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TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language

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TEFL, or Teaching English as a foreign language, refers to teaching English to students whose first language is not English. TEFL can take place in English-speaking regions, for example in language schools or summer camps or before the start of a university degree, but usually occurs in the student's own country. There, TEFL can be either within the state school system, or private, either in an after-hours language school or with a one-on-one tutor. The teachers may be native or non-native speakers of English.

This article concentrates on the teaching of English by native Anglophones working outside their own country; it is important to note that this is a small subset of all the English that is taught worldwide. For a wider view, which explains the distinctions between different kinds of teaching of English to non-native speakers and which provides a full explanation of abbreviations (e.g. the difference between ESL and EFL, or TESOL as a subject and an organisation), see English language learning and teaching. For information about foreign language teaching in general, see language education and second language acquisition.

Qualifications for TEFL teachersEdit

The ideal qualification is an undergraduate degree in any subject, plus a certificate in teaching English. Different certificates are issued by numerous organizations and vary widely in acceptance by employers. There is no single international organization which accredits all courses or qualifications. However, there are several international certificate programs which are run by schools in various locations around the world. Both qualifications are recognised by the British Council. These include:

Some universities also issue certificates in English language teaching, either as stand-alone qualifications or as components of longer degree or postgraduate programs.

Qualification requirements vary considerably, not only from country to country, but also among employers within the same country. It may be possible to teach with neither a BA nor one of these certificates. However, as a general rule, private language schools in some countries are likely to require a certificate based on successful completion of a course consisting of a minimum of 120 hours, including six hours (sometimes more) of observed and assessed teaching practice and written assignments. Many language schools will accept any certificate which fulfils these criteria, while others will be looking for teachers with specific certificates. It is also possible to gain certificates by completing shorter courses, or online courses, but these certificates do not always satisfy employer requirements due to the lack of teaching practice. It is also important to note that some private language schools will require teachers to complete their own in-house training programs, whether or not they have obtained qualifications from elsewhere. Where there is a high demand for teachers and no statutory requirements, employers may be willing to accept unqualified candidates.

Pay and conditions worldwideEdit

As in most fields of work, the rate of pay depends greatly on the candidate's education, training, experience, seniority, and expertise. As with much expat work, the employment conditions vary considerably between countries depending on the level of economic development and the perceived desirability of living in that place. In relatively poor countries, even a low wage may equate to a cozy middle class lifestyle.

As with all occupations, there is a danger of exploitation by employers. This is increased when working in a foreign country where the labor laws may differ, or may not be applied to foreign employees or may not be enforced at all. For example, an employer might ignore contract provisions, especially as regards to working hours, working days, and end-of-contract payments. Difficulties faced by foreign teachers regarding language, culture or simply limited time may mean it is difficult for them to demand pay and conditions stipulated in their contracts. Some disputes can be attributed to cross-cultural misunderstandings. Some teachers who cannot adapt to living and working in a foreign country leave after a few months. Informal and formal blacklists and greylists, such as TEFLWatch, have sprung up on the internet in order to help teachers avoid schools that have received complaints.

EuropeEdit

Opportunities vary considerably across Europe. In most cities in Western Europe, there are numerous established language schools. These can be on-site facilities or agencies that send teachers to other schools, businesses, and homes to provide instruction. September is the peak recruiting month for schools and many annual contracts last October through June. Employers show preference for those with qualifications or experience in Business English or with younger learners.

The British Council is a key TEFL provider and British English materials are typically used. Instructors from Great Britain and Ireland, countries within the European Union, do not need work visas to be employed in this region, and this means that there is less demand for teachers of nationalities outside the EU. Immigration laws often require non-EU applicants to return to, and submit documents from, their home countries in person after obtaining a job offer. Rejection rates for work visa applications are high. Many private sector employers will not sponsor work visas because staffing needs can already be filled more easily from within the EU.

Non-EU teachers may successfully work as independent consultants or as teachers with international schools, which are considered more desirable positions requiring experience and qualifications. Various countries' education ministries, such as those of France and Spain, sponsor programs that allow teachers to complete the application process in their home countries and be paid a monthly stipend for serving as assistant language instructors in public schools.

Demand for TEFL is stronger in certain Eastern European countries as a result of the expansion of the European Union, where it may be easier for teachers from outside the European Union to find work. The greater demand coupled with lower overall costs of living mean that, with care, TEFL teachers can obtain relatively comfortable living standards and relatively secure employment.

ChinaEdit

Many opportunities exist within China, including preschool, university, private schools and institutes, companies, and tutoring. Public schools are tightly governed by the provinces and the Department of Education in Beijing, while the private schools have much more freedom to set work schedules, pay, and requirements. The public schools tend to have lower number of hours per week (12 to 18) with low pay while the private schools usually require more than 22 hours a week and may have higher pay. An exception might be the preschool and elementary schools asking the teacher to do more hours like the Chinese teacher would do. Most schools will pay for some of the travel expenses to and from Asia and typically will pay round trip for a one year contract (typically 10 months) and one way for a six month contract. Public schools will usually also pay during the vacations, but not for summer while many private schools have shortened vacation schedules and may pay for whatever short number of days is allowed for vacation. Private schools may also require teaching on weekends and evenings while public schools seldom do. Both may have classes that are not on campus which require extra time transportation to and from classes. Public schools will provide an apartment with some extras. Some private schools also do this but others do not provide housing. Companies vary a lot depending on the number of employees they want to train and could employ a teacher for one or two classes or a complete set of 14 to 16 hours a week. Tutoring also varies as in some cases a whole family is being trained or just one member.

Some teachers are successful working independently with several contracts for tutoring, individual college classes, and some company work. The majority of teachers accept contracts with the schools. Public school contracts are fairly standard while the private schools set their own requirements. For the most part schools try to hire teachers who are citizens of Anglophone countries, but because of the large numbers of teachers needed, others with good English language skills are able to find positions.

Hong KongEdit

Because of the special history of Hong Kong, it takes its English language education especially seriously, as evidenced by recent government-funded research.

JapanEdit

In Japan, the JET Programme employs assistant language teachers to work in Japanese high schools and elementary schools. Other teachers work in private language schools (eikaiwa). The largest of these chains are Aeon, GEOS, and ECC. The industry is not always well run or well regulated; Nova, one of the largest chains with over 900 branches, collapsed in October 2007, an incident that left thousands of American, Australian and British people without money or a place to live. Other teachers work in universities. Agencies are increasingly used to send English speakers into kindergartens, primary schools, and private companies whose employees need to improve their English.

South KoreaEdit

South Korea has a great demand for native English speakers willing to teach. It is common for institutions to provide round-trip airfare for a one-year contract and a rent-free apartment.

Taiwan (Republic of China)Edit

In the Republic of China (Taiwan) most teachers work in cram schools known locally as buxibans. Some are part of chains like Hess and Kojen; others are independently operated. Wokring in a buxiban is not like teaching in a public school, because they are actually supplemental education. Monthly pay in such schools is around the USD $2,000 mark. End of contract bonuses equivalent to an extra month's pay are not mandated by law as they are in Korea, and are uncommon in Taiwan.

ThailandEdit

Thailand has a great demand for native English speakers, and has a ready-made workforce in the form of travellers and expatriates for whom the lifestyle there is attractive despite the relatively low salary levels commonly available.

As Thailand prohibits foreigners from most non-skilled occupations, a high percentage of foreigners working there are teaching English, as they have no other legal way to make a living, and teach mainly as a means to be able to stay in the country rather than as a pure career choice.

Until recently, Thailand had a worldwide reputation as a place where finding teaching work was relatively easy for any native English speaker who sought it, and recruitment was poorly regulated. However, the recent revelations in 2006 that John Mark Karr, the man arrested in connection with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey (and subsequently released without charge), had been working as a teacher for a school in Bangkok prior to his deportation to the USA, have put the profession under the spotlight, and resulted in a crackdown by Thai authorities on schools employing illegal workers, and visa and work permit regulations have been tightened accordingly. It has, however, become simpler for legitimate workers to obtain visas in-country. In a similar case, a Briton, Sean McMahon, was subsequently detained in Bangkok on child rape charges in January 2007, having fled the UK on bail. He had taught English in a Bangkok school for several years.[1]

ProblemsEdit

Whether teaching to travel or traveling to teach, an ELT lifestyle is not without its difficulties. For example, one common concern of new English language teachers are issues related to cultural integration. Even with prior mental preparation, culture shock can take a real toll on one's ability to work effectively. Issues of language barriers, cultural and religious differences, financial infrastructure, climate, administration, access to medical care, and food quality are also potential problems.

Many TEFL teachers who choose the field as a long-term career also have concerns about accumulating personal savings and funding a secure retirement.

EuropeEdit

Opportunities vary considerably across Europe. In most cities in Western Europe, there are numerous established language schools. These can be on-site facilities or agencies that send teachers to other schools, businesses, and homes to provide instruction. September is the peak recruiting month for schools and many annual contracts last October through June. Employers show preference for those with qualifications or experience in Business English or with younger learners.

The British Council is a key TEFL provider and British English materials are typically used. Instructors from Great Britain and Ireland, countries within the European Union, do not need work visas to be employed in this region, and this means that there is less demand for teachers of nationalities outside the EU. Immigration laws often require non-EU applicants to return to, and submit documents from, their home countries in person after obtaining a job offer. Rejection rates for work visa applications are high. Many private sector employers will not sponsor work visas because staffing needs can already be filled more easily from within the EU.

Non-EU teachers may successfully work as independent consultants or as teachers with international schools, which are considered more desirable positions requiring experience and qualifications. Various countries' education ministries, such as those of France and Spain, sponsor programs that allow teachers to complete the application process in their home countries and be paid a monthly stipend for serving as assistant language instructors in public schools.

Demand for TEFL is stronger in certain Eastern European countries as a result of the expansion of the European Union, where it may be easier for teachers from outside the European Union to find work. The greater demand coupled with lower overall costs of living mean that, with care, TEFL teachers can obtain relatively comfortable living standards and relatively secure employment.

ChinaEdit

Many opportunities exist within China, including preschool, university, private schools and institutes, companies, and tutoring. Public schools are tightly governed by the provinces and the Department of Education in Beijing, while the private schools have much more freedom to set work schedules, pay, and requirements. The public schools tend to have lower number of hours per week (12 to 18) with low pay while the private schools usually require more than 22 hours a week and may have higher pay. An exception might be the preschool and elementary schools asking the teacher to do more hours like the Chinese teacher would do. Most schools will pay for some of the travel expenses to and from Asia and typically will pay round trip for a one year contract (typically 10 months) and one way for a six month contract. Public schools will usually also pay during the vacations, but not for summer while many private schools have shortened vacation schedules and may pay for whatever short number of days is allowed for vacation. Private schools may also require teaching on weekends and evenings while public schools seldom do. Both may have classes that are not on campus which require extra time transportation to and from classes. Public schools will provide an apartment with some extras. Some private schools also do this but others do not provide housing. Companies vary a lot depending on the number of employees they want to train and could employ a teacher for one or two classes or a complete set of 14 to 16 hours a week. Tutoring also varies as in some cases a whole family is being trained or just one member.

Some teachers are successful working independently with several contracts for tutoring, individual college classes, and some company work. The majority of teachers accept contracts with the schools. Public school contracts are fairly standard while the private schools set their own requirements. For the most part schools try to hire teachers who are citizens of Anglophone countries, but because of the large numbers of teachers needed, others with good English language skills are able to find positions.

JapanEdit

In Japan, the JET Programme employs assistant language teachers to work in Japanese high schools and elementary schools. Other teachers work in private language schools (eikaiwa). The largest of these chains are Aeon, GEOS, and ECC. The industry is not always well run or well regulated; Nova, one of the largest chains with over 900 branches, collapsed in October 2007, an incident that left thousands of American, Australian and British people without money or a place to live. Other teachers work in universities. Agencies are increasingly used to send English speakers into kindergartens, primary schools, and private companies whose employees need to improve their English.

South KoreaEdit

South Korea has a great demand for native English speakers willing to teach. It is common for institutions to provide round-trip airfare for a one-year contract and a rent-free apartment.

Taiwan (Republic of China)Edit

In the Republic of China (Taiwan) most teachers work in cram schools known locally as bushibans. Some are part of chains like Hess and Kojen; others are independently operated. Monthly pay in such schools is around the USD $2,000 mark. End of contract bonuses equivalent to an extra month's pay are not mandated by law as they are in Korea, and are uncommon in Taiwan.

ThailandEdit

Thailand has a great demand for native English speakers, and has a ready-made workforce in the form of travellers and expatriates for whom the lifestyle there is attractive despite the relatively low salary levels commonly available.

As Thailand prohibits foreigners from most non-skilled occupations, a high percentage of foreigners working there are teaching English, as they have no other legal way to make a living, and teach mainly as a means to be able to stay in the country rather than as a pure career choice.

Until recently, Thailand had a worldwide reputation as a place where finding teaching work was relatively easy for any native English speaker who sought it, and recruitment was poorly regulated. However, the recent revelations in 2006 that John Mark Karr, the man arrested in connection with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey (and subsequently released without charge), had been working as a teacher for a school in Bangkok prior to his deportation to the USA, have put the profession under the spotlight, and resulted in a crackdown by Thai authorities on schools employing illegal workers, and visa and work permit regulations have been tightened accordingly. It has, however, become simpler for legitimate workers to obtain visas in-country. In a similar case, a Briton, Sean McMahon, was subsequently detained in Bangkok on child rape charges in January 2007, having fled the UK on bail. He had taught English in a Bangkok school for several years.[2]

ProblemsEdit

Whether teaching to travel or traveling to teach, an ELT lifestyle is not without its difficulties. For example, one common concern of new English language teachers are issues related to cultural integration. Even with prior mental preparation, culture shock can take a real toll on one's ability to work effectively. Issues of language barriers, cultural and religious differences, financial infrastructure, climate, administration, access to medical care, and food quality are also potential problems.

Many TEFL teachers who choose the field as a long-term career also have concerns about accumulating personal savings and funding a secure retirement.


Teaching techniquesEdit

See also: Language education

ReadingEdit

The technique of using literature aimed at children and teenagers for TEFL is rising in popularity. Both types of literature offer simpler material ("simplified readers" are produced by all the major publishers), and are often written in a more conversational style than literature aimed at adults. Children's literature in particular sometimes provides subtle cues to pronunciation, through rhyming and other wordplay. One technique for using these books is called the "multiple-pass technique". The instructor reads the book, pausing often to explain words and concepts. On the second pass, the instructor reads the book completely through without stopping.

Communicative language teachingEdit

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. Despite a number of criticisms, it continues to be popular, particularly in Japan, Taiwan[3], and Europe. Task-based learning (TBL) is a particular approach to CLT which has been gaining ground in recent years.

Blended learningEdit

This is a combination of face-to-face teaching and online interactions. This can be achieved through the adoption of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

VLEs have been a major growth point in the ELT industry over the last five years. They are developed either as an externally-hosted platforms onto which content can be exported by a school or institution (a proprietary example is Web Course Tools and an open source example is Moodle), or as content-supplied, course-managed learning platforms (e.g. the 'Macmillan English Campus').

The key difference is that the latter is able to support course-building by the language school. This means that teachers can blend their existing courses with games, activities, listening exercises and grammar reference units that are contained online. This has applications in the classroom and as Autodidacticism / self-study or remote practice (for example in an internet café).


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