Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) means teaching in a specific setting: where students of English don’t have much access to natural English conversation outside of the classroom.
For example, in Thailand English is a common subject in many schools and is used a lot in the tourism industry, but the vast majority of Thai people don’t have regular opportunities to use English in organic settings. On the other hand, when a recent immigrant in New York City leaves her English class she has plenty of opportunities to practice in daily life. In New York, English is not a foreign language, but it is very much a second language for many people.
The best teachers understand how social contexts can affect students’ learning. A good TEFL teacher remembers that students probably can’t access as many native speakers outside of class, and is a bit more patient as a result. He or she might want to create more life-like situations in a TEFL classroom, as well as plenty of opportunities for each student to practice speaking and listening.
These are just a few of the challenges specific to TEFL classrooms, not to mention the concerns that all school teachers face: lesson planning and classroom management to name just two.
Teaching English is not something “anyone can do” just because they speak English and are outgoing and fun. A dynamic attitude and strong control of the language are essential, to be sure, but teaching is an art as well as a very real job. And most importantly, it is a responsibility to a community with actual learning goals, a community that deserves a well-prepared teacher.
For those with teaching experience, TEFL certification provides insight into what will prove be a very different teaching environment. For those without much classroom experience, a TEFL course could be the critical missing piece in an aspiring teacher’s preparation.
James is an education abroad professional whose career was launched at 12,000 feet, outside the Indian Himalayan village of Phey, Ladakh. He manages the InterExchange Working Abroad department and lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.