You like to explore, you like people and you speak English quite well. You may be thinking that teaching English could be a way of mixing all of these interests and travelling the world at the same time. You’ve opened a browser to check it out and suddenly you’re hit with acronyms.
So, what exactly is TEFL?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. English is considered a foreign language in countries where it is not usually spoken, so TEFL is the teaching of English to people who have another language as their first and who do not use English in their wider community. Of course, you would be hard-pressed to find communities who are not using English at all as it has become a lingua franca, a common language, throughout the world and its influence on everything from media to business to education is far-reaching. The idea therefore of a country where English is truly a foreign language is not really clear cut, but it is essentially where it is not the main first language.
Each place where English is considered a foreign language differs in the extent to which English is used. So there are countries like Zimbabwe where, although English is not a main first language it is used as a common language between different ethnic groups (Wikipedia, 2021). Then there are countries like China where English is also not considered a main language and 99% of people do not consider themselves to be English speakers or users (Koyfman, 2018).
What does that mean for me?
Not a lot. The only difference that it will really make will be in the exposure that the students you teach have had to English. In a country that uses English as a common language between different groups, you may find students are able to speak it with varying degrees of accuracy. Alternatively, in countries where English has a special status, you may find it widely used in education and therefore students are able to read and write with it. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, therefore, means students will have differing abilities in English partially dependent on their home country and how much exposure they have therefore had to the English language.
TEFL means Teaching abroad
As a TEFL teacher, you will be living and working in a country that you might not necessarily know a great deal about. It is therefore recommended that you do your homework and find out as much about the country you will be working in before you go.
Living overseas can open your eyes to alternate views of the world and can be a truly transformative experience. The opportunity to really learn about other people and cultures can have wide-ranging benefits from increasing empathy to becoming more self-aware. Certainly living in a country where you might not share a language with the inhabitants will help you develop more patience, you will become more self-reliant and your communication skills will definitely improve! As with anything though you have to be willing to embrace the experience, it will have its challenges but it will also be very rewarding.
As a TEFL teacher, you will
- Prepare teaching materials
- Plan and deliver lessons to students
- Teach grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and communication
- Assess reading, writing, speaking and listening skills
Global demand for English
The current demand for English world-wide is unprecedented. English is seen in many places as essential to further education, global business and international relations to name but a few. In fact social mobility itself in countless countries is often tied to English language ability.
Current estimates from the British Council (2013) are that more than two billion people are using or learning to use the English language and that “English is now spoken by a quarter of the world’s population” (p. 16). This means that the level of interest in English language teaching has never been higher.
TEFL teachers are required in a variety of educational institutions including
- Primary and secondary schools
- Private tutoring companies
- Corporate training centres
- Adult education centres
English language learners consequently range in age from young children to adults and in ability level from beginner to almost fluent. Kindergarten, school and university students will be studying full time and you may be entirely responsible for one class every day. Private tuition, corporate training and adult education may be less frequent and you may be responsible for several groups of learners at a time.
Young students will probably be studying the English curriculum of their educational institution, moving toward concentrating on academic English at the university level. Adults often seek specialised knowledge and look for courses in for example, business or medical English. There are many students also seeking to access further study or to move to English-speaking countries who will need to pass specific English language tests and they will need courses in IELTS or TOEFL preparation.
Teaching English abroad is an exciting and challenging undertaking and one which it seems will be in demand for some time to come.