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Teaching English

October 6, 2009

When I was living in Madrid last year, I needed to find a way to make some extra money to afford my year off from University to learn Spanish, so I did a search on Craigslist for English teaching positions. I e-mailed a few language schools and to my surprise, got a call the next morning asking if I could start that same day! A few hours later it was me, some kids, a white board, and a marker and I was scared, but actually didn’t do too badly. This went pretty well for a few months until the school ended up closing and I didn’t get my last paycheck, but that’s another story…

My biggest problem when I was teaching English (other than you know, not getting paid…) was that I felt guilty teaching. Why? Because I had absolutely no experience. I felt like I was wasting the students’ time and the parents’ money because I hadn’t had any special preparation, or Master’s Degree in English or a TEFL or CELTA or even that much experience with kids! I felt like I was helping my students (aged 5-20) somewhat with their English but I was distracted by the feeling that I couldn’t effectively explain everything “properly” because I wasn’t an English grammar expert, and for that reason alone, I shouldn’t be teaching.

When I came back to Austria this Summer, I was speaking to my friend from England who has lived in Vienna for a long time and who had also taught English, and she told me that the very first class that she taught was at the University of Vienna in front of 70 students, and she also didn’t have any experience! She ended up teaching English for years! That definitely made me start thinking differently the whole “teaching English without experience” thing.

The other day I saw this video posted by Steve Kaufmann (blog) and it made me realize that it really isn’t so important to know English grammar inside and out, backwards and forwards in order to be a good language teacher. It is more important to be resourceful, to have empathy, and to motivate your students to learn the language.

Here is a quote from the video on whether or not it is important for an English teacher to be deep into their grammar:

Why does that matter? I’m sure the average English teacher speaks English at least as well as the average native speaker and if the learner is able to speak as well as the average native speaker, I think the learner is probably going to be quite happy. So, why does it matter?

He also says that he would rather have a teacher who is an interesting, average person than someone who has four degrees in Linguistics and who would make a point to teach him a bunch of rules.

So I have decided to give English teaching another go. I currently live in a small-ish town outside of Vienna and since it has proven nearly impossible to find an apartment in Vienna I will be communting to Vienna everyday but returning here for the evenings, so I will be offering English tutoring in the evenings and weekends to students at the local schools.

A native speaker who speaks their own language quite well but doesn’t know any grammar rules, to me makes an excellent language teacher.

… and on that positive note, I am going to go work on my flyers that I will be posting around the local schools this week! 🙂

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2009 9:38 pm

    “A native speaker who speaks their own language quite well but doesn’t know any grammar rules, to me makes an excellent language teacher.”

    Personally I think that is a load of BS. Teaching one’s native language without some explicit understanding of grammar and some ability to explain grammar to students is asking for disaster. Otherwise every answer will be “just because”.

    A teacher of an language needs some good grammar resources. Teaching a language is just like teaching any other subjects. Students best learn when their teacher not only explains the “what” but also explains the “how” and the “why”.

    Good luck with your teaching plans but my recommendation (as someone who taught both French and English) is to get your hands on a good grammar book. Good preparation is the key to every lesson and in language teaching that means the teacher explicitly understanding the grammar behind the lesson, even if they are not actually going to teach it.

    • November 17, 2009 2:57 pm

      Thanks for your comment!

      I actually haven’t begun offering lessons since I am still deciding whether I want a job in a German language environment, or to offer private English lessons.
      If I do offer English lessons, I will pick up a Grammar book. I found that the video above about how it is not so important to be a grammar expert was mostly true, but I think you are also definitely right. I taught English in Madrid and definitely felt lost because I couldn’t explain the grammar rules. I now believe a good language teacher knows their grammar (or at least has a reference book!) in case the student has specific questions and wants a different answer than “just because”. I would want to be a teacher who can motivate and make learning fun, but also know what I am talking about. Thanks again for the comment!

  2. maria permalink
    November 23, 2009 11:12 pm

    I fully agree what the previous person said. That this is BS. OK it might be OK if you teach little kids. I am learning a slavic language. I am a grown up and do that after my work. I do not have to be motivated to learn. I cannot find any decent teachers because there are enough people around with the attitude that they can teach because it is their mother tongue. I have wasted already lots of money on bad language courses/teachers. If I pay money I want to have things explained. If you come to a higher level with your language skills you have to know grammar of the language you are teaching and being able to look it up in a book is not enough I can do that myself. I am glad that there are certain standards now for teaching at least for German and English. That is my opinion. Sorry I might be a little bit bitter about it. I study now by myself because I do not want to waste any money and time any more on imcompetent teachers and I also do not need motivators

  3. November 23, 2009 11:36 pm

    It’s okay that you are bitter! I can understand how frustrating it would be to be paying good money to people who are teaching a language as an easy way to make money without having to put any effort into it because they feel they can simply teach because it is their mother language.
    The video just kind of gave me the confidence to start teaching English again, even though I am quite unexperienced, but I would be constantly working to improve myself.
    Thanks for your comment!

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