Emily is a travel and fitness blogger, currently based in Glasgow. Growing up in the expat world and going on to travel independently around the world, teaching English in Thailand and backpacking Australia. You can keep up with all her travels and fitness posts at www.bordersandburpees.co.uk.
Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) has a lot of benefits. It adds to your CV, it expands your knowledge and applying that skill is very rewarding. Based on my experience of teaching English in Koh Samui, Thailand, I have come up with a list of five tips:
- Be prepared mentally
To let you all in on a bit of a secret – it’s never quite as easy as many of us initially think.
Sure, English is my first language so it seems like it would be a walk in the park – but taking a moment to think about how we actually learn to speak English, it’s pretty difficult to remember how we did it. It was something that just ‘happened’. So when it comes to teaching it, you soon realise just how little you know about the English language and just how hard it can be – or at least that’s how I felt when I first started my online TEFL course.
It’s sort of like riding a bike, you just know how to do it but if someone couldn’t do it and asked you how, would you know what to say? ‘You just sit on it and push the pedals’ – yes that’s true but that doesn’t actually teach them, it’s only stating the obvious.
English can be tough for beginners – take for example a word that sounds the same but is completely different in meaning (also known as a homophone):
Anyway, the point is to be prepared to study hard and learn lot’s of new aspects of the English language. By the end of your course, you’ll understand why I’ve said this.
- Get organised
There are various companies out there which offer great packages if you want to complete a TEFL course and embark on teaching abroad – some offer everything from the TEFL course, arranging a school for you in your desired location, airport pickup, accommodation… the list goes on.
Obviously this all comes with a price and often the work you do is unpaid however the experience is unbeatable and after you’re qualified you can start getting paid jobs all over the world. Travelling the world and teaching as you do it – what better way is there to spend your time?
If on the other hand, you want to go at it alone and source your own job for example in Thailand then you’ll also need to arrange the necessities like accommodation, travel and health insurance. You’ve gone away for an experience of a lifetime so the last thing you need is to be worrying about what to do in a situation that you didn’t anticipate being in.
- Learn their language
This isn’t an absolute necessity but learning the basics of a language goes a long way.
Particularly when teaching abroad, the people attending your lessons will really appreciate the sentiment and although they may laugh at how wrongly you said the word (like they did with me), they’ll still love you for it.
As well as this, bringing in a bit of your own culture can be really exciting for the children. For example, in Thailand, they greet people by bowing and pressing their palms together near their chest. When I taught there, we showed the children how we greet people in the UK by shaking someone’s hand and they loved this – lining up in a queue to shake our hands over and over again. My heart melts every time I think about this.
- Plan, plan, plan
Planning for a lesson is important. It’s almost impossible to fill one hour, 40 minutes or even half an hour without having some sort of structure in place. This plan will vary depending on the age group you will be teaching.
For example, if you’re teaching children as young as four, a lot of singing and generally being in the classroom to talk to them goes a long way – even if they have no idea what you’re saying. The older the children are though, the more tasks you will need to prepare.
Being friendly however and creating lots of fun and interactive games/tasks goes a long way. I learnt this almost instantly when I arrived in Thailand – the more fun the task, the more engaged the students.
- Get stuck in
Speak to the other teachers at your school, join everyone at lunch time and try the local cuisine. Eating some form of rice and spicy curry everyday may not be your idea of a standard lunch but whilst you’re teaching abroad, it’s much better to embrace the environment that you’re in and to some extent, live as the locals do.
All of this will help in creating an unforgettable life-changing experience.