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Friday, 24 October 2014

Adventurous Cuisines of EFL Countries

When people travel to a new country, one thing that can prove to be a challenge is navigating the menus and supermarkets to find food that you enjoy. Human beings require a wide variety of nutrients, and different cultures get these from different sources and eat them in different combinations. This is just part of what distinguishes different cultures and makes life so amazing.

Unfortunately, some teachers struggle with new food, and find that the national cuisine is too different. In some cases, it can be too spicy, in other cases, teachers’ can find it hard to fulfil their own dietary constraints (such as being vegetarian, or allergic to shellfish). In these cases, it is best to prepare your own food, or find a group of other people who share your restrictions and work together to help each other find markets and restaurants which cater to your tastes.

For those teachers who don’t have any dietary constraints, travelling to a new country can be a chance to expand your pallet and try something new and adventurous. In this article, we will highlight some of the strangest cuisines available in EFL countries.

South Korea

The home of Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), South Korea tops this list as it has so many strange dishes for travelers to try. One thing it is well known for, is the unusual dish “poshintang” (or dog stew). This is a summer dish and only served in specific restaurants. While not typically a favourite for westerners, a truly adventurous eater may seek it out. More commonly available are “Bondegi” (silk worm larva), and if you make friends with some older Korean men, they might invite you on a trip to a national park to try “SanNakji” (live…yes, live squid).


China is such a huge country that different regions specialize in different foods and the cuisine can vary greatly between cities. One delicacy rumored to have been invented in Hunan, about 600 years ago, is the “Century Egg”, these are chicken, duck or quail eggs that have been preserved, turning the yolk green and the white, brown. If these eggs aren’t to your liking, you can always try “FengZhao” (Chicken Feet). These are growing in popularity and can be found in some bars as ‘beer snacks’, the way we eat peanuts in the west.


Most people think of tacos and nachos when they think of Mexican food. However, like many EFL countries, there is a secret world of food to be discovered. There is the “cabeza de cabrito”, which is a whole goat’s head. This is prepared like a soup or stew, and is a lot tastier than the name suggests. People also eat “Huitlacoche” which is a type of fungus infected corn. While this fungus is considered a pest in most countries, some Mexicans harvest the infected plants and the fungus is used as a mushroom like filling in some quesadillas.


Up in the frozen North of Europe, people have developed some ingenious, and stomach turning delicacies. “Lappkok” is a dumpling made of reindeer blood as well as some other ingredients. There are also blood pancakes. People also love “Surstr√∂mming”, which is a sour fermented herring. Be careful opening a tin of this indoors as the smell is overpowering.


What we consider to be strange is often a normal part of life in EFL countries. Where many westerners dislike the idea of eating the organs of animals (preferring the meat), many cultures do their best to waste as little as possible. “Churrasco de curacao” are chicken hearts usually served on skewers. They are delicious if you don’t think about it. Less of a traditional dish and more unusual than horrifying, is sweet-corn ice cream. Brazil is a hot country, and has plenty of corn, so it is not really surprising that this has been invented.


It was only a couple of decades ago that sushi was considered a strange delicacy in western countries. Now, it has become one of Japan’s biggest cultural exports. While westerners may want to stick to flavors like teriyaki chicken and fried shrimp, in Japan there are many more varieties and flavors available. “Sashimi” is thinly sliced raw fish and many people find it refreshing. “Fugu” is a poisonous blowfish that must be prepared professionally to get the best flavor and avoid the poison. If you feel like Japanese cuisine is no problem and you enjoy the subtle flavors of sushi, you may also want to try wasabi beer.

Don’t forget that while these foods may be unusual, they are part of each country’s national identity and culture. If you happen to be served something you don’t like or is too strange for you, most people will understand if you are polite. Remember, however, that variety is the spice of life and you’ll never know how good food is until you try it.

What is the strangest things you have eaten? Do you have some experience with unusual cuisine? Let us know in the comments section.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Dealing with the Director of your School

directorTraveling and teaching is generally an enjoyable experience and living in a new country can be highly rewarding. Most teachers go through various stages of culture shock at different times, but most complete their contracts without any dramas. However, some teachers have trouble communicating with their bosses (typically referred to as a School ‘Director’), and end up getting in arguments, not establishing a friendly relationship, or even leaving the school before their contract is up.

These areas of miscommunication and misunderstanding can arise in many ways, and below we will discuss some of these situations and how you can reach an agreement with your director should they occur to you.

As TEFL teachers by definition come from different countries to their superiors, there are often problems that occur due to a ‘clash of cultures’. Different cultures have different ways of expressing interest/concern for people, so some teachers can find that their co-workers want to get involved in their personal life, and this can seem like a minor invasion of privacy. While you may prefer to keep some information private, you should take any personal questions with a positive attitude. If your co-workers are asking about you, it is probably because they are interested in you and are trying to cultivate a friendly relationship. Be accommodating, but they will likely understand if you tell them you’d rather not talk about it.

Teachers generally take their job seriously. They may feel pressure from their school to raise the English level of the students or they may just wish to deliver the best lessons possible. Unfortunately, some school directors are better equipped to look at the school as a business, rather than an educational institution, and focus on student numbers and student happiness as opposed to improvement in English. This is where a compromise must be found. A teacher cannot feel satisfied presenting a lesson which is not beneficial to the students’ education, and school directors want to make money. The best thing to do is to deliver the best lesson you can within the school’s framework. Talk to your director with suggestions and although they may not take them on, you can be happy that you have done all you can, and they will be happy that you are interested in helping the business.

The other main reason teachers have problems with their directors is because the school is attempting to cheat the teacher out of pay, or withholding benefits. This is difficult to fight if you are already working at the school and the best way to avoid this is to be very careful when choosing the school you are going to work for. Make sure you ask all of the important questions in your interview, and read your contract carefully before signing. If the school is willing to offer you a contract, they should also be happy to put you in touch with some of their other teachers, so you can get the best information possible. If your contract is solid, and the company is actually doing something illegal, contact the local authorities, and if this proves ineffective, contact your embassy. The last thing a school wants is a bad reputation from teachers, so if pressured, they will most likely do the right thing.

It is important to point out that not all problems are caused by the director, and they are not evil people trying to ruin your experience. There are several things you can do to help improve your relationship with your boss and enjoy your tenure as an EFL instructor.

Take part in office parties and festivities. Many schools will have little events for special occasions and it is a good idea to get involved. You may not completely understand the customs, or may not necessarily like the food, but it is a good idea to look at all school events as fun, learning experiences.

Be open and honest to your co-workers about your feelings. They can’t help you deal with your stress if you don’t let them know what is going on. As soon as you have an issue which may affect your teaching ability, go to your director and explain the situation. Remember that you are their biggest asset and it is in their best interest to have you feeling tip top and ready to teach.

Be responsible. In a lot of cases, the school will supply you with accommodation, office supplies and all manner of essentials. You should take care of these things and do your best to uphold the trust they have out in you. Work out how long it takes you to get ready in the morning and how long it takes to get to the school and always arrive on time. Dress neatly and act professionally at work as your director relies on his/her teachers to give the school a good image.

Be willing to compromise and adapt. The main lesson to take from this article is that being an English language teacher does have its professional difficulties. One of the most valuable skills an EFL teacher can develop is to grow and adapt to the type of class they have to present. The end result of your classes should satisfy you in having students absorb some real language, satisfy your director in covering the material they want and keeping the students happy, satisfy the students in keeping them interested and engaged for the lesson. It is a balancing act that all teachers must master.


Have you had any problems with your EFL director, or do you have any tips for getting along with your co-workers? We would love to hear about them in the comments section below.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Questions to Answer before going to Travel and Teach

There are many reasons people decide to travel and teach. Once you are in an EFL environment and you start to interact with other teachers, you will find that their reasons will be similar to yours. Some people travel overseas to work simply because the pay is better. In an EFL situation, the pay may not be any better than what you could earn at home, but the cost of living is so low, and you receive so many benefits that it does work out more economical in the end.

Other people travel because they want to ‘get away’ from their life back home. This may seem like a selfish reason, however, everyone has stages in their life that they wish to put behind them. Travelling to an EFL country, starting a new career and learning a new language allow people to start a whole new, positive, chapter in their lives.

Another common reason why people travel is for the adventure. Young people in particular can feel as though they need to expand their horizons. Jumping headfirst into a TEFL position can provide these experiences which open minds in ways other jobs cannot. Nothing will give you an appreciation for other cultures and ways of life like travelling to another country where you don’t speak the language, and living and working there. It will force you to be independent and to take responsibility for your life.

While many people entertain the idea of travelling and working, how do you know if you can? It seems like such a commitment, and the pay seems low at first glance. But the truth is, the whole thing is actually quite easy if you prepare yourself.

“I want to travel and teach but I’m not sure if I am qualified” – This is a common thought that runs through many new teachers’ heads. The truth is that in the TEFL industry, the number one factor for determining your eligibility for work is being a native English speaker. It is not always necessary to have an absolute understanding of every aspect of grammar, but being able to provide real-world examples of the language is the first thing that employers look for.

“I don’t know which country to go to” – The trick to finding the perfect place for you is to shop around. In recent years, the most popular places for EFL teachers have been N.E Asian countries (China, Japan and S. Korea). This is because their growing economies mean they are able to offer teachers attractive pay/holiday/benefit packages. They are used to dealing with native English speakers, so they know how to accommodate them. Plenty of people wish to travel to other regions of the world (Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East). In these cases, individual schools can vary greatly and it is a good idea to contact them directly to find out exactly what their hiring processes are. If you get the chance, talk to a few teachers who are already working there to get an idea of what life is like, and whether it is suitable for you.

“I want some training before I get there and am thrown into my first class” – This is completely understandable. No one wants to look under-prepared when they turn up to their first day on the job, which is why Teflen Training College courses provide students with the very latest in TEFL training. Good online courses require students to prepare lesson plans and give feedback on them. You should also ask your trainer any questions you think of while you are training. Remember that the only bad questions are the ones not asked.

“Do I need to have much money before I go?” – While schools may pay for your flights, it is usually through reimbursement, which means you will need to have the flight money up front. It is also a good idea to have some emergency money, as it may be up to a month before you get paid and you will need to get set up. Many schools offer their teachers accommodation, yet there will undoubtedly be some more things you will need to make yourself comfortable. Some schools may be able to advance you some of your first pay, but you should have some spare cash, just in case.

“I’m worried I won’t know anybody, or have any support” – Honestly, this can be the biggest problem for new EFL teachers. Hopefully, you find employment with a school that has other foreign teachers working there, so you will have someone to talk to who understands your perspective. Also, if there is one English school in a city, there are usually many more, and you will most likely meet other English teachers from a range of backgrounds. This community is typically quite strong and helpful, but if you still feel the pressures of culture shock, you can contact your friends and family back home for free over skype.

“What do I pack?” – This really depends on where you are travelling. Remember that most essentials will be available there (because the people that live there are able to get by, just fine). However, the climate could be quite different to where you are from, so pack appropriate clothes. Also, don’t hesitate to take some mementos from home to help keep you sane in the new environment.

“I’m ready to go!” – That’s great! But don’t jump the gun. Make sure your employment contract is acceptable, and your working visas are in order. Remember that schools want you there working and so they should be able to help you through every step of the way.

If you have any more questions or advice about travelling and teaching, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Experience the Culture of Thailand while Teaching

Thailand is emerging as a vibrant EFL environment. Once, this country was not a popular destination for teachers, as it was seen as a developing nation, able to offer little in the way of benefits and decent pay. However, more recently, Thailand’s economy has been growing and TEFL schools which hire native English teachers are growing in number. In the capital city of Bangkok, English schools are common and are geared toward helping younger students prepare for university, and in the tourist centers such as Chiang Mai, English is important for the local economy. For a TEFL teacher, Thailand provides uncountable chances to expand your horizons, have fun, and gain experiences that will stay with your for the rest of your life.

The most recognizable landmark in Bangkok, and one of the most spectacular sights in Thailand, the Grand Palace stood as the center of administrative life in Thailand. While it is no longer used as a palace, it is still an important part of Thai culture. Because structures have been added to the complex over the reign of each King, the architecture itself is a stroll through Thai history.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Heavily affected by the tsunami in late 2004, this must see island has bounced back and grown in popularity in recent years. SO much so, it is almost essential to travel there out of season to avoid high prices and crowds of tourists. The island is best used as a ‘jumping point’ to go out and visit the other smaller islands, such as Mosquito Island and Bamboo Island with their stunning cliffs, beaches and tropical forests.

Koh Phi Phi

If you happen to be up in northern Thailand, you cannot miss Chiang Mai. The main industry is tourism, so you can expect some modern features, and the occasional annoying tourist. But don’t despair. Chiang Mai still has plenty to offer eco-tourists, backpackers, and of course, TEFL teachers. Along with the temples and rainforests, Chiang Mai hosts many local festivals including Yi Peng, where locals release paper lanterns down river, and up into the sky.

Chiang Mai

Phuket is located in the South of Thailand. Another tourist city, like Chiang Mai, it features the same creature comforts western travelers crave, but in a totally different environment. It is a beach-lover’s paradise with every kind of water activity available; swimming, snorkeling, diving, parasailing and so many more. If you are not the adventurous type, there is plenty of lazing in the sun to be done while you sip fruit cocktails.


When in Thailand, it is hard not to visit at least one temple. In fact, after seeing so many, it is easy to get the feeling that “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seem them all”. This is not the case with the temple at the Phanom Rung Historical Park. Built on the rim of an extinct volcano, 400m above sea level, the architecture and layout of this Hindu shrine are like nothing else. It is also a place that most tourists are unaware of, so it is peaceful as well as beautiful.

Phanom Rung Historical Park

The floating market at Ratchaburi remains a traditional style floating market. There are lots of small shops set up that sell tourist items, and quaint restaurants run by friendly locals. On of the biggest attractions here is the stage show which highlights traditional dance and martial arts. If you need to relax, there are also ‘Doctor Fish shops’ where tiny fish give your feet a tingling cleaning by eating off the dead skin.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

This is one of those secret spots that many tourists miss, but if you want to see something truly amazing Emerald (Morakot) Cave provides that unique experience. Located on the western side of Koh Muk is a cliff range with an opening, and if you swim the 70m through this gap, you come to Morakot cave. This secluded cave opens onto a clear white beach and the stunning green-blue water that give it its name. If you’re not much of a swimmer, you can always go out fishing with the locals.

Morakot Cave

In the middle of Bangkok, directly across from the Grand Palace is the Rattanakosin district, which houses the Wat Pho temple, and the giant golden Buddha that reclines there. The Buddha is 43m long and 15m high, and the soles of its feet are inlaid with 108 auspicious symbols in mother of pearl. The statue is also surrounded by 108 jars where visitors drop coins for good luck. This is also the traditional home of Thai massage and the small massage shop is always popular with weary tourists.

Wat Pho

Also in Bangkok, is Wang Lang Market. The main attraction for most tourists here is the food. There are countless stalls selling authentic street-food. When in Thailand, it’s safe to say that if the locals are flocking there, the food must be pretty good. There are also restaurants which offer fantastic views of the surrounding area and the spires of the Grand Palace. The shops here also sell vintage (and faux-vintage) clothes, shoes and accessories and is a must see for anyone into retro fashion.

Wang Lang Market

Many people want to see animals when they come to Thailand. Thailand is famous for elephants, tigers and monkeys. Unfortunately, many of the places where tourists can see them are run for-profit, and the animals are not always treated to the standards we expect. Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary is different in that it is a wildlife reserve and protected area first and foremost. It is not a place that encourages high volumes of tourists, however, a savvy traveler can visit and experience the true nature of Thailand.

Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary

Friday, 17 October 2014

How to Live Thrifty in an EFL Environment

While traveling and teaching are their own rewards, a big draw card to becoming an EFL teacher is the money. And while many EFL environments may have a lower cost of living than back home, you don’t want to get bogged down in unnecessary expenses. In this post, we will address a few ways that EFL teachers can get by without having to spend all of their hard-earned Yen, Pesos, Euros, Won or whatever the case may be.

1. Make friends with locals. A good way to find the best value while living in an EFL environment is to ‘go where the locals go’. People who live in the country know how to avoid tourist traps and also often have access to things like discounts that foreigners ma not be aware of. They can read signs and help explain how to get the best deal in many circumstances. They can also point you to trustworthy services (such as travel agents and banks). Making friends with local people is a great way to learn about the local culture and avoid getting ripped off.

2. Hand me downs. In a lot of cases, you will be taking on a contract that someone else had previously. Your school may set you up in their old apartment, and you may get to inherit some of their old belongings. In established EFL communities, people trade second hand good for many reasons. Sometimes they are upgrading, sometimes they are going back home. Becoming familiar with the other foreign teachers in your city is a good idea in general.

3. Heating/Air con. Some teachers travel to countries that have completely different climates compared to what they are used to. It is easy to get into trouble leaving your boiler or aircon on all day when you are not there and returning home to a room that is boiling or freezing, respectively. Make sure you turn everything off when you go out. It won’t take too long to get back to the right temperature once you are home. Also, try not to ‘blast’ it too much, and let in as much natural air as possible. It is also much cheaper to buy a decent blanket once than three months of huge gas bills.

4. Cooking at home. This is one which really depends on your circumstances and tastes. In some countries it is cheaper and easier to get take away food from a local market than to buy the ingredients yourself to cook. This can happen in places like Taiwan, which are densly populated. In other places, the temptation might be there to get take away every night, but it may not be the most economical solution. Some people struggle to cook at home because they can’t find the same ingredients as they would normally cook with, or perhaps they just aren’t very good cooks. Remember that TEFL is an adventure. When at the supermarket, compare prices and see what local people buy. Check the internet for alternative ingredients for recipes you might make back home, and remember to talk to your fellow teachers as they will also be able to give you some advice.

5. Transport. Many countries have low cost options for getting around. In many places, bikes are a good, cheap alternative and there is nothing like exploring your city on foot. Don’t forget to split taxis if possible and get a travel card/pass if the place you are has this type of system. Once again, seeing how the locals do it will help you find an effective method of getting around.

6. Phone/Internet. In the past, teachers had to track down places in their city which stocked international calling cards, and then it was a matter of comparing minutes per dollar. These days, practically everyone has a mobile phone and can connect with their family and friends whenever they like. Don’t forget to get a local sim card or get on a prepaid system if you are there for a year or more. Also, don’t forget about Skype and other internet messaging systems to avoid paying massive international calling fees when calling home.

7. Materials. When you get that first teaching gig, don’t run off to the stationary store and load up on teaching supplies. While it is definitely a good idea to have some of the basics (a couple fo reliable pens, a notebook or two etc.) many schools will provide the rest. Many schools will have markers you can use and teacher’s copies of textbooks. Talk to your school’s secretary/receptionist if you need more. At the very least, they will know the best places to get more on the cheap.

8. Shipping/Posting. Sending things home, or having things sent from home can be a costly experience. You may find when you arrive that you had packed too much, or not enough. You may also pick up a bunch of souvenirs and want to send them back. The best way to avoid the costs of shipping and postage is to limit doing it. It is not a good idea to pay for the cheapest mode of shipping with fragile, or valuable goods. Make sure you get a tracking number for theses items.

As you can see, there are a range of ways of watching your wallet when traveling and teaching. Do you have any more cost cutting measures? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Engaging Children in EFL Lessons

When talking about differences in EFL classes and teaching styles, differences in age always play a key role. In different stages of life, we have different strengths and weaknesses, and different priorities. Our brain chemistry is different and we have different reasons for learning. For all of these reasons, it is important to consider your students age when planning lessons.

Young children go to school because it is all they know. It is their occupation, in some ways, and they are following their parents’ instructions. While this means students turn up to class regularly, the reason they need to learn a foreign language may not be apparent to them.

The best reason to learn a foreign language is to be able to communicate comfortably with other speakers. It allows people to reach understandings, collaborate, and share in a very real way. The main reason parents put their children into EFL schools, is unfortunately not to increase communication, but to lead to a higher education standard in general and improve the student’s quality of life in the future. Children, however, often feel that they are there to meet the approval of their parents and teachers, and to achieve high test scores. Your employer may feel the reason students are there is to complete their classes, achieve success and validate the usefulness of the business. As educators, we want to open students’ minds and help them express themselves.

With all of these perceived reasons for studying flying around, it is important to find a way to amalgamate them into a positive, engaging and educational experience for the students.

The best way to plan for children is to begin to with the language target. You have to decide if it is important for them to learn. Typically, childrens’ classes are prepared according to a schedule or course book that is planned for such classes. However, you may find that some of the material is not absolutely appropriate for your students, or not particularly necessary. No matter how good the course book is, you will need to evaluate how successful each stage of the lesson would be with your class.

Once you have identified the target language and thought about which aspects of that language you will teach, you will need to prepare your presentation stage. Think about the language you use to describe the language you are teaching. Consider much metalanguage are the students familiar with, and what questions you can ask to draw out previous knowledge.

Next, you will need to look at your tasks. Once again, the school or course book may have prepared activities for you to use. Even if this is the case, it is not simply a matter of saying to students- “Begin”. You will need to guide the students and demonstrate how the task is completed. Your approach is important here. Think about creating examples that students can connect with, and remember that for most students it is better if you “show” them how to perform a task, rather than just “tell” them.

If you need to create your own tasks, there are two main things you need to consider. You will need to balance the language target with student engagement. You want to impart as much knowledge on your students as possible, but by pushing the language target too much, you can overwhelm the students or just lose their attention. You also want students to have fun and enjoy the class. Students learn better when they are having fun, however, it is important that the fun they are having also has some educational benefit.

Also, when planning tasks for students, remember to vary the ways they can interact with the target language. To maximize real language acquisition, students should have chances to see, hear, speak and write the target language. The challenge is getting them to perform these tasks in fun (and natural) ways.

Thankfully, children usually take their cue from each other, or from older role-models. In order to get students excited and involved in songs, role-plays, and discussions, it is important for the teacher to be involved as well. Don’t be afraid to look silly; the children will respect you more and will be more likely to join in if you exude a positive attitude and play-along.

Another thing to remember is that children are much more sensitive than adults. Pay attention to your students’ moods, and the dynamic of the class. While students may be enjoying the activity they are performing (such as a song or game), it may be to your advantage to bring the energy level back down to set up for your next task.

In the end, teaching children can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a TEFL instructor. The speed at which they pick up new words and make connections allow you to see real improvement, and the joy on their face when they can express their thoughts to you in English is priceless.

Do you have any more tips for teaching children? Do you have any activities that you find work particularly well? Let us know in the comments section below.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Methods of Lesson Planning

Planning lessons is important for any teacher. This can go from the very top of planning pathway programs which lead students from beginner level English right up to University, or be as simple as throwing together a cover class for a sick colleague. Whatever type of class you are teaching, there are 3 key elements which must be present in every lesson you plan. Yet, while lesson plans share this common element, they are unique to every teacher and no two lessons are ever exactly the same.

Identifying the 3 common elements of a lesson plan.

1. Assumptions about the students.
When planning a lesson, every teacher pictures their students. In some cases, they haven’t met them yet, but the assumptions are still there. The things that need to be considered when thinking about your students and planning a lesson are the demographics (male to female ratio, age groups, mixtures of nationalities). Remember that although the target language of the lesson may be dictated by your school, the way of presenting is up to you, so it is important that your lesson be suited for the audience. Also, students’ skill levels will need to be thought about. You must consider the strongest and weakest students in the class and be prepared to work directly with them.

Do not over estimate your students by assuming they will be able to do everything with no trouble. Anticipate problems with vocabulary by preparing clear explanations, and counter problems with understanding instructions by planning simple instructions for tasks.

2. The language target.
This is something that novice teachers can easily overlook. In some cases a teacher can feel as though they are doing a good job if the students are happy, engaged and completing tasks. However, the underlying key to every good lesson is the language target. While focusing heavily on one aspect of grammar may sound tedious, monotonous, or boring, it is still completely possible to engage students and have fun with the class. Just remember to keep tasks revolving around that one type of language.

Most teachers prepare at least three practice activities to get students to look at the language in different ways, so a good way to keep students focused during a language heavy lesson is to throw a game or competition in there somewhere to lighten things up.

3. Staging.
The thing that really gives a lesson plan that “lesson plan appearance” is how it is divided up into stages. Almost every TEFL training college will recommend that teachers learn the common staging of ‘Warm-up, presentation, practice, practice, practice, evaluation, homework’. This is a good, tried and tested structure. It gives students a chance to lower their L1 filters, clearly shows them what they are learning that day, provides them with three different ways to connect with the target language, and allows for follow up. While it is a favorite structure among many teachers, it is not the only one. Some teachers prefer to draw the students in with previous language and get them to elicit the target grammar. Other classes are of a high enough level that the warm up and presentation can be much shorter and the class revolve around practice activities.

Whatever style of lesson you create, it is important to think about time limits and how stages will flow from one to the other. You don’t want to have to stop students short while they are in the middle of some good practice, and you don’t want sections to drag on because they have nowhere to go. Each teacher develops their own way of achieving good staging.

Remember that there is no “one right way” to plan a lesson. Quite often your workplace will give you some guidelines, but schools know that teachers plan their lessons in their own way. There is no wrong way to plan a lesson by identifying the key elements and building around them.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Other Types of Classes

Teaching the same types of classes every day is not only draining for the teacher, but also for the students. It is a great idea to build a routine in your classes, as this helps to build rapport, however, before too long, students can start to crave something else. Teachers need to learn to recognize when classes are starting to dip in enthusiasm and find new ways to engage their students. Of course, this needs to be balanced with real language acquisition, to keep the school happy but also to maintain the connection with the language. In this article, we will talk about a few alternative classes teachers can present their students that are interesting and engaging, but also provide a break from the everyday monotony.

Getting Outside
One obvious way to break-up the routine of class is to change environment, and this is easily done by taking your students outside. You can have your normal classes outside, but it is more fun to take the students out for a special activity or on a field trip. Taking your regular class outside is a simple way to change the atmosphere. Of course, you need to take the weather into account, and if your students are children, make sure you are following your school’s processes for fieldtrips (usually including permission slips). Also prepare the resources you need beforehand, as you don’t want students juggling books and stationery while walking around. You can prepare things like information sheets that you have students fill out or provide them tasks that involve them speaking English. Remember to keep your eyes on the class. Field trips are a great idea every now and then. By calling ahead and planning the trip with the venue, you may be able to get a tour for your students (and you are allowing the place to prepare, which is only courteous). In an EFL environment, it may be more difficult to incorporate English language into the places you visit, so once again, preparation is the key.

Skill focus
If you ask your students which areas of the English they would like to improve, they typically mention speaking, listening, and pronunciation. It is easy to mould a lesson around these skills (and sub-skill, respectively) that engages students and keeps everyone happy. To create a lesson which focuses on speaking alone, a teacher can provide topic cards and pass them around groups for discussion. The teacher then monitors each group for correct language use. If you have access to the internet in the classroom, you can also run full class discussions with unlimited resources at your fingertips. Listening classes revolve around the listening material. Allow students to analyse sources they find interesting, such as pop songs and movie clips. Dictation activities can seem boring from an outside perspective, but if the material is strong enough, students enjoy the challenge. Pronunciation lessons need to be completely introduced and set up, so students know what they will be focusing on. Good pronunciation is a skill that takes time to build, so students shouldn’t expect huge results in one dedicated lesson.

Presentation Day
Another way to give students a positive way to practice English, without the typical class atmosphere is to have a ‘presentation day’. It is important to give students plenty of time to prepare for this day by setting them tasks that are appropriate to what they have been learning in class. This type of lesson can take the form of a “show and tell” style class, where students bring in objects from home and present them to the class. This can be fun, but other students can start to lose interest if they are not participating. If you can turn it into a discussion on the object, that is much better. You can also prepare group presentations which are not as stressful for the students presenting and are more interesting for the audience. If you work together with your co-workers, you can do class presentations for the whole school; an activity everyone enjoys.

Concept Exploration
You can always throw in an extra lesson which just deals with something interesting in an interesting way. Many teachers prepare a “getting to know you” lesson for their first class. This can be pulled out every now and then when your class has new students or when you are covering another teacher’s class. But it can’t be your only ‘go-to’ lesson. Teachers will develop their own lessons around different interesting concepts. You can create a lesson which explores ‘flavour’ (by allowing students to taste different foods in class), ‘animals’ (focusing on verbs and subject verb agreement), ‘gender roles’ (which can get heated, so needs to be monitored) ad even ‘rhymes’ (if their language understanding is good enough).

There are limitless ways to change up your English lesson and keep things fresh. We would love to hear your suggestions for any more ‘alternative lessons’ you have found that work.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Tefl Course Book Review

When teachers begin working for a new school or take over a new class, two things can happen. They are given a book (which they may or may not be familiar with) and be told they have to work through it, or they are told to create their own curriculum. If they are told to create their own curriculum, the first thing teachers try to organize is their resources, in particular, course books. If they are handed a course book, and told to work through it, it may not be appropriate for the types of lessons the teacher prepares. Below we look at some of the most popular course books and discuss their positives and negatives.


Let’s Go Series. – Oxford University Press
Recently put into print in its fourth edition, this series of books is aimed at younger learners and working through the basics of English language. They use big, clear, colourful pictures to help engage younger students, as well as songs and chants. They also use the backdrop of familiar settings to help reinforce familiarity with the content of the lesson. As with any simple classroom resource, the students can grow weary of the approach, especially in classes of students with slightly different skill levels. You will have to supplement this book with other games and activities.

Face 2 Face – Cambridge University Press
Unlike the above mentioned series, this text book series is focused on slightly older students. It deals with everyday English language with the goal of preparing students for life in an English language environment. This book focuses on grammar and vocabulary equally, and provides a variety of different tasks to cater to different learner styles and personalities. Unfortunately, it still follows the communicative approach, which has since become outdated. Contemporary teachers use an eclectic method which means that while tis text book is useful, it should not be seen as the be-all-and-end-all.

New Cutting Edge – Longman Publishing
The New Cutting Edge series of books takes the most modern approach to the idea of a course book. The Cutting Edge Series is more of a component in a larger ‘blended learning’ set of resources which also include DVD ROMs, online progress testing, and homework as part of the curriculum.This book series is great to use across a whole school. When everyone is following this curriculum, it can provide excellent insights into your students’ progress and provide clear benchmarks for students to meet before they move up a level. The greatest strength of this resource is also its greatest weakness. The book is not particularly effective for small classes, and classes where students come and go. Its solid structure makes it difficult to adapt for single classes.

New English File – Oxford University Press
These books are aimed more at adult learners as they feature serious, ‘real-world’ themes and authentic materials. As with the above mentioned books, it provides students with a clear structure for working through language. They feature grammar, vocabulary, and language-in-use sections which give students a clear learning objective for each unit of the book. Unfortunately, these books can be too heavy with serious content for many younger learners. In an EFL setting, these are best used in university classes or private tutoring of adults.

Connect – Cambridge University Press
The Connect series is aimed at young learners, but not necessarily children. It is a useful book to use in EFL settings because it takes real-world English use and keeps it interesting. It features all of the key elements of grammar and vocabulary and packages them together with bright interesting pictures. This book is well rounded and features a lot of language that students need to learn. It follows current teaching styles and has enough material to keep students working every day. Once again, because this book covers so much material, in such a structured and comprehensive way, it may take longer to get through than your school allows. It can also lead to students falling behind if they miss only a couple of lessons.

English Grammar in Use – Cambridge University Press
This is specifically a grammar textbook, but it is arguably the most well-known and widely used grammar textbook in the industry. It takes a step by step approach to practical English, breaking down structures into easy to follow metalanguage and examples. Teachers often use this book to supplement other classes and add an element of grammar. It is a great way to give students a task related to a specific grammar point. It shouldn’t be used alone, as students need more practice than this book alone can provide, traditional textbooks have more varied activities.

Ship or Sheep? – Cambridge University Press
Another book from Cambridge, this book is the go to book for pronunciation activities. While quite specific in its subject matter, it has been a trusted text in many teachers’ classrooms for years. Almost every EFL staffroom has a copy floating around. Pronunciation is a skill that can improved at any level, which means this textbook will provide activities and lessons for a very wide range of classes. Being a Cambridge book, the pronunciation being practiced is British. This is not necessarily a negative and the principles translate to your native accent once you have learned the phonemic chart.

This list barely scratches the surface of English language textbooks that are out there on the market. Do you have any books that you find particularly useful? Let us know and we’ll review them next time.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Dealing with Embarrassing Moments while Teaching

embarestEmbarrassment is an interesting concept in English in English language. When people think about times in their lives when they have been embarrassed, they usually think of times when they have made mistakes, or their shortcomings have been pointed out.

People can also feel embarrassed when they receive too much praise. This means that embarrassment is not so much related to the action, but to the response by the people around you. Embarrassment is really connected to the amount of attention someone receives, whether positive or negative. If someone feels uncomfortable because they are receiving too much attention, this is the basis of embarrassment and all the negative feelings associated with it.

As a teacher, it is your job to make students feel comfortable in the class, and this can sometimes be a paradoxical situation. Students should be interested and engaged enough to have the confidence to speak up, practice the language and get involved with the class, which means the teacher needs to raise their energy levels. Yet, students also need to be calm and relaxed to allow time to analyze the language and take it all in. Sometimes, managing student energy levels can be difficult, and all students have their own individual styles.

The more a teacher stands in front of a class, the more he/she will be able to ‘feel’ the atmosphere if the class and know how to react. However, when a break-down inevitably occurs, it can be difficult for the teacher to know what to do. A lot of the time, it depends on the actual problem and the individual student.

Students arrive late to every lesson. It may not be the same student every time, but it is something that you have to come to expect from an EFL class. Some teachers deal with this by locking the door, or asking students questions when they arrive late. Mildly embarrassing a tardy student may help them realize that their behavior is not ideal, but will probably not lead to any real change in behavior. Unfortunately, there is not much a teacher can do, but explain to the student that coming late to class will result in a much slower improvement, and it will affect their grades. This is much more of an incentive than embarrassment.

Sometimes students get upset in class. All EFL teachers have experience with a student suddenly bursting into tears in the middle of a lesson. Sometimes the reason is obvious, other times it is not. When a student starts crying in class, it typically leads to everyone stopping what they are doing and putting a lot of attention on the crying student. If you have ever cried in public, you will know that attention is not always what you want. If this occurs, the teacher must quickly and calmly find out if there is something specific harming the student. Are they sick? Did another student say something rude or insensitive? The teacher must also get other students back on track. Having a simple activity up your sleeve can quickly turn attention away from the crying student. The teacher should go to the student, speak softly and see what they can do to help the student. Offer to let the student go out of the room, get a drink of water, and freshen up. If there is a specific problem that can’t be solved by allowing the student to calm down, you may need to ask your native language speaking colleagues for help. Remember that you don’t want to embarrass the student further, so this should be done calmly and gently. Any time a student becomes overwhelmed and cries in class, you should talk to your school director about it, as there may be an underlying situation that you are not aware of.

Also, when students make mistakes, it can be tempting to point them out, especially if they are humorous errors. However, remember that students may not understand why the error is funny and may feel like you are overly harsh. Treat student errors as just that, language mistakes, and an area of language that they can improve in the future. Allow them to see the funny side for themselves, but keep the lesson focused on the language target.

As a teacher, you may come across situations where you are the one who is embarrassed. In the classroom, this most commonly occurs when you make an error and students point it out. The positive side of this is it helps you want to improve. No one wants to feel embarrassed by their students, so it is important to do your best. Unfortunately, mistakes happen accidentally. The trick is to show students that you are aware of the error and correct it, without raising the tensions in the class. Keeping your cool when you make a mistake is the best example you can set for your students. The key is to keep moving forward and do your best not to break the atmosphere of the class.

Embarrassing moments happen and cannot always be avoided. How you deal with these situations in class can mean the difference between building a positive rapport with your students and putting them off-side. As the teacher, you are the one with the power to deal with embarrassing situations and turn them into positive experiences for the students.

What are the most embarrassing situations you have come across in your teaching experience and how did you deal with them? If you have any tips or advice, please feel free to leave it in the comments section below.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

New Teacher Resources

When we picture what type of teacher we will be when we start teaching we typically picture ourselves standing in front of a black/whiteboard, the students with books and pens in their hands. However, technology has not passed the classroom by, and contemporary classes feature a range of devices and resources that didn’t exist when we were going to school. In this article we will look at some of the most common resources that can now be found in TEFL classrooms.

Electronic Whiteboards- The digital era has brought about many twists on standard technology. It was not very long ago that schools began switching from the traditional blackboard, toward whiteboards. Blackboards created chalk dust and were sometimes difficult to read, and whiteboards were easy to clean and proved to be much more popular among students.
These days, more and more schools are investing in Electronic Whiteboards. But among this new technology, there are several different types that you might encounter. Some work like giant touchscreen computer monitors. These typically come with a stylus and a program which converts the big screen into a whiteboard. You can draw and write on it in the exact same way as a normal whiteboard, and can click an icon to quickly switch pages (meaning no more wiping the board down between presentations). Just make sure you write on it with the stylus and not your markers by accident. There are also projector type electronic whiteboards which project images and videos onto the whiteboard that is already there. These also rely on a stylus and teachers may need some training in how to use this and practice not blocking the projection.

The biggest upside to electronic whiteboards is their connection to a computer (allowing for computer created presentations), and the internet.

The Internet- In the last couple of decades, the internet has become a valuable resource in our everyday lives, so it is only natural that teachers want to incorporate its use in the EFL classroom. There are countless ways of doing this, as the internet is a limitless resource.
Teachers use it to find other teachers’ lesson plans. Within the TEFL/ESL community, teachers love to share their tips tricks and lessons. If you are struggling to find that extra activity, or are unsure about how to approach a lesson, you can almost certainly find someone else’s example and be able to modify it for your own class.
Teachers also turn to the internet for real world examples and authentic materials. What better way to show students the meaning of a new vocabulary word than by showing them pictures, or video clips? There are websites dedicated to teachers’ resources, however there are plenty of other places to find English in use. By including the internet in class, you can even have students search for the information they need, practicing another important skill that is becoming more and more relevant.

Smartphones- While this can be a contentious issue for teachers, it is one that we have to embrace in order to move forward. There are teachers who need to confiscate their students’ phones at the beginning of each lesson because they feel like it is too big a distraction. This definitely happens, as our phones have become a powerful social tool and students are not immune from losing interest. While the negatives to including phones in class are obvious, the benefits of including smartphone activities can be harder to realize. The thing that we need to remember is that now we have reached this level of technology, each student has the answers to their language questions at their fingertips. By giving students the strategies for using the internet and their phones to learn English we are greatly increasing learner autonomy. Of course, students still need the guidance of a teacher, as there will still be misunderstandings and problems. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.”

Blended Learning- This approach to study is becoming more and more popular as it begins to replace the old ‘book’ method. In the past, the majority of study was conducted in the classroom with the aid of a text book. In many cases, students were given several different books (a course book, grammar guide, homework task book…etc.). Blended learning aims to take away from these extra books and allow students to work from home on their computers. They register their study in an online database, and every time they do some homework it is uploaded to the system. Teachers can easily compare student progress and the program even highlights areas that students need to work on. There are also progress tests.
Most blended learning systems allow for comments from the teacher which give students (and, in some cases, their parents) clear, written advice they can follow that can never be lost. These systems can require some training and may be confusing at first, but teachers generally find they cut down on paperwork overall and are more efficient for monitoring a class.

Paperless Schools- With this move into the digital age, more and more schools are attempting to become “paperless”. This is essentially what it sounds like; all records and material is stored on school computers or online. Students are encouraged to use their phones, and the internet to expand their language knowledge and teachers present the material through the electronic whiteboard. The biggest problem with doing this is that the schools’ main reason may be to cut costs. A paperless office is significantly cheaper to run, as there are less photocopies, and the cost of replacing materials is negated. This can lead to schools “cutting” resources before they are properly replaced. Remember that there is no substitution for realia, and classroom games that involve students interacting with real world items. As a teacher, you should do your best to work with what the school has available, but don’t forget that you are the best resource they have and it is always a good idea to keep all of your old material on file for use again in the future.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Experience the Culture of Brazil while Teaching

Brazil has many advantages for TEFL teachers and is a good choice for first time teachers, as well as seasoned veterans. Of course, of the many plusses are the weather, outdoor activities and the majesty of the Amazon. This goes hand in hand with the warm, vibrant atmosphere, positive culture and unique food. The process for getting work in Brazil can be different than other places in the world and many people say you should find work after you get there. The cost of living in Brazil is higher than other South American countries, but so is the pay, and in bigger cities, even more so. Below are just a few of the most amazing sights in Brazil, but we would love to hear your thoughts on more places to visit in the comments section.
Located in the North East of Bazil, Olinda is an historic city which draws travelers from all over the world. Classed as a world heritage site, the downtown features some of the best preserved colonial era buildings and just a stroll around is like a journey back in time. The locals are warm and hospitable, like the weather and the churches and downtown historic area are sights that have to be seen to be believed.
Also located in the North East, Salvador is the third biggest city in Brazil. As with many areas of Brazil, the local demographic help make up the rich culture of the city and it is well known for its music and food, both influenced by their African origins. As well as maintaining a lot of its original colonial architecture, the peninsula where Salvador is located is also famous for its diverse water sports and leisure activities due to the different types of beaches, surf spots and rock-pools.
No list of ‘Things to experience in Brazil’ can ignore Rio de Janeiro. It is a city surrounded by monuments, both natural and man-made, is rich in culture, diversity and history. When people picture the city, they immediately think of the 30m statue, Christ the Redeemer; a huge image of Jesus Christ with arms outstretched, looking down over the city from on top of Corcovado Mountain. Down in Guanabara bay, is Sugarloaf Mountain, both of which are famous landmarks in their own right. The night-life is second to none and a trip to Brazil is not complete until you go to Rio.
Rio de Janeiro
60% of the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon, is located in Brazil. It is not a huge tourist draw card, as many people perceive it to be dangerous. However, if you do your research and travel with a local, these dangers can be avoided. This means you can get a real, natural experience in the rainforest without being swamped by tourists. You may be able to spot jaguars, birds, cougars, lizards, snakes and massive spiders among many other things in one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. The best way to see it is to take a boat tour up the river.
The Amazon
While not exclusively Brazilian, they certainly do make Carnival their own. Every city as its own take on this 3-6 day party, but they are all fun, vibrant celebrations of music, colour and local pride. The massive parades are typically led by what are known as “Samba Schools”. Each neighborhood has its own party and the styles vary from region to region. These have deep cultural meaning for the people who take part in them, so while the party may be absolutely excellent, remember to respect everyone and party in moderation.
While most of the falls are found in Argentina, there are still plenty to see along the Iguazu river in Brazil. All up there are between 150-300 waterfalls at any given time and each one is between 60-80 meters tall. One of the best things about visiting the falls is that they are located close to the airport, which means it can be visited even on a short trip, or as that one last thing before you leave. The area relies on tourism as a source of income and due to recent investment in the national park means visitors can get up close to the stunning falls.
Iguazu Falls
The capital city of Brazil and fastest growing city in the country, nothing exemplifies the diversity of Brazil like Brasilia. As a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis, Brasilia has incorporated sculpture into its architecture giving it a cityscape unlike any other. It is a business and business tourism hub so it caters to a wide variety of travelers and no matter what time of year you visit, you are bound to get swept up in the lively atmosphere of the city.
Deep in the west of Brazil are the Pantanal Wetlands. While less well known than the Amazon rainforest, it is certainly no less spectacular. It features an outstanding range of biodiversity depending on what time of year you go there. As a floodplain, it ranges from almost completely submerged in the wet season, to totally dry in the dry season. Different animals migrate to and from the area and different plants come into and out of bloom. As with the Amazon, it can be hard to find a good tour guide, but they are worth it.
Pantanal Wetlands
Off the Eastern coast of Brazil is Fernando de Noronha; an archipelago of 21 picturesque islands. This is the perfect place to get away from the city of you are teaching in Sao Paulo, Rio, or Brasilia. Completely free from the non-stop lifestyle of the big cities, people travel to Fernando de Noronha from all over the world to drop beneath the waves and suspend time for a while. The archipelago is the top of a submerged mountain range and makes the perfect destination for a scuba diving vacation.
Fernando de Noronha
Built during the rubber boom of the late 1800’s a lot of money was flowing into the region and in 1896, the Amazon Theatre was opened in Manaus, deep in the heart of the rainforest. The Renaissance style architecture alone is astounding, however, it is the juxtaposition with the backdrop of the forest that is really amazing. Attending a performance by the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra is the ultimate way to experience this jewel of the rainforest.
Teatro Amazonas

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Skills for Teaching Skills Lessons

Teaching classes can involve a wide variety of different language points and skills. A teacher has to set a schedule, or determine the needs when preparing lessons based on different language topics. Knowing what to prepare when preparing these lessons can mean the difference between an outstanding success, and a spectacular flop.

Teaching the four skills, Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, provides certain challenges that can be overcome by the right tactic and get easier over time.

The first thing you have to do is establish with the students that it is a skills lesson, rather than a grammar, vocabulary or any other type of lesson. By letting students know they are going to be practicing speaking skills, it allows them to relax and attempt more natural speech (over correct speech). Almost all students feel like they need to practice listening skills, and so focusing on listening is always a welcome task. Reading can be difficult, but it is an excellent skill to practice as it passively helps raise a number of sub-skills. It can also be broken down into specific tasks which help students to get the most out of a reading text as possible. And while writing may be the most difficult to get students interested in, it can be the most rewarding from a language standpoint.

In listening class, it is a good idea to begin the class by discussing the difficulties of listening to another language, or even just to someone who we have trouble understanding. This will raise the awareness of all listening done throughout the lesson and allow students to offer feedback on listening material. They can ask the teacher to slow down, speak louder, or speak clearer. As a receptive skill, you can ask students to produce what they hear, either by repeating it back, or by taking notes or dictation. You can also ask them to complete worksheets, or answer more audible questions to help keep the focus on listening rather than on changing skill focus. Don’t forget that when students listen to each other, they are still practicing the skills of listening and so group practice tasks are encouraged.

In a speaking class, it is a pretty simple task to get students to practice. The problem lies with keeping them focused and practicing the target language. There can be a number of sub-skills you can work on in a speaking skills class. Pronunciation is one such sub-skill, but it is better to practice this across all lessons, than dedicate an entire lesson to. There may be some times when an entire pronunciation lesson is necessary, and in these situations you want to avoid single word repetition. Put the words into natural phrases and allow students hear how the target language sounds in natural speech. Choose an interesting topic to keep students focused and give them a context for the language they are practicing.

In a reading class, it is important to highlight the sub-skills of skimming, scanning, and critical awareness, and practice them in this order, as this is the natural way we practice them in real life. Skimming must be practiced first as it relies on students having never read the material before. It also needs to be done quickly as it relies on determining meaning from only a glimpse at the whole text. Students can complain if they feel like they don’t have enough time to read, but this task is specifically designed to practice that. It directly translates to real life as we often need to make choices based on limited written information. Scanning requires students to identify and break down the target language. You do not want to get into a big discussion at this stage, but simply focus on finding the important words and understanding what they mean. The critical awareness stage is when you want to have a natural discussion about the merits of the work. Students must fully understand the text for this to be possible, so this practice must come last. A good discussion at the end of the lesson is the perfect way to wrap up a reading heavy lesson.

Writing can be the hardest skill for students to develop. It can seem boring compared with speaking and listening, and the difficulty in achieving written accuracy can put some students off. This means it is the most important to practice in a positive way. Remember to vary genre when looking at writing and getting students to produce writing. In a writing class, the teacher is never passive, sitting idly at the front of the class waiting for students to finish. The teacher should constantly be monitoring students’ work, moving around the room. When looking at writing, be sure to highlight all of the areas students are succeeding as well as the areas they could improve. Also, getting students to hold on to old copies of their writing can help them see the evolution of their skill.

These simple tips can make a massive difference when presenting a skills based lesson. Do you have any other tips for specific skills classes?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

You can’t say that in class!

As an EFL teacher, you will constantly be aware of how you speak and what you say to students. You may also start filtering everything you say in everyday language, as you beging to realize the importance of language, and how easy it is for misunderstandings to occur.

Still, no matter how carefully you choose your words, it is almost inevitable that you will say something that gets taken out of context or just “doesn’t come out right”. A good, sucellful lesson can turn sour very quickly if you say the wrong thing or say something that is taken the wrong way.

One way that teachers can get themselves into trouble is by falling back on ‘easy’ language. There have been cases where teachers have told unruly teenagers to ‘stop acting crazy’, or asking someone who makes a humourous error ‘are you crazy?’. While these are completely innocent expressions, parents have complained about this because they feel as though the teacher is calling their child “mentally ill” which clearly has a different meaning.

There have been problems where teachers give students “English names” because their names in their native language are too difficult to pronounce or remember. In some cases, the name that the students are given has a negative connotation in the students’ L1 or perhaps they simply don’t like it. A good way to handle this is to give students a choice of a few different English names.

There is also the problem with ‘cursing/swearing’. Due to the amount of different dialects in English, there are plenty of cases where words may be inappropriate to one person and absolutely fine for another. It is not uncommon for students to learn expressions like “oh my god” or “damn it” which can be considered blasphemous for some conservative Christians, yet are perfectly acceptable for other people. The first thing you can do to help yourself provide language appropriate lessons for your students is avoid words that you personally feel are sensitive.

This does not mean that ‘swearing/cursing’ should not be talked about and addressed when it comes up in class. In fact, if students are sensible enough, examining these words can help students understand the weight of them. As long as your school and students (and students’ parents, when appropriate) are ok with you presenting a lesson on ‘taboo language’ or ‘bad words’, it can be highly engaging for students and useful for generating/studying authentic language use.

This is very similar to teaching slang. While slang is considered incorrect in any formal assessment situation, it makes up such a significant part of our natural language use that it is practically impossible to avoid when teaching students from pre-intermediate to advanced levels. Once again, get the permossion of your school before dedicating a lesson to this, as students may have other priorities that should be dealt with before teaching them slang. You do not want to be in the middle of an unscheduled slang lesson when the school director happens to be walking past.

Problems like these mentioned in this article can often be avoided by spending some time learning about the country and the students L1. By learning some local language you can avoid using English words that don’t translate directly and sound negative. You can also avoid using words in English that sound like ‘bad words/cursing’ in the students’ L1 (try telling a class of Korean students that you ‘like Mexican food, especially salsa’ and they will crack up!). Pay attention to your students and watch their reactions. If they feel as though you have said something ‘bad’ they may feel too embarrassed to say anything. It is always up to you what words you say.

Using negative expressions when students make errors can be an easy habit to fall into. It is a challenge for every teacher to write positive sounding report cards for students who misbehave, and don’t show signs of improving. These students’ parents want to know how well their child is doing, rather than hear about how ‘bad’ they are. A simple way to provide constructive crtiticism is to completely avoid negative words such as “no” and “not”. Rather than say “Student (x) doesn’t listen in class”, it is much better to say “Student (x) could achieve much more if he/she put in more effort in class”. While this may seem like a shallow veiling of negativity, it is far more positive to hear and gives the student a goal rather than simply stating something ‘bad’.

Also, if you feel as though you ‘can’t say anything right’. Or you have trouble keeping students under control without resorting to bad language, don’t forget that your colleagues and school can help and will undoubtedly find another way of saying what you want to say. Be mindful of your language and your students’ emotions. It is fine to be playful, but it takes two people to have a conversation. In any spoken situation it is the responsibility of the speaker and the listener to form an understanding, and never forget that while English may come naturally to you, students may not always recognize the context of what you say.

Have you put your foot in it, and said something you regretted in class? We would love to hear your stories in the comments section below.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Landing a Job - Your first interview

When preparing to travel overseas to teach, many teachers have no problem with their TEFL certificate, and also have no trouble choosing where they want to go. Unfortunately, this is where many new teachers hit a wall. How do you find a job? Do you pay a recruiter, and if not, where do you start?

At Teflen, we advise against hiring recruiters. TEFL recruiters typically get paid by the schools hiring them to find teachers. When teachers pay recruiters, that recruiter is getting paid twice for something the teacher can do by themselves. With a bit of initiative, patience and perseverance, a new teacher can find the perfect job without having to pay someone else.

The first thing you need to do is pinpoint the country you would like to work in, and figure out how much time you want to work there. In general, schools offer teachers 1 year contracts. This allows students plenty of time to get to know the teacher, the teacher to get used to the new school and fulfills the requirements of a working visa.

The next thing a teacher should do is begin searching TEFL job boards to find suitable schools. We highly recommend the Teflen job board as well as this recognized industry job board - eslcafe as both provide up-to-date jobs from a wide variety of countries and schools. The jobs listed on these websites also provide details of how you can contact the schools. The best way is directly by phone.

EFL Schools are used to hiring teachers from foreign countries, and so they are used to answering all sorts of questions from teachers. Calling them up directly and speaking to them about any jobs they currently have vacancies for, or will have in the future is the best way to gauge exactly what they are looking for.

The first thing you should find out when you call is exactly what the school requires to offer you a contract. They may wish for you to send them a copy of your resume and cover letter, and they may need to see some references. Typically, the phone interview is the first and most important part of finding a job, and so don’t forget to ask all the questions you have during this interview. You should ask about things like accommodation, pay (including bonuses), flight ticket money, insurance, and the types of classes you will be teaching. You should also ask about the steps required to be prepared to go, such as visa requirements.

Don’t forget to highlight all of your relevant experience. Any work with children, even volunteering and babysitting can be counted, as can any tutoring work. Don’t forget to be friendly and positive, as a good attitude is the biggest advantage you can have.

Don’t forget that teachers come and go, so it pays to contact the schools back later, even if they aren’t advertising a job at that time. Also check out TEFL forums and Facebook groups for the place you would like to teach, and contact other teachers. Teachers ‘on the ground’ usually have the best information as to which schools are the best to work for, which ones are hiring and how you can expect schools to look after you.

Once you secure a contract, the next thing to do is contact the embassy of the country you are going to work for and find out what you need to do to prepare your visa for travel, book your flight and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

Do you have any more tips for securing a job over the phone? Let us know your experiences.