Posted in Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

Can non-native speakers of English become good TEFL teachers?

This is a source of constant debate in the TEFL world. Here in Spain, many Spaniards (employers and students) request native speaker teachers. They hold beliefs, or prejudices, such as:

British speak proper English not like Americans

My German / Dutch /Spanish teacher of English knows grammar but speaks with a terrible accent

I want to speak proper English like my British / American/ Australian / teacher

This is a complex and controversial topic and I don’t presume to know the answer. In fact, I’m not exactly sure how we can define native speakers anymore. What I’d like to do is present both sides of the argument and let you make up your own minds:

Native Speaker Teachers are better because….

  • They provide accurate pronunciation models for learners
  • They can explain lots of idioms and colloquial phrases
  • Students will use their English to communicate with native speakers
  • They can show me how to use the grammar in the way it is actually spoken / written

Non-native Speaker Teachers are better because…..

  • They use an international form of English that can be understood by everybody.
  • They don’t use these idiomatic English. They can communicate clearly and unambiguously.
  • Students will use their English to communicate with people from all around the world. English is now an international language.
  • They had to learn it as a second language so they know how to explain it in a clear and accessible way.

What do you all think? 

What other reasons can you think of why native speakers or non-native speakers make better teachers.

We love to know what you think so please add your comments.

Posted in Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

7 Deadly Sins of TEFL teachers: Number 2 – Human Dictionary

Quick question: What sounds does a badger make? Write down you answer, then continue reading.

The Human Dictionary. Too much vocabulary is a dangerous thing

Many years ago, I found myself in a corridor with my Director of Studies. He was prowling around the school, listening to the classes taking place, and I was in between classes killing time. He beckoned me over and we peered round the door into a classroom.

There were 10 students with blank looks on their faces watching their teacher stomp around the classroom making animal noises.

“I am a badger. This is the sound I make “Greeerghhuurrr. The verb we use to describe the sound of a badger is…..”.

At this point, my DoS and I looked at each other and burst into fits of laughter. The teacher continued for the next 10 minutes, making the most obscure animal sounds you could imagine: lizards, ladybirds, gnus, warthogs, bison etc. The amazing thing was that he knew the exact verb to describe the sound each animal made.

The teacher left at the end of the week. The DoS asked the class for some feedback on their teacher and they told him that all he did was define lists of words, 40 or 50 every lesson. Then, he’d test them on their retention of these new words and the poor students felt like fools when they got less than 20% correct.

How many new words should you teach in a lesson?

This is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ type question. As a rule of thumb, however, I’d probably say that 15 is the upper limit and 8-10 is the optimal number. Remember that students need to be able to pronounce a new word correctly,  manipulate the form, and use it in an appropriate context to really know it. It’s not enough to simply define a word: students need to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty by attempting to use it in a communicative act.

Finally, remember that technology has changed vocabulary learning. Long gone are the days when the teacher was the only person who could provide the definition. Use monolingual dictionaries and let students look up the words themselves then teach them to their classmates. Why not let them use their smartphones to check meaning? If they check their Facebook as well , does it really matter if they complete the activity?

The moral of this story is: teach fewer words but teach them well.

P.S. I never did find out what sound a badger makes.

Posted in Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

7 Deadly Sins of TEFL teachers: Too much TTT

A little context  – “Try before you buy”

Before becoming a TEFL teacher training, I worked at a London language schools for a few years as an ADoS (assistant Director of Studies) and later as a DoS (go on, have a guess what that means!). One of my duties was to observe the teachers and give them some feedback on their performance, praise them and point out a few areas which could be improved. I used to insist on observing potential teachers before hiring them – before you scream: “exploitation, it’s just a scam for getting teachers to give classes for free!” – they got paid for their troubles. Not a bad strategy because you’d be amazed at how many bad teachers can ace interviews and how many good ones can’t. Anyway, the reason I’m giving you this back story is to tell you that I’ve watched hundreds of teachers give classes.

Now, whether that makes me an expert on what constitutes a good class is open to debate. I do know, however, what is generally considered bad practice in the TEFL world.

THE FIRST DEADLY SIN: Too much unnecessary, irrelevant and self-obsessed TTT

Appearances can be deceiving

I interviewed a jolly chap for a job once. He seemed bright, knowledgeable, affable and listened carefully before responding to my questions. I liked him immediately. He agreed to give a demonstration class the following day and I explicitly mentioned that I wanted to see a student-centred class in which the students provided most of the speaking output. He nodded vigorously and returned the next day with a beautifully written student-centred lesson plan.

Pride comes before a fall

As I sat back to watch him teach a group of multi-national Intermediate learners, I glowed with a sense of inner pride at my unfailing instinct to spot great teachers. The jolly chap introduced himself in a jolly manner and asked each of the learners their names and nationality. So far, so good: the students instantly relaxed with him and he provided some pithy and humorous comments as each student spoke in turn. Then, it began……..

Squeal like a pig

He told them that he was (briefly) going to talk about himself. I expected a few lines about where he was from, his hobbies, his favourite food. Well, that’s what he did at first and then he started to talk about his boyfriend, his boyfriend’s awful taste in clothes, his even worse taste in music. There was more to come. His boyfriend’s countless infidelities, his disgusting habits, his poor hygiene.

As he continued, he spoke faster and faster, his voice rising and rising until it reached a pig -like squeal. When it reached that upper limit, he would sit back on his chair, catch his breath for a moment, and then continue with another anecdote about how his boyfriend picked his nose while watching TV, how flatulent he was, his inadequacies in bed.

That car crash moment

At this point I should have stopped him but there was some nightmarish quality to this situation that kept me rooted to my chair. The students sat there, eyes wide open, watching this whirling dervish as his squeals became more anguished, his gestures more grotesquely flamboyant, his eyes bulging like boiled eggs, his vocabulary more colloquial and obscure. One tiny Japanese lady looked as if she was about to throw up, so dizzy was she at watching him perform his crazed pirouettes around the room, knocking over chairs and tables, swiping poor students with his flailing limbs.

Sweet relief

And then he stopped, remembered I was in the room and announced:

“Well, I was going to teach you the rules about when to use the present perfect but it appears we have run out of time. Anyway, my little darlings, I’ve really enjoyed teaching you all and hope to see you soon. Here’s an exercise you can do for homework. Oh, if any of you would like private classes, here’s my email address.”

Before he could write his details on the board, I informed him and the students that individual lessons could be arranged through the school and ushered him out of the classroom. I remember picking up his jacket and bag before marching him downstairs to the main entrance to the school.

A little self awareness goes a long way

At the door, he blithely shook my hand and gave me what he considered to be a million-dollar smile:

“So, I assume you liked the class. When would you like me to start? Monday at 9?”

He squealed like a pig again as I pushed him out the door.

The moral of this story is:  ‘let the students do the talking. They need the practice.’

Posted in All about TEFL (Courses and Finding work), Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

What is TEFL anyway?

What does TEFL stands for?

a) Tax evasion for fraudulent lawyers

b) Talking excitedly to foreign ladies

c) Teaching English as a Foreign Language

If you answered c, you have come to the right site and you probably are a TEFL teacher, a prospective TEFL teacher, or a single male TEFL teacher or prospective single male  TEFL teacher that is frantically googling `Talking excitedly to foreign ladies‘ as it sounds far more exciting!

What about TESOL, CELTA, ESL, EFL etc.?

There is many acronyms and intialisms in the world of English Language Teaching (ELT). Some of them are used in the UK whereas others are used in other English speaking countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. For a detailed discussion of the precise meanings of these terms, I refer you to Mr Wikipedia. Quite frankly though, I wouldn’t bother, it will give you a migraine. For the purposes of this blog, I will generally refer to TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language as opposed to teaching it to native speakers) and ELT (English language teaching).

Well, what is a TEFL course then?

Again, there is some confusion over the precise terms but they all refer to initial training courses which enable adults to become English teachers to non-native speakers. They can be done full-time (4 long and intensive weeks), part-time (over a period of between 3 and 9 months) and can be done F2F (face-to-face in a traditional classroom setting) or online (like distance learning over the Internet) or as a blended course ( a mixture of F2F and online).

What does the course consist of?

Most course combine input sessions (lessons where you learn about the English language and how to teach it), written projects (such as creating a set of classroom materials or planning a course of study for an individual student) and the dreaded Teaching Practice (where you get to practise your teaching skills on local guinea pigs  before being savagely torn apart by your tutors who observe and obsessively note down every minor mistake you make). BEWARE: 100% ONLINE COURSES DO NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO TEACH! In order to learn how to teach, you have to teach – that’s called experiential learning. I love watching movies, reading about movies and watching documentaries about movies. Does that make me the next Martin Scorsese? If you complete the course fulfilling the requirements – all the assignments, tests and your tutor thinks you can teach a class of learners without physically, mentally, emotionally or linguistically scarring them for life – then, and only then on any decent course, you will be given a certificate and let loose in the ELT world.

What can I do with a TEFL certificate?

In the words of a former trainee, an inveterate inventor of malaproprisms,: `With a TEFL certificate in my pocket, the world is my lobster!’ A cursory glance at a website such as : will reveal hundreds of English teaching jobs all around the world. We recommend that you look for work in Spain as there’s a huge demand and, crisis notwithstanding, it’s a great place to live.

Well, there we are. I hope I answered a few questions about TEFL. In future blogs, we’ll be (adopts best David Attenborough voice)  going deeper and deeper into the mysterious TEFL world. Hope you join us..