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  • Writer's pictureTom Garside

What is ESOL teaching, and what does it take to become an English Language Teacher?

Becoming a teacher of English as a Foreign Language is becoming a more and more popular way to generate flexible income, to diversify into a more rewarding career or just to

have as a side hustle alongside regular work. More and more people are making the move away from their home countries to travel and teach. If you are thinking of getting in to English Language Teaching, it pays to know more about the subject before you start. Here are the basics which will stand you in good stead when you come to take a course and start teaching:

1) Successful English Language Teachers are qualified to a high standard

If you want to be able to work in a range of countries and teaching settings, and if you would like to develop English teaching into a career, then you will need to get qualified to an internationally recognised level. There are two qualifications which are widely recognised around the world: The Trinity Certificate in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) and the Cambridge CELTA. There are a few differences between these two courses, but they hold the same level of recognition and both train to a very high standard. There are other TEFL courses out there, but most are not regulated or validated to an international level, so may not give you what you need from a professional qualification.

2) You don’t need to speak all of your students’ languages to teach them

This is a question I get asked all the time: “How do you teach people in (insert country here) if you don’t speak their language?”. This comes from old assumptions about language learning from the high-school classroom, where translation and ‘phrasebook style’ learning were common methods. It is possible to bring learners’ first language(s) into the English language classroom, but this doesn’t need to happen by any means.

The methods that you learn on an initial training course of any quality will teach you how to start simple, and build up to more complex lesson content, using visual aids, body language and gestures to teach students from zero in English, without having to resort to translation. This is just one of the methodologies which you need to know as a beginner teacher.

3) English teaching doesn't just happen overseas

The stereotype of the English speaking teacher moving abroad to teach is still partly true, but given the amount of migration that has happened oveer the last 10 years, there are still a lot of opportunities for English language education in English-speaking countries. There are growing numbers of students with international backgrounds studying at primary and high schools in the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. This has generated the need for more qualified and experienced teachers in the field of EAL (English as an Additional Language). The principles of EAL are the same as those in other types of English language teaching, though the audience may have very different needs, as they are living in the English speaking world outside of the classroom.

Additionally, in the UK's private language teaching sector, schools are required to be accredited by the British Council, who require that teachers in their schools possess a minimum of an Ofqual Level 5 qualification in ESOL, such as the Trinity CertTESOL or Cambridge CELTA. This high standard ensures that accredited schools work to a good level of quality, whether teaching UK residents or visiting students.

3) It’s not just about teaching kids

Another assumption about language education is that it is focused on teaching kids and teenagers. Yes, young learners make up a large proportion of the people learning English around the world, but English as an international language is also important for higher education, business and travel, not to mention for the workplace and other international purposes that are needed by anyone who travels for their life or work.

English Language Education is for everyone, and there are many different specialisms within ESOL which cater for learners’ real life needs. Becoming a specialist within the industry can open up professional doors and lead to career development that would not be possible if the job was restricted to teaching kids in primary and high school situations.

4) ELT is more than just ‘speaking practice’

Many untrained teachers take the approach that all students need is to ‘practice their spoken communication’, and that everything else they study can come from book learning. However, language is such a complex thing that this simply is not true. Yes, speaking practice is important, but without a death of knowledge of grammar and vocabulary structures, pronunciation and theories of learning, the effectiveness of what you do in the classroom can be limited. Without the awareness of all of these factors and more, a teacher may not even see the needs in their students, or recognise when things are not working. Teaching is a skilled profession, and requires a wide knowledge and skills base to be really effective, so it is worth the time and investment in training and development activity to ensure that you are doing the best by your students.

5) It’s not always easy, but it’s always rewarding!

Nobody who knows what they are doing ever said that teaching was easy, but all the teachers I have ever worked with have said that the rewards of walking out of the classroom knowing that the learners can do something better and that they had fun learning along the way are more than worth the work.

Teaching (and learning) is best represented by a series of loops, rather than a straight line from beginner to expert level. To reflect, develop and improve, there must be times when we overcome gaps in our knowledge, new challenges presented by our teaching settings, and individual issues with learners that need to be resolved. This is where the biggest reward comes from: working to constantly develop your skills and reflecting on how things can be achieved to a more effective level, and embracing the challenges of the job.

I hope this has given you some idea of what it means to get into the field of English Language Teaching as a career professional, and that it prepares you for the first step on the way to becoming a reflective and aware English language teaching professional.

Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL over 12 weeks, part-time in an entirely online mode of study, and level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.

If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher development courses, contact us or see our course dates and fees for details.


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