The inner workings of how we communicate are fascinating so a press release caught my eye recently: A team of scientists at UCLA were able to draw clear parallels between language development in humans and apes.
There are several interesting contexts available which can be drawn from language, science, evolution etc for a challenging lesson in skills or vocabulary – see the synopsis below and you can search for the article in whichever British/US/Australian newspaper has the level of difficulty needed for your class. There’s even an opportunity for IELTS practise perhaps. However it’s utilised, it’s a great excuse for a chimp-like game of Pictionary at the beginning or end
- Recent research shows that the development of language in infant humans and apes is almost identical. Both begin to communicate by using gestures and then both move on to use symbols: vocal utterances in human and visual expressions (lexigrams) in the apes.
For a handy package containing thousands of teaching activities, those elusive flashcards, and a quick reference grammar book, also have a look at Complete TEFL Teacher Kit
Is the boom in TEFL teaching a form of progressive imperialism by English speaking countries or the West? This is a route of enquiry far too complex for either my blog or my brain but I when I was asked to consider the question after teaching in China it was useful to think about … and there were a few uncomfortable realisations too.
I’ve got to admit I loved the often star-like status of being a foreign teacher (in 2004) but by the same token I really struggled when my overdeveloped sense of personal space and privacy was challenged because of it. So, there were some differences in cultural ideas and behaviours surfacing on a daily basis – indeed they were what I went to China to experience – but the status I seemed to hold was also tricky because it wasn’t based on who I really was as a person. In Britain as in the rest of the world we have a big celebrity culture but then paparazzi and tabloid activity take it to a whole new strange level where, guess what, it turns out everyone is just the same old human after all.
And although I’ve been considering West and East in a convenient Us and Them way, I know that times are changing. The gaps between cultures are closing and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, English is surely playing a big part in facilitating that process. Perhaps English first became such a widely used language because it was carried with historical colonial trade or missionary routes, but now it’s being swept along by globalisation rather than the imperialism of any one region or culture.
Meanwhile millions of TEFL teachers just teach to the best of their ability and be the best kind of international person they can be.
An old version
Of all the grammar resources I’ve used in my TEFL teaching career, there’s one series, Murphy’s Essential Grammar in Use, which has more thumbed and bent-back pages from being sandwiched in the photocopier than any other. And I’m just talking about my copies … versions in TEFL teaching rooms across the world are probably in a similar state.
Clear, basic and traditional explanations for all required grammar aspects with a progressive set of controlled exercises for each one; condensed somehow onto one double page (easy to copy). Elementary, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate etc. have different coloured covers. And never mind their usefulness in the classroom, they were a fast and easy reference for a tired teacher at the end of a day when all grammar rules seemed to merge into one. So you too can still look like a genius in front of the students!
The final word on grammar usage? No. Communicative? No. Traditional grammar approaches? Yes. Clear? Yes. The Murphy series is designed to be consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Look at the latest versions and buy them here: Essential Grammar in Use with Answers and CD-ROM Pack
I see they also have one for Spanish EFL/ESL students too: Essential Grammar in Use Spanish Edition with Answers and CD-ROM
If used correctly, a native/near-native English speaking teaching staff is a great resource for learning, but qualities as a native speaker do not automatically equate to qualities as a teacher or worker. It’s not necessarily that some new EFL/ESL teachers are better than others, it’s just that there is such a massive variation in skills, knowledge and personalities that when they are taken on as teachers they deserve as much assistance in developing their strengths and weaknesses as in any other workplace.
It’s so easy to get qualified and hired now as an English teacher abroad, I want to reassure new and prospective teachers that they can be very selective about who they want to be employed by: Ideally a place which will support you in developing as an individual who has more strings to their bow than just speaking English. http://www.teach-english-jobs.com/
Of course I wasn’t just an English teacher when living abroad; I was a language student too. Immersion probably works incredibly well for the majority who are prepared to expend some effort on working meanings out pretty much all day, every day. And I think the rewards are the fascinating insights one gets into the social linguistic nuances of the language … something which is difficult or slow to attain in the average language class.
As a newbie TEFL teacher in China, I clung to my CELTA course resources like a limpet because I hadn’t yet built up my own confidence. I relied heavily on a few exercises and games for practicing a multitude of language points but it got a bit boring. This was in 2004 though and access to the Internet was limited; certainly I had no access in the apartment block. And I bet for many TEFL teachers around the world, getting access to the Internet is still quite hard work.
Anyway, even with the plethora of resources out there now it’s very unpredictable as to whether things are complete, don’t contain profanities or have the correct answers so it’s priceless to have your own library of stuff to use for those first few months. And if it’s all organised for you, so much the better … if you’re anything like me!
That’s why I like the look of the Complete TEFL Teacher Kit. Literally thousands of lesson plans and teaching aids including your very own flashcards that no-one can lose or steal. A quick reference grammar guide included too? Well then, don’t panic newbies! You’re not on your own
Wondering if TEFL teaching could be your next move?
Handily there’s a free Online TEFL course for you explore. Click on ‘Free TEFL Taster’ in the blue column.
There are several sections which focus on what interests you, your personality and skills, preferred styles of learning/teaching and the TEFL industry as a whole. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get every answer correct but it will give you a good idea about the experiences you can expect when you travel and teach.
It will also indicate the kinds of things you’ll learn on a TEFL course so you might even want to copy down some of the information and use it for your TEFL study
Apart from sounding like the start of a controlled grammar exercise, it might be useful to look back and share a few thoughts on how I could have made my teaching life a bit easier.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have …
- Had more quiet and passive lessons. Sometimes I was so afraid that quiet might equal boring I didn’t set many challenging silent tasks for students to work through painstakingly.
- Personalisation and cognitive depth can only go so far. Sometimes I was so worried I couldn’t find an interesting context for a grammar point that I didn’t dare teach it. Again, students can be trusted find their own reasons for learning things and they will always try to understand.
- Used the students’ books more. A lot of students loved the structure they gave them and they did tend to be great for clarity.
- Invested more of my own time in planning challenging whole lessons around the stuff I really listened to and read as a young adult: books, music, radio, film dialogue. Done right it guaranteed successful lesson with absolutely massive learning potential.
- Relaxed and enjoyed each and every class by trusting I could handle whatever comes my way and by trusting the students. I always tried too hard by worrying about being all things to all people instead of just being myself in my own personal ‘teacher mode’.
- Kept all of my copied or self-generated resources organised. But hey that was never going to happen!
Just because we can do something, of course it doesn’t mean we should. Now, with a few more years experience and self-awareness under my belt, I wish I’d put a little more thought into how I bartered in local Chinese markets. I would often haggle a stall holder down to very little for an item … very, very little. At the time it felt like a win, and great fun because I was successfully using my Chinese skills to make the deal. But I would get paid enough at the end of the month and perhaps he wouldn’t. Yeah ok, those stall holders were as responsible for their own choices as I was for mine … but a bit of thoughtfulness is worth a few more pennies now and then. Win-win is always superior to win-lose.
When I set sail on my teaching adventure nearly ten years ago, I was unsure if the money I was spending on my TEFL course would be worth it. Let’s face it I’d taken a big risk because the one I chose (happened to be the intensive CELTA) was to involve not only financial investment but a total upheaval of mind and body! – I upped and left England, my job, my comfort zone to go and train in the Czech Republic. Yes, I was planning on coming back … but not for long. I was jumping in to a new life feet first and wasn’t about to turn back easily. I didn’t know anyone who’d done what I was about to do and it sounds crazy but I had faith it would work out just because I wanted it to: Train, qualify, get a job abroad, easily recoup the money, continue earning while travelling. And guess what, it somehow worked out just fine!
I was amazed at the speed with which, once qualified, I was out in China teaching. With a respected qualification I was in demand. Frankly if I’d been more assumptive while I was doing my course, I could have applied for and got accepted into a job before my course was even over.
Back when I was doing my CELTA, our trainers of course honed in on a chosen few (the cool, confident golden guys and gals) and offered them jobs to teach at the school. Blimey! I was too much of a nervous wreck at the time and worn out from assessed classes to ever be professionally respected like that right off. During those four weeks my head was spinning from just trying to understand the concept of the industry. It seemed weird that native English speakers were being given jobs in foreign countries after only four weeks of training. How come the national teachers aren’t teaching English if it’s required? When I arrived at the course, I was expecting my fellow trainees to all be non-native English teachers who would go back to their home countries armed with a bit more knowledge. Of course I soon discovered that TEFL teaching is a skilled niche within the wider education systems (usually private) of countries. And oh boy are there a zillion different types of opportunities out there for well qualified TEFLites.
You know, a lot of training companies now will arrange a job placement for prospective teachers at the end of courses and i-to-i is an example of this if you want that extra support: http://www.teach-english-jobs.com/ But if you’re like me, much of the fun of the industry is in exploring what’s out there in the world (a.k.a. your oyster). You literally can find any type of ESL/EFL job, anywhere, in places you’ve never heard of. And remember, there are plenty of people around (like me!) who can give you decent and solid advice.
Stay safe and stay a seeker!