Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Any TEFL teachers out there?

Since January, I've been teaching English in our home to French and Malagasy people. I've also been teaching English to a group of grade 10 students at the Lycée Français here in Tananarive.

This is the first time I've tried teaching since I obtained my Certificate for English Language Teaching to Adults from Cambridge University (CELTA) at International House in Rome, back in 2008 (I got pregnant after that and no one would hire me, and then I had the baby and we moved to Madagascar, so it took me a while to get back into teaching).

Some observations:

1. ) I try to use the communicative approach but students really resist this method. They want me to stand up in front of the class and just talk and explain to them. They don't want to try to speak the language themselves. I find it especially a challenge to use this approach when students share a common language (usually French, in my students' case) because as soon as you tell them to talk about something in pairs or to the class, they start off in their common language! Grrrr.  What's more, since they know that I speak French, they often will try to speak to me in French instead of trying to say it in English.  Grrr.

2.) The teenagers at the lycée have a decent to good speaking level.  In many cases, their English is better than their parents' English. Now, I am dealing with the more advanced students but nonetheless I am impressed when I think back to my level of French back in grade 10.  One of my students has read the Twilight series three times, in English. 

On the other hand, their written English is not so good. Their regular English teachers also use the communicative approach for teaching, so maybe the poor writing skills is evidence that this approach is good for learning to speak but not for learning to write.

3.) The present perfect tense is perhaps the hardest grammatical concept in English to learn.  Even my teenagers at the lycée don't seem to fully "get it" and I am becoming persuaded that unless you have grown up with English or have moved to an English-speaking country for good (see, I've just used it twice, no make that three times!), you will never fully "get it" as a non-native speaker (unless you're Spanish-speaking, 'cause apparently Spanish has the same thing).   

Actually, there is one thing harder than understanding the present perfect - undertanding when to use the present perfect tense (e.g. I've gone) and when to use the present perfect continuous (e.g., I've been going).  It might seem obvious to you as a native speaker but to a non-native speaker who hasn't been immersed in English and who is learning the concept as part of an English lesson, this is tedious and complicated stuff.

4. ) I'm not in the right market. I have been trained to teach adults. In fact, adults don't care too much about their level of English anymore. But they really really really care about their kids being able to speak English fluently. I've been asked again and again and again to start a class for kids but the thing is,

  • teaching children is not the same as teaching adults, and I haven't been trained to teach kids;
  • teaching children would mean that I would have to give lessons when those children, and therefore my children, are not in school, meaning when my own daughter was home and I had things to do with her; and
  • I honestly don't think that language lessons are that much use to a child under seven years of age. As small children have minds of sponges, they get much more from the immersion approach, not the lesson approach, and the immersion approach requires more than one or two hours per weeks with a "teacher" for the child to get anything out of it.  Proof: Dutch people my age speak pretty good English, yet they only started learning it formally when they were around eleven or twelve years of age.  Their advantage comes not from taking lessons when they were only five years old but rather from watching television shows and movies in their original language version (no dubbing!).
But I will be the first to admit that I could make much more money out of teaching English if I taught children!

Any other TEFL teachers out there?  I would love to hear what you think and how your experiences compare with mine.


Jennifer said...

Thanks for sharing this - it's very interesting.

Do you think this happens (people not wanting to speak to each other in English) because English is not spoken on the 'street' or at home?

Here in US I notice most ESL classes teach in lecture method. The students who are more advanced get restless in these classes, as one can only learn so much grammar. To top that, grammar doesn't get you far 'on the street' if you don't know how to talk English.

Maybe needs of ESL students differ based on learning English in an English speaking country vs. one that is not?

Jennifer said...

Sorry another thought... Here in US for ESL class another fault is that there are no American native English speakers in that class. It makes sense because we Americans already 'know' how to speak English (though I could use some grammar help, quite honestly!). I am thinking on this line because, what if you could do a small 'class' for the kids- and add your daughter in as a native speaker? It may be fun for her and she'd be 'an expert!'. But, I was thinking maybe not to structure it like a class, but somehow like a play group. Just a thought. But I completely understand that teaching kids- the timings and your own schedule would not mesh.

The Globetrotter Parent said...

Hi Jennifer,
You have pointed out the difference between English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL). Immigrants to a new country are in an ESL situation as they are in an environment where English is not a foreign langauge. People who remain in their own country and just want to learn another language are in an EFL situation - English is a foreign language.

With EFL, usually all the students in the class speak the dominant language of the country and it feels unnatural for them to speak a foreign language to one another. Hence, it is difficult to get them to talk to one another in English.

In ESL situations, the students often have different mother tongues and therefore have no choice but to speak English to one another because that's their only common language.

That's sad that ESL classes in the states do not involve students talking more. The communicative approach does not omit grammar, but we teach grammar in a communicative way that forces students to participate in the lesson.

With regard to my daughter, yes that is an idea. She has her own activities though and she really does like me to accompany her to those (plus I do like going with her :-) ).

Jennifer said...

Thanks for sharing those differences with me. I am new to this field :)

Of course, too I hope there are many varieties of programs here in US. These programs I talk about are in my upstate NY area and are mostly funded by donations/tax money so the teachers have less freedom I suppose (Random guess, really) to teach as per the true needs of the students vs having to fulfill the requirements of the grant used to pay for the program (so it's free to the students).

I agree, in communication (day-to-day speech) approach the students would naturally pick up grammar, this is kind of how kids learn, I suppose in the initial stages. The benefit of learning phrases and sentences is that this is the natural way of talking vs. random individual vocab words that need something to relate to - to make meaning!

Passage to Italy said...

Hello! Just wanted to give some input on EFL. I can't really speak for what happens in ESL, as I don't know anyone who works as an ESL teacher here in the US, but I can provide insight on EFL. My best friends' mother is an EFL teacher and they're actually moving away from focusing on grammar in the classroom. Instead the focus is now, which it should be, is learning vocabulary and using it in the classroom.

While I was learning Italian at university, we were not allowed to revert to English at all. Anything we needed to communicate was to be done in English. If not, it was reflected in our grade. Which makes sense. Why take a foreign language course if you're not going to use it in class. However, I feel that, and maybe you agree, that grammar lessons cannot be entirely erased from lessons. If there's no learning of grammar, how can a student formulate a sentence? Our classes consisted of conversation exercises, some grammar, building on vocab. Those sort of things. Once I had a basic knowledge of sentence structure and had a firm grasp on a lot of vocab words, I took conversation courses. There was reading involved, like learning about italy's government structure and constitution in the more advanced courses taken, but it was mostly discussing daily topics on the readings or whatever else the teacher decided to have us debate upon. We also had to conduct presentations, with only notecards to jog our memories if we forgot something in our presentation. But really, no notecards were allowed to be used.

Ideally it would be great to study abroad and immerse yourself in the language, but do to costs, it is understandable that not everyone has that opportunity.