Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Insight: Teaching in Saudi Arabia

Interested in travelling and teaching, but not sure what your options are? Want to learn more about teaching in different countries? That's why we're quizzing former TEFL Worldwide graduates on what they know. 

Victoria Baardsen is originally from the U.S.A., and graduated from TEFL Worldwide in 2011. She had some teaching experience prior to coming to Prague, and now she teaches in Saudi Arabia. So, here are some of the questions I'm sure you want to ask!

How easy is it to find a job in Saudi Arabia?

You need to have some experience, a college degree, and a TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours (like TEFL Worldwide). This is one country that only hires native speakers of English.

What's the money like? What's the cost of living?

The money is excellent. You get: (a) free housing, (b) free electric, water, and transportation. (c) It's tax free. You can make very good money if you can handle the big difference in culture! Not everyone can handle the extremes, and remember that you'll have to give up: alcohol, dating, a free life, wear an Abaya if you are a woman, give up driving if you are a woman, a single life, etc. It is not easy, but doable if you view as a sabatical from life where you go and get paid really well for the job.  

On the other hand, the cost of living is cheap! Remember that you're not paying for rent or bills. A decent meal costs around 100 ryals ($25 US, £17). A short taxi ride is about 5 ryals, but you have to know the area to effectively negotiate. Your employer provides housing, but if you want to go live on a compound they want you to pay all rent up front for a year in advance, and that's what makes it expensive. Food? Going shopping and buying local adds up to about 300 ryals. 
What kind of teaching will I be doing? 

If you are a woman, you can only teach women, and that goes for men/men as well, because it is a segregated community. Actually you can and will teach all levels in all settings because the country is determined to learn English. The whole country is moving towards a global economy - they know they need to speak English in order to run their own country. They are under going "Saudization." That means that an employer's staff must be 80% Saudi. It also means that the population must improve their English. They also want their country run/operated by Saudi's; not by Ex Pats. Today, their country is managed and working by a nearly 100% Ex Pat labor, because the skills that are needed are not in the Saudi population. But, they see it, and are working on solving that problem with education! So, the push is on getting English into the skill set so they can operate their country and speak to the world using the worlds' business language. In other words, everybody wants to learn English!

You must be hired prior to arrival-you cannot show up and search. It's a country concerned about terrorism, and immorality, i.e., drinking alcohol, etc. Someone must hire you, and vouch for your presence. You cannot wander around without a sponsor. You'll have get a contract, offer, from a Saudi employer, and they help you to get that visa. There are plenty of jobs advertised online, for example at tefl.com or eslcafe.com. 

What are the pros and cons of living in Saudia Arabia? 

Well, as a woman there are a lot of cons - especially since we are westernized and used to alot of freedom, but it's doable. What you have to accept without question, as a woman, is that: You must by law wear an Abaya in public. A head scarf is not required, but expected. You cannot drive a car or even sit in the front seat of a car.Also, you cannot date or even be in the company of a man you are not married or related to-no exceptions are given to expats. You cannot go to a restaurant as you would at home. You, as a woman, go to the family section, or you order curb side, and they deliver it to you on the street. You cannot eat in a male / mixed company restaurant. You can't drink alcohol, and you cannot walk the streets easily-women are transported, so don't expect to see a woman running, or riding a bike, that is also a no no. Men definitely have it easier.

However, the pros are definitely the money, the free housing, electricity and transportation, tax free income (for Americans), and just the food, the culture and the people. Although it's very challenging to be here as a woman, it is also an amazing experience that I do not regret. Just bear in mind, teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia is not comparative to any other country you have ever taught in and if you come here, be prepared to adjust your teaching style to meet the cultural differences. It's a big change, but it's doable!  I have many (female) ex pat friends, and some native friends that I made through work (although it is illegal for me to have male friends). 

It is challenging to work here, but not impossible. You just have to be mindful of the cultural differences, follow the rules, and you can make good money, and have a nice time. It's a time for reflection, and work, not so much on entertaining, but that's a good thing if you are working on a Masters, or other educational ventures. Finally, even though Saudi is very different than my culture at home, I have adjusted, and find it rather peaceful. If you have projects at home: Masters, Doctoral, etc, then you can get that done here; because you will find not much else to do but focus!

Best of luck & thank you TEFL WORLDWIDE for giving me the career I dreamed about and never thought possible! 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Teaching: Improving your "Teacher Language"

Have you ever studied a language for months, only to meet a native speaker and find yourself completely confused by what they're saying? Do you explain simple concepts to your students, only to have them stare at you blankly? Do you find yourself thinking how do they not understand this?

The problem might not be them - it might be your "teacher language". I watch a lot of lessons, and I have often seen elementary student bombarded with so much language that they have no idea of what is going on.

Imagine, for example, a class who is just learning to say "I can swim!", and the teacher starts to explain: "Well, you see, it's like... ability, what you can and can't do, so if you can do this, you are ABLE to do it. It can also mean something to do with what is acceptable, socially or legally. The word 'swim' here is in the base form of the verb, do you understand?" How do you think those students are going to feel? Let's add to that the fact that the teacher is speaking very quickly, mumbling due to nerves, perhaps with a strong accent. It's no wonder that students are often confused.

Here's another example: the teacher wants students to listen to a recording, and write down three words that they hear. What they say is: "OK, so in partners we're going to listen to this CD, this recording, and then pick out the lexis and write it down, then afterwards we're going to make sure you caught all the words and we'll confirm them, OK?"

What's the problem with that sentence? To a native speaker, it seems simple enough. To find out, you just have to look through a typical text book and see the kind of things that students are being taught. Yes, they might know a lot of the words individually, but you'll be hard pressed to find them being taught "in partners", "pick out", "afterwards" and "catch" (in this context) until pretty late on in their English-learning life. We use a lot of expressions, phrasal verbs, idioms and slang in everyday speech without realising it, and to a learner of English these can cause the most difficulty.

So, how can you make your English simple enough that your students will understand you? Some of these tips might seem obvious, but here they are anyway!

1) Record yourself - imagine you're telling a student about a topic, perhaps you're trying to explain a word, or just telling them something about yourself. You could even tape-record an actual lesson (if the students don't mind) and listen back to it later. You might be surprised to find how often you use complicated words and expressions, repeat what students say or give unnecessary comments!

2) Avoid phrasal verbs, expression or slang - for example, instead of saying "come up with some questions" (come up with is a phrasal verb), what could you say that's simpler? "Think of", "ask" or "write", for example. An expression like "we get on like a house on fire" is fine if you're specifically teaching it, but imagine what a learner thinks when they first hear it! Even saying "we get on well" can be confusing, as students will know the word "get" and "on", but perhaps not in this context. What would make it even simpler? How about "we are good friends". Slang can slip in to your conversation without you realising it - calling a pen a "biro", calling your friend your "mate" or "buddy", even referring to your class as "you guys" can be confusing at first! The way you speak to your students might seem unnatural at first, but over time you'll get the hang of it, editing your speech as you go.

3) Don't be afraid of giving direct instructions - it usually feels rude for us to tell somebody "write your answers" or "listen to this". Society teaches us to be far more indirect in order to sound polite - you might choose to say "OK, guys, just have a listen to this recording for me, would you?" or "Now we're going to write down our answers, if you don't mind". While other native speakers will respond to this, a learner will only hear a barrage of extra words - to a beginner, this can be very confusing. Your students will only learn what is polite and impolite in English through learning it - so don't think they'll be offended if you use direct commands. It doesn't mean that you have to use a bossy or demanding tone! Your students will, most likely, appreciate the fact that you're making task instructions as simple as possible.

4) Speak slowly and clearly - perhaps obvious, but nerves can make us speak a lot quicker than we normally would. It might also feel unnatural to speak slowly and to pause between sentences, but when people learn a language they need this pace in order to process what you are saying. When you play a listening track, students need to hear it two or three times. The same might be true for your instructions (especially if you over-complicate them). Leave a couple of seconds' pause between your sentences, and make sure you pronounce words clearly. If you have a particularly strong accent which distorts certain words noticeably, you might need to try saying them in a more "neutral" accent - the students might know the word "pen", for example, but if you come along and say it in a strong Australian accent they might be very confused until you write it down for them!

5) Use gesture, pictures and props to help you out - if you are teaching new words, for example, it really is true that a picture speaks 1000 words. Don't over-complicate things for yourself. What do you think is easier - saying "What's a word for a ceremony where two people promise to love each other forever, marked by the exchanging of a ring?", or just showing them a picture of a wedding? When teaching lower levels, you might sometimes feel as if you are playing charades - this is fine, and all part of the fun! The more expressive you are, the more easily your students will understand you. If you have a whiteboard, you can always add drawings, scales or timelines to help illustrate what you are trying to say.

6) Learn a new language - a slightly extreme step, but it helps! Learning a new language puts you in the shoes of your students. You'll know how they feel when an English native speaker overloads them with "natural" language, and you'll understand how much they appreciate slow, simple instructions. You'll find out what helps you learn, and it will make you a better teacher in general, as you'll gain an understanding of how hard it is not only to understand your teacher but also to remember what you have learnt from one lesson to the next.

7) Script your teacher language - instead of going in to a lesson with no plan, no instructions to yourself other than "explain the term 'easy-going'", plan it beforehand. You might think that you know a word, but how do you explain it in the simplest way possible? Try it now, quickly - what does 'appreciate' mean? How about 'please'? It can be tricky to think of explanations on the spot. If you plan your "script" before your lesson, you can work on exactly how to word it. Plus, you'll feel more confident when you have the words in front of you, rather than trying to make it up as you go.

8) Look at the grammar/vocabulary that they already know - this generally means looking in the text book that your class is currently using, and only going above that when you're teaching something new. So, avoid words like "spectacular" or "brilliant" if they have only just learnt "good". If they can barely create a sentence using "if", then asking something like "What would you do if...?" will mean nothing to them. In effect, you are toning your language down as much as possible - simplifying it and stripping it down to the bare bones. Let's take a sentence like "What would you say about restaurants in Prague? Do you generally find them to be positive or negative experiences?" - how many elementary level students do you think would understand that? What's a simpler way to say it? You could just say "Are restaurants in Prague good? Do you like to go to restaurants?".

9) Make friends with non-native speakers of English - the more learners and non-native you know, the more practised you will become at speaking to them. My own "teacher language" was improved a lot just by having friends at university who were from different countries - when I said something to them the way I normally would, they looked confused or pretended to understand. I soon learned to adapt my way of speaking into a careful, deliberate way that cut down any excess talk and avoiding strange expressions as much as possible.

10) Have an awareness of their native language - it's good to know which words are similar in English and the native language of your students. This will save you a lot of time explaining a word that they already know, and will allow you to drop some more complicated words into your speech. There may also be "false friends" - words that sound similar in English and their language, but which have very different meanings. This is good to know as students might assume that the meanings are the same - for example, in Czech, the word "angina" means "sore throat" (this can lead to some misunderstandings, as you can imagine!). They might have a word that looks similar but that they pronounce very differently. Knowing some of the grammatical rules can also give you an insight into which particular things your students will find really difficult, and which things they will breeze through, will also help you plan your lessons!


So, let's see how well you can do this! Grab a pen, read these examples, and write down the simplest way that a teacher could say these things. Look below for my answers!

a) "OK, guys, I'm thinking of a word. It's like... what you feel when something really good happens. For example, you just won the lottery, or you got a promotion."

b) "What particular dish or beverage do you enjoy the most?"

c) "So, pick out three examples and come up with your own. You can look up the words in your dictionary, you know, if you want to. Try to work them out on your own, though!"

d) "I can't make head nor tail of it. It's completely messed up - I have no idea what's going on!"

e) "What is anxiety? Well, it's really a kind of psychological disorder, for example when you feel very stressed or worried... let's say I have a big test coming up, so I feel anxious. My palms are sweaty and my heart is beating. I have butterflies in my stomach. I'm nervous! It can be a clinical condition - you can be chronically anxious - or it can just be temporary. Sometimes I feel anxious before I teach class, haha, but I didn't have to worry because you're all so nice! I don't know the etymology of the word, but we say you feel anxious if you have anxiety, and if it's a long-term thing you have an anxiety disorder. Does that make sense?"

Answers (of course, they're not the ONLY way to say it, but my idea):
a) Draw a smiley face or act very happy. Ask "How do I/does he feel?"
b) "What's your favourite food or drink?"
c) "Choose three sentences and write your own. You can check the dictionary, but try to think without it!"
d) "I am confused!"
e) Act anxious. Say "I am very stressed. I am worrying/panicking!"

Your students don't need to know every possible nuance of a word or its etymology - teach them only what's relevant for now. They can build up the rest of their knowledge over time. Hopefully this will help you regulate your own teacher language, and before long you will be able to make yourself understood even to complete beginners of English!

Insight: Teaching in Prague

Of course, TEFL graduates work in many different countries - but, if you're taking TEFL Worldwide Prague, there's a pretty good chance that you're thinking about staying on and finding a job in Prague. As somebody who completed the course and stayed on, I'll attempt to answer some of your questions about it. I have also consulted some of my friends here, as we all have different experiences to talk about.

How easy is it to find a job?
It seems that this is the main thing that people ask! Well, it completely depends. The peak hiring times are September (as language courses start their year in late September) or January (semester 2 starts in January), but different schools vary - and as teachers are constantly coming and going, there are schools that hire year-round. Experience, TEFL and your attitude will make a lot of difference. If you walk into an interview and sound as if you don't really care about teaching or know what you're talking about, it will show. It also depends on how much effort you put - sending off a couple of CVs won't cut it! There are at least 100 language schools in Prague, and not all of them advertise jobs directly - the best bet is to start emailing your resume during the TEFL course.

Most graduates find jobs within a couple of weeks of the course. Of course, it is easier for EU citizens as we don't need a work visa - we can accept part-time work with a variety of schools and build a schedule from that, while non-EU citizens who don't have a business license need to find a full-time employer (more on that in a minute). Personally, I found a job while I was still on the course (in August), and all of my non-EU friends who were staying in Prague had started working within two weeks of graduating. Some take longer than others, but I honestly don't know anyone who graduated from TEFL Worldwide and had to leave because they didn't find work. Also, remember that the office staff offer lifetime job assistance - that doesn't mean they'll get a job for you, but they will help you brush up your resume, advise you on schools and make sure you have the contact details of all the language schools.

What's the money like? What's the cost of living?
The Czech Republic uses a currency called koruna (Czech crown), which is around 20 to the American dollar (or 29/30 to the British pound) at the moment. An average salary for an English teacher in Prague ranges from around 16,000Kc to 20,000 a month, although it is possible to make more. This is lower than the salary for teaching English in many countries, but the real question is how far that money will get you.

To give you an idea of the cost of living in Prague, a month's rent will set you back anything from 5000 to 10,000 a month, depending on location and whether or not you share. You can find flat shares on a lot of websites (expats.cz or prague.tv, for example), or you can search websites like Happy House Rentals or Home Sweet Home for an idea of what to expect. To give you an idea, my boyfriend and I found a cute flat near Flora metro station (10 minutes from the centre), nothing fancy but a big bedroom, spacious kitchen and small living area, and including utilities the price was 13,000 a month (so 6,500 each). A monthly travel pass, giving you unlimited use of trams, buses and the metro, is as little as 550Kc a month (if you register for an "Open Card"), and even a train ride across the country will be less than 200Kc. My weekly grocery shopping generally comes to around 300Kc (only £10!), but it depends on whether you shop like a local or seek out imported products from your own country (which is, of course, more expensive).

As for all those other fun things - a half-litre glass of delicious beer can be as little as 20Kc (although more usually around 30), and a hearty meal, on average, around 120Kc. Of course, it depends where you eat and drink, as staying near the city centre will inevitably set you back a lot more than if you avoid the tourist traps. Take some time to research the more reasonable places and save yourself some money. Entry to nightclubs is generally around 100Kc, with the more expensive cocktails coming to around 150Kc each. During the daytime, you can visit museums for around 200Kc or take a visit to the cinema for a bit less. Generally, it is difficult to save up a lot of money while you live here, unless you really watch the purse-strings - but it is perfectly possible to go out to eat two or three nights a week, drink a lot of beer and have a fantastic time without hurting for cash. After all, the average salary for a Czech person is Prague is somewhere between 20 and 25,000 (according to my students), and most popular Czech pastimes (hiking, kanoeing, camping etc) are cheap and a lot of fun!

What kind of teaching will I be doing?
Again, it depends! There are all kind of jobs that you can do. You might work at a kindergarten or pre-school, doing crafts with children and teaching them a little English in the process. You might work at a language school, providing general English to a range of classes - usually sticking with a weekly class for the year, working through a text book. Some students will be preparing for exams (the Cambridge English exams are the most common here), so it will be your job to prepare them for these with mock tests and plenty of homework. You might travel from business to business, teaching company employees Business English, or you might just engage in general conversation with those who want to keep on top of their fluency. You might end up doing a mixture of all of these!

As mentioned before, if you're not an EU citizen and you don't have a business license, you'll need to find a company that will help you get your work permit. This technically means working at least 20 hours a week for them. Before you accept any jobs, it is important to find out whether they will help you with this - and, of course, the TEFL Worldwide office staff will help you with everything that this involves! If you have a business license (called a zivnostensky list) or are an EU citizen, you will be able to bill multiple clients or become employed on short-term contracts, meaning that those companies that only have 2 or 3 classes to offer can pad out your schedule. When I started, I accepted jobs with three different language schools - each one only offered me a few hours at first, so I was able to make a schedule from those. Usually, over time, these schools will offer you more and more hours (if you prove yourself to be reliable), but it can be difficult to rely on this at first. You can also find private students here (if your contract does not state otherwise) over websites like teacher-creature.cz to supplement your income, which could mean anything from company lessons without the middle-man to meeting at a coffee shop for a chat.

What about the visa/work permit?
We'll post more about this in future - for now, it's best to contact us to find out about your country's situation. Generally, though, if you are non-EU, you can apply for a zivnostensky list or you can find a job that will help you with your work permit. Many companies will not pay for your visa, but will deduct it in small monthly chunks from your salary - the important thing is that they will help you get a work permit, which will then enable you to get a work visa. The conditions and regulations for this change very often, so it's really better to talk to us about it - by the time you read this, the rules might have changed again!

What are the pros and cons of living in Prague?
Well! I can tell you from personal experience - living in Prague is a lot of fun. The city is beautiful and rich with history.

You can barely walk around a corner without finding some old church or cobbled street. What I particularly love is the fact that Prague has everything you'd need in a city - great shopping malls, cinemas, theatres, art galleries, museums, classy bars, grungy pubs, nightclubs, parks, even a fairground - and yet it has not been ruined by modernness. Many travellers I've encountered on their way through Europe remark that they have fallen in love with Prague, and you probably will too. Just take a stroll over Charles Bridge at night, catch the funicular up to Petřin or try some of the many, many wonderful beers at Letna park and you'll see what I mean.

The city is loaded with culture - there's no shortage of shows, art exhibitions and museums to visit, and a look at the calendar on expats.cz or prague.tv will show you that there's always something going on. You'll also see that the expat life is rich here - even if you don't speak Czech, you can always find something fun to do and new people to meet. Of course, living in the city is wonderfully affordable, too - as I said, beers for around 25Kc means that you can have a good night on around £5! Nice meals, too, can be as cheap as 90Kc, and there are a lot of good restaurants to seek out, whether you want traditional Czech food, pizza, Thai, Chinese, sushi, Indian curry or a decent steak.

On top of that, Prague has a wonderful public transport system. The metro system is simple and easy to understand, and the network of buses and trams mean that it is easy to get around the city at ANY time (there are night trams and buses that run all night!). The website http://www.dpp.cz/en/ will help you plan your route. As I said before, a monthly travel pass is only 550Kc, and as long as you have it on you at all times, you can travel freely on any mode of transport around the city. It is generally easy to get around the city, and also to set yourself up. After living in Japan, I was amazed at how easy it was to find an apartment here - we set up a viewing, said we wanted it, signed a contract and paid a deposit - and it was ours!

On the down side, the relatively low salary makes it hard to save up money, if that's your aim. If you like to travel on the weekends, you could find yourself burning through your funds quite quickly - especially in you travel west (Eastern European countries are generally much more affordable). Certain items - like make-up, clothes and household goods might also be more expensive (relatively) that you're used to (although many Czech people pop over the border into Germany for these). A lot of my friends have left for pastures new because they felt that they weren't making enough money. When you factor in that you don't get paid for travel time or lesson planning at some jobs, you can feel that your efforts bring a low reward.

For those non-EU citizens, or EU citizens getting a business license, the paperwork and bureaucracy that you have to face can be quite daunting, but it can be done! Expect to go from office to office, and over the border to Bratislava, Berlin or Vienna, to validate your documents. To add to the fun, a lot of the staff at the foreign police won't speak any English, so it might be helpful to enlist the help of a Czech friend - you can also hire translators, but this is an expensive alternative.

Another thing that might strike you is the lack of decent customer service. This is not true in every restaurant, but more often than not you will find cold, inattentive and sometimes downright rude behaviour from waiters and waitresses. Fortunately, you don't have to tip 10% (although many still do) - and, of course, the service is better in touristy places. This is changing, though, and I can recommend some great places. Many bars and restaurants now have an English menu, but not everywhere - so learn some Czech food words and bring a dictionary! Czech is a hard language to learn, but it is possible to survive without speaking it.

Finally, the winters get pretty cold - around -20C this last February. Prague doesn't see much snow, but the rest of the country does - if you like skiing, this is a great place to be. The summers reach around 30 or 35, with this last year bringing a lot of intermittent rain. It's good if you don't like overly hot climates, and not so good if you're not used to the cold. Still, the indoor heating is good enough to keep you warm when you're inside!

Will I need to learn Czech?
In short, no - although it is always nice to learn a little of a language before you move to a country. I feel that people generally appreciate a "dobry den" (hello), and it might improve your customer experience a little. These days, most people speak at least a little English (younger generations, especially), so it is definitely possible to survive on a day-to-day basis without speaking Czech. It's when you get into the territory of paperwork and other complicated matters that it comes in handy. There are "English speaking" services available - banks, doctors etc, but be careful of the hefty price tags that come with it. A lot of places might just happen to have employees that speak a good enough level of English, or you can bring a Czech friend! It is a difficult language to learn - tough pronunciation, noun declension and other exciting things - but there are plenty of "Czech for Foreigners" courses around the city, and of course TEFL Worldwide will teach you a few basics during the course!

I hope that has given you a nice insight into living here! Please contact us if you have more questions - the office staff can put you in touch with previous graduates from the programme, letting you ask them for their own insight and advice. You can also post your own questions on here, and I'll try to answer them!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Preparing for Living Abroad

Moving to another country on your own, with no job or accommodation secured? Many people would freeze at the very thought, and many of your friends have probably told you that you're crazy for considering it. When you dream of adventure, of soaking up a new culture, meeting new people and having amazing experiences - all while making money from doing something that's fun - the idea seems wonderful and exciting. But it can be incredibly scary, too, especially when you don't know what to expect.

I moved to Japan on my own in March 2010, and although I did have a job secured, the company only told me where I would be around ten days before I flew out. I knew nobody, hardly anything of the culture (apart from what a few books had told me) and could barely speak the language. Looking back on it now, those months were some of the best of my life. In fact, I loved the experience so much that I did it all over again in August last year, when my boyfriend and I moved to Prague with nothing but our acceptance onto TEFL Worldwide. 

Like many of you, we had no idea of how things would go. Would we survive the course? Would we find a decent place to live? Would we find jobs? I can tell you, now, that everything worked out. But I have met plenty of people who came over with no plan, no idea of what they would do after completing the course, and who had not prepared themselves well enough to cope with the reality of living in another country.

So, before you get on that plane, have a look at this checklist and make sure that you're prepared for your new life in another country.

1) Research the passport/visa requirements - if you are not an EU citizen, you can stay in the Schengen zone (a lot of countries, including the Czech Republic) for up to 90 days as a tourist before you have to leave for another 90. You'll need a business license or a work visa after this, although the office staff at TEFL Worldwide keep up to date and will let you know the requirements. It surprises me how many people arrive with no idea about their legal status in the country. In some countries, you might even need to sort this all out before you leave your home country. Making sure of this before you land will relieve a lot of stress and save you a lot of time and energy!

2) Make sure you have enough money - the set-up costs are far higher in some countries than others, but think about the fact that you'll need to cover your accommodation and food costs during your TEFL course and for a couple of months afterwards. Even if you find a job straight away, many will pay you for a month's work the following month, meaning that starting a job in September might mean you don't see any money for it until sometime in October. You might also want to travel on the weekends, and don't underestimate how much money you might spend partying with all your new friends! I can't give you an exact figure for how much is "enough", but have a look at the cost of living for the country you're going to, ask other people who live there or have been there, and try to calculate something based on your own lifestyle.

3) Talk to people in the know - you might know somebody who already lives there, or who has lived there. If not, there are plenty of forums out there for expats living in various countries. ESL Cafe has forums for teachers in almost every country, while expats.cz is an invaluable resource for anybody living in the Czech Republic (especially Prague). These people have been in your shoes - they also moved over, knowing hardly anything or anyone, and can give you advice. Besides, you never know, you might find yourself making new friends before you even arrive!

4) Tie up your loose ends at home - living abroad should not be a way to escape your problems. The world is getting smaller, and these things can catch up with you - especially if you don't have a long-term plan and find yourself going home again. Remember the old saying - "Wherever you go, there you are" - if you are leaving because you are unhappy at home, it's worth spending some time working out what you want and how to make yourself happy before throwing yourself into a new life. Culture shock can be a nasty pill to swallow all by itself.

5) Minimise culture shock - culture shock is a lot more than being surprised by new customs and ways of life. Serious culture shock can leave you isolated, unhappy, afraid of leaving the house and reluctant to involve yourself in any aspect of the new culture. Of course you will get homesick at times, but remind yourself of why you're moving - to experience something new! Some of the ways in which you can minimise the impact of culture shock are: learning some of the language before you arrive, reading up on the culture as much as possible, and keeping a small support group around you. You'll meet plenty of people on TEFL Worldwide who are in the same boat as you, and these friends can seriously help you to adapt in a new place.

6) Don't over-pack! - I met a girl on my course who had brought 15 pairs of shoes, several storage boxes and an apple corer with her, among other things. It can be hard to think of what you will and won't need in your new life, but it is impractical and expensive to bring along things that you can buy easily in your new home. Again, researching beforehand will give you an idea of what you can get hold of easily and what you might need to bring. In Japan, I brought a lot of clothes, because it was very hard to find clothes in my size there. This isn't a problem in Prague, and the only things I really felt the need to bring were personal items - my laptop, some books, that kind of thing. Check your airline's baggage limits, too - you might end up paying a lot more than planned if your suitcase is too heavy.

7) Read up on the culture and recent events - unless you really want to be one of "those" loud, obnoxious foreigners who inadvertently offend all the locals, it can be very useful to read up on social norms and things to watch out for. That way, you can be tactful, and avoid doing things that might annoy or shock your new hosts - after all, these people are your new neighbours, service providers, co-workers, students and friends. You want them on your side! This will also help to keep you safe - if you're moving somewhere more dangerous than you're used to, you can find out which parts to avoid and read up on tips for minimising risks.

8) Take small steps - the way I dealt with the "oh-help-I'm-moving-to-Japan-alone-ARGH!" panic was to break everything up into small steps in my head. For example, first, all I had to do was get through the security checks at the airport. Then, all I had to do was sit through a 12-hour flight. Then, all I had to do was find the train station from the airport. Breaking things down into more achievable, bite-sized chunks helped me to cope with the magnitude of what I was doing, and by the time I was starting my job in Japan (and later, in Prague) I looked back and thought "Wow, I did all that!". 

Finally, remember that you can contact TEFL Worldwide with your questions, and that even after you graduate from the course, we'll be around to help you out, wherever you go!

Teaching tips: Lesson Planning Without Set Material

(Adapted from my blog The Prague Thing, posted on 19/10/2011)
While many of us sing the praises of free choice, give us free reign to do whatever we want to and we draw a blank. An open road that goes in a million directions or a blank slate on which we can write anything we want to can be massively daunting. Have you ever been overwhelmed because a menu contained just too many options? Torn apart by career decisions because there are just too many interesting things to do? I know I have, and so I know that many of us as stumped when we are given a class to teach for a year and zero to little instruction on what to teach.
“Oh, they’re level B2,” they might say, or “well, it’s kids, just do colours and stuff.”
When you have a year’s worth of lessons to think about, an entire language and a sea of topics to choose from, it’s hard to think of a lesson plan without plucking random strands of thought from mid-air. So, if you’re one of those who hasn’t been given a syllabus/curriculum to work from, I’d suggest that you get hold of a book anyway. At the moment I’m using New Cutting Edge, with a bit of Market Leader thrown in for when they want business English, some New Headway or New English File when the activities in the first don’t quite cut it, and a sea of internet resources as my back-ups.
Modern English textbooks are full of pretty pictures and ideas for topics, as well as level-appropriate sound clips and articles and convenient examples of grammar and vocabulary in context that are easy to draw upon. What’s better is that the chapters usually follow a logical progression of difficulty as well as containing a mixture of reading, writing, speaking and listening. They are definitely great for those days where you can’t think of anything, although be careful not to rely too heavily on a textbook. Even if you are supposed to be teaching from a book, you’ll bore yourself and your students if you do nothing but move robotically from one activity to the next. So, here are my tips for creating your own lesson-by-lesson plan (be it for a term or a year), making the most out of your books and drawing on authentic materials.
1. What’s the target language? Identifying the purpose of the section and breaking the textbook dependence 
Every section of every chapter has a point – whether it’s teaching new grammar, vocabulary or just letting students practice perceptive or active skills using things that they already know. If the aim is to teach new words or grammar, highlight the examples in the text and think about other ways in which you could present it. Let's say that the first chapter of New Cutting Edge is a review of the tenses - you don't have to use the book at nothing else. Could you find something more interesting, at the same level, from another textbook? If you take a look at the contents page, you’ll find that textbooks of a similar level often follow the same pattern. You might find some exciting examples to draw upon from other textbooks.
Is there a more exciting way to present the language to begin with? Perhaps there’s a song or video that you know which uses a lot of the target language – students could listen to it and fill in the blanks. If you can think of something off the top of your head that’s full of target vocabulary or grammar, then use it – you can spend some time building up students’ interest in the video by asking questions about the topic or showing them screenshots and getting them to guess the story, as jumping straight into a video without any scene-setting can rob you of an exciting discussion if you let it.
For grammar, I highly recommend Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener. For each piece of grammar, he outlines (in wonderful step-by-step detail) how to present it, what concept checking questions to ask, and some great practice and production activities. Just because your New Headway wants you to teach the present continuous using its own piece of listening doesn’t mean you have to (and some schools won’t even have given you the CD) – the important thing is that they’re learning the underlying structure.
2. The formula
Of course, remember the presentation, practice, production formula. First, show the students something that features the target language in context, so that they might understand it based solely on the situation. Just giving isolated sentences can be more confusing (and less interesting) than an article, video, interview or story that sneaks in the grammar/vocab. Then, highlight the key sentences or words (ideally by eliciting them from the students) and draw them on the board. This is when you concept check, draw timelines and other similar visual aids to help them understand. After that, I’d give them some practice – the simplest form would be in a worksheet. There are tons of great, free worksheets at http://busyteacher.org, who I highly recommend registering with.
Another formula that you can use with more advanced students is test-teach-test. In does what it says on the tin; first, you use a worksheet to discover how much your students already know, before going over it thoroughly. During the “teaching” part, students should be able to see the grammar/vocab in a natural setting, answer concept checking questions about it and try to give their own sentences using it. How well they do on the initial test should determine how deeply you teach it – if they already know it, there’s no reason to bore them with too much detail again; although a refresher is often welcome and helpful, constantly reviewing the same things can make students doubt whether they’re learning anything new. At the end, you can give students another worksheet and see how much better they do on it after your explanation.
3. Generating ideas for discussion
A lot of students just want conversation, and while a lot of us have been trained to believe that the customer is always right, my time at TEFL Worldwide taught me that a lot of students don’t know how to learn. Many believe that by simply speaking all the time, they will pick up the intricacies of the English language and become fluent speakers. While speaking is definitely a key skill, it is important to make sure that their other skills (listening, writing, reading and perhaps use of English) are not neglected. This can be as sneaky as using an article or sound/video clip at the beginning, getting students to answer questions about it to check understanding, and then leading into a discussion. Students could write down what they are going to say in a discussion, debate or role play.
The problem, of course, is that going into a room to “teach conversation” is a lot harder than it sounds. You might go in and think “I’ll just ask them about their weekend – that will fill in some time!”, and while I could easily spend 90 minutes asking my Japanese students what was “new”, I find that Czech students respond with something like “oh, I didn’t do anything special” and seem to get bored very quickly. If you sit there trying to get them to elaborate and ask each other questions, you might find – as I do – a few yawns and rolling eyes. It’s quite demotivating as a teacher, but don’t worry. Come armed with topics for discussion, and a variety of ways for them to talk.
What do I mean by ways for them to talk? Well, if you have a few students, mix it up. Have some speaking activities be in pairs, while others are in groups. Let them discuss whether they agree or disagree with a statement. Get them to work together to answer questions about an article/video. Get them to discuss a topic in an interview style. Perhaps  - if you have a large class – they can walk around interviewing various members in order to discover things. They could have debates, work together to try agreeing on a solution. Role-plays are another good idea, especially if you are teaching business English. You can use games in which one person describes something and another has to guess what it is. Just because they say that they want to talk doesn’t mean that it has to be exclusively conventional conversation. Most schools have plenty of books with titles like Communication Games, which are full of great activities to help you.
As for topics, there are plenty of places that you can look. Textbooks are full of ideas for stimulating discussion, and the website www.instant-ideas.com releases reading and listening materials and worksheets every week featuring up-to-date news topics – they are designed to easily fill a 60-minute lesson. For more advanced learners, how about looking at news sites? I find that The Guardian features some very interesting articles, and BBC News has a lot of short videos for listening practice. You could even adapt the news stories for lower level students, making sure to check for idioms and phrasal verbs that we take for granted and to simplify the more complicated vocabulary. I find the Cambridge Leaner’s Dictionary a great resource for coming up with simple explanations for more advanced words.
Finally, why not sneak in a clip from your favourite TV show or film? You could use a fill-in-the-blanks listening activity, ask questions about what happens and lead into a discussion about related topics. I recently used a clip from The Amazing Race (on mute) and had half the students describe what was happening to the other half (switching halfway through) – letting them practice present continuous. Then, I gave them slips using the past simple and continuous to describe what had happened, and asked them to work together to put them in order, before playing the clip again (with sound) to help them confirm their answers. This activity let them practice spontaneous speech, grammar, meaning, a little reading and listening, and discussion, letting us lead in to a conversation about competitions, gameshows and travel.
By the way, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they can’t rely on Youtube clips because of volatile internet connection… well… www.keepvid.com is your new best friend.
Cambridge Leaner’s Dictionary - to find simple explanations for words and phrases
BBC News and The Guardian, for up-to-date news stories
www.instant-ideas.com for up-to-date, ready-made reading/listening lessons
www.keepvid.com - to download youtube videos
http://busyteacher.org - an amazing (free) resource for worksheets (includes children’s lessons)
http://www.eslflow.com/ - even more resources, worksheets and ideas
http://www.sparklebox.co.uk/ - for printable children’s flashcards
Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – for explanations and fun activities using grammar
Communication Games – BeginnerElementaryIntermediate- for speaking-based activities
English Grammar In Use  by Raymond Murphy – perhaps the best-selling grammar book, full of overviews and exercises

Friday, 11 May 2012

Why take a TEFL course?

Why teach English?

If you want to travel the world, experience new cultures from the inside, AND make enough money to do it, then teaching English overseas could be the answer. As people across the globe realise that English is an important and useful tool, the demand for native speakers of English grows, meaning that you could find yourself living in working in Japan, Germany, Brazil, Egypt, the Czech Republic or one of the other 60+ countries that TEFL Worldwide graduates have worked in. 

Even if experiencing a new country first-hand isn't for you, you can always use your English skills to teach learners in your own country. For example, in the U.K. alone, it is said that one in nine children do not speak English as a native language, and plenty of language schools give non-native speakers the chance to learn or brush up on their English. These days, many teachers also choose to teach over Skype, giving them a much wider range of students.

So, why take a TEFL course?

So, you already speak English - why do you need to take a course to tell you how to teach it? Well, if somebody asked you to explain the present perfect continuous to them, what would you say? Why can you say "I'll pick them up" but not "I'll pick up them"? What would you do if your well-crafted explanation was met with a blank stare? A TEFL course gives you four weeks of support, suggestions, real teaching experience and feedback to help prepare you for the real teaching world. 

At TEFL Worldwide, I went from knowing almost nothing about grammar to feeling (almost) completely comfortable explaining conditionals, phrasal verbs and uncountable nouns. Perhaps you have no idea of what I'm talking about, but by the end of the course it should all make sense. I had teaching experience, but the guidance and feedback I received on the course made me really think about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. Many language schools in Prague require prospective teachers to take a grammar test, as well as giving a demo lesson, and without the confidence I had gained on the course, I would have been at a loss. 

There are some jobs that do not ask for a TEFL certification, but in Europe especially these are hard to find, and usually involve lower pay. It is more than a piece of paper - you are showing prospective employers that you have real teaching experience (TEFL Worldwide gives you 8+) and that you have been trained in teaching techniques. If you have no previous teaching experience, this is especially important, but I have known even teachers with 15+ years of experience to be turned down for jobs because they did not have a TEFL certificate. As well as this, you will be able to impress language school bosses at interviews with your knowledge and confidence. 

You only need to look at www.eslcafe.com, www.tefl.com or similar sites to see how many different countries you could explore with your TEFL certificate. I personally know people who are teaching, or have taught, in: Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Germany, Russia, Costa Rica, France, Spain, and of course the Czech Republic. When the economy back home makes it so hard to find work, giving yourself the change to travel, make money and gain great experience is something that more and more people are doing (and loving)!

Why TEFL Worldwide Prague?

When you look at TEFL courses, one thing you might notice are differing hours. TEFL Worldwide is a 120+ hour course, which many employers require. There are shorter courses out there, for example 20 hours, but these will not get you as far or give you the range of techniques or the amount of experience that a longer course will give you. TEFL Worldwide is now also accredited, giving it that extra edge on your C.V./resume. 

The trainers highly qualified and experienced trainers with years of experience teaching English abroadWhen researching TEFL/TESOL schools, make be sure that the trainers are really qualified, meaning they have a Higher Diploma, DELTA or Master's specifically in TEFL/TESOL. You can read more about our trainers - Kenny and Dan (awesome guys!) - here. 

The course provides you with 8 group lessons and 2 one-on-one lessons, all with genuine English learners of varying levels, giving you a real taste of what works and what doesn't in your classroom. You will be observed by your trainers (and me - as teaching practice assistant) for most of these lessons and given detailed, constructive feedback as you go. 

I personally had a great (if challenging) time on the course and found it pretty easy to find work afterwards - but I'd suggest having a look at our testimonials, as the range of experiences can give you a better idea of what to expect. TEFL Worldwide also provides great job assistance after the course (for as long as you need it!) - this does not mean that they will secure a job for you (as some schools claim to, but hardly ever deliver), but they certainly help you find out about job openings, brush up your C.V./resume and deal with visa issues. 

Oh, and did I mention you get to live in Prague?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

An Introduction

Hello there!

My name is Gwynnie, and if you take the TEFL Worldwide Prague course, you'll be sure to meet me - I'll be observing your lessons, helping you out with any teaching issues and giving you detailed feedback about your teaching. Here at TEFL Worldwide, we've decided to create this blog to give you a hand with teaching, as well as to help potential students with making the decision to come to Prague and teach English. Hopefully, the articles on here will help you decide whether this is the right path for you, and for those of you already in Prague, we'll try to include advice and ideas for things to do while you're here.

Firstly, I call tell you a little of my own story. After travelling in Japan and working as an Assistant Language Teacher (and giving a lot of private lessons) for 16 months, I decided that it was time to do something different. A search for English teaching jobs led me to TEFL Worldwide Prague's website, and after reading the testimonials and researching Prague a little, my boyfriend and I decided to just go for it and apply for the course. The next thing we knew, we were paying the deposit and booking our flights - it was very exciting, but scary, too! We left our cushy jobs in Japan and our nice flat, and moved to Prague with no guarantee of jobs or a place to live.

The course was very intense - a lot of grammar and lesson planning - even for people who had teaching experience. But the trainers were clearly very talented teachers who knew what they were doing, and the challenging nature of the course meant that we felt like much more confident teachers after just a few weeks. The training prepared us well for any job interviews in Prague, and within a week I had a few offers. Through some amazing twist of fate (I say modestly), I also managed to land myself this job at TEFL Worldwide. Now, I spend my mornings teaching English to individuals and business classes across Prague, and my afternoons helping TEFL students improve their own English teaching skills.

The course has improved since I took it, too - it's accredited now, which further increases the impressiveness of the certificate on your resume/CV. A lot of my friends from my own class have gone on to a variety of wonderful places to teach - Taiwan, China, Germany, Russia, Bulgaria and, of course, a bunch of us are still in Prague. There are TEFL graduates in over 60 countries, and once you're on the course (and anytime after you graduate), the office girls can put you in touch with graduates in any country that you'd like to work in to let you know what's what.

So, stay tuned, and remember that you can email us if you have any questions!