at their home job.
On the negative side, you can't select the ways in which you'll be treated special. When being an outsider is not to your advantage (like having to pay more than other teachers), there will be nothing you can do about it.
In your own culture, you're an adult, generally a responsible one. Overseas, you are a young child with less of a knowledge about how to be a responsible adult than a six-year old.
Your assumptions about what a responsible adult is are all wrong, and you have to get used to that and start learning how to grow up in that culture.
In the end, you will profit by expanding your ideas of what it means not only to be an adult, but to be human.
If you're not a trained TESL/TEFL teacher, don't go.
The attribute most frequently criticized in the Hungarian survey was a lack of training in teaching English.
One student put it baldly: "Sometimes they come only because they can't find a proper job in their own country."
In countries where teaching is taken most seriously, lack of professional preparation is noted and resented by both students and teachers as are the consequences.
One comment summed up the criticism nicely: "Being native is not enough." As professionals in TESL and TEFL, we should not encourage untrained students and friends to go abroad as teachers.
Don't take a hidden agenda. A second theme that emerges as problematic is that of people taking a hidden agenda.
If your real goal is to convert people, religiously or politically, or to establish business contacts, or do research, your students and colleagues will probably resent your actions, not consider you a true professional, and show a lack of trust in other areas as well.
Be prepared. Expect that you will be valued for your knowledge of the language, culture, and customs of your English-speaking country, and do whatever you can to enhance that knowledge before you go.
Also, while your teaching style may be different from that of your host country, the differences may be valued.
Above all, your enthusiasm for your students and your collegiality with your colleagues will be appreciated.
Be humble. Do not assume that your methodology is better than that of your hosts, that your training is more advanced, or that your are somehow more privileged just because you are a native speaker or a citizen of a particular country.
Be flexible. No matter how much planning you do, you must expect the unexpected when you teach overseas.
Many of the problems that arise are because you are in a foreign culture. On the other hand, teaching and living overseas allows you to rethink who you are, and it is the crises that teach you the most.
Rather than trying to avoid problems, try to accept the challenge that each problem offers about what you will learn about the culture, about teaching, or about yourself when the crisis is solved.
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