Tips for teaching English abroad without speaking the local language

When people hear I spent a summer teaching English in Thailand, they often assume I speak fluent Thai. The truth is, you don’t need to be fluent in the local language to teach English abroad. I’m not saying that it doesn’t help, however, it isn’t necessarily required, as the goal is creating an environment of English-language immersion.

Teaching English is a great experience for all parties involved, and if it’s something you’re interested in doing you shouldn’t let fear of not speaking the local language fluently hold you back. Not only will you get the chance to have an eye-opening experience and get a unique perspective of the culture, you’ll also be helping educate children and getting the chance to share your unique background with them.

To help you get the most of your experience teaching English abroad, here are some tips.

Figure out if you want to get paid or volunteer

When I taught English in Thailand, I volunteered with an affordable organization called International Volunteer Headquarters. Basically I paid a small fee which included having 24/7 support, accommodations, meals, school supplies, and cultural activities like elephant trekking and a weekend homestay experience. A portion of the money also went toward benefiting the local community. You can also search through the SE7EN database for free and low-cost opportunities. The truth is, there are a lot of expensive volunteer programs out there for this kind of project, and while many of them are reputable, there’s really no need to spend a fortune to volunteer, especially if you want a truly local experience.

If you’re looking to teach English long-term and want to get paid for your work, I would recommend signing up for a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA course, as many schools require that you have a certification. While it’s not impossible to get a job without one, you’ll have less choices in the positions you can apply for. Some excellent resources for these kinds of jobs include Dave’s ESL Cafe, ESL JOBS, and Teaching Opportunities Abroad.Educate yourself before you go

Whether you’re teaching English or just traveling, doing a bit of research on the culture before you go is always important. Knowing the etiquette and customs of a community will help you avoid making embarrassing mistakes or possibly offending somebody. Even little things that you may do on a daily basis at home may not be acceptable in other countries. For example, in Thailand sitting with your legs extended out in the direction of another person, touching someone’s head, handing something to someone with your left hand, and raising your voice are all considered offensive. These are things you’ll definitely want to know before arriving to the school you’ll be teaching at.

Understand cultural differences

While certain teaching tactics may work at a school in your hometown, they may not work where you’re teaching English abroad. Certain methods not only may not work, but can also be detrimental to the child’s learning. For example, in my New York high school it wasn’t really a big deal to have a teacher crack a joke about their students or poke fun at them, and while getting yelled at by an instructor was never fun, it wasn’t something that would scar you for life. However, this is not the case all over the world. For example, in Thailand and many Asian countries where “saving face” is of utmost importance, being called on by a teacher and not knowing the answer to the question can be crippling, especially if the teacher yells or loses their patience. What I would often do was have the children work in small groups and then go around to speak with them individually.

Learn some basic phrases

While you don’t need to be fluent in the local language, it doesn’t hurt to know some basic phrases and be able to make small talk. This is true whether you are teaching English or just traveling. While you’ll want to immerse the students in an environment of only English speaking, it’s inevitable that there will be side conversations in the local language, and sometimes giving them short commands in their language and then translating to English can be helpful.

Be prepared

This is one of the most important rules of all. Always make sure to plan out your lessons the night before, knowing what you want to teach as well as how you will teach it. Practice and time out the lessons so that you can feel confident when teaching and will have enough material to take up the entire class period. It can also be helpful to see what other classes before you have done if that information is available.

Visual aids are helpful

Remember that words aren’t the only resource you have to get your point across. Obviously, if a student doesn’t know what a “slide” or a “pineapple” is in English, showing them a picture and saying the word is a helpful tool. I also found charades and acting words out to be useful and fun, although be mindful that cows don’t say “moo” and cats don’t say “meow” all over the world.

Tailor lessons to the age group

Think about what kind of information will be helpful to the group, and the best ways to impart your knowledge. While coloring in letters and pictures and doing crafts may be a worthwhile lesson activity for young children, this will not help children at the higher levels trying to learn networking and job skills. Moreover, remember that the older the students are, the more grammar, sentence construction, and conversational lessons you will need to be utilizing, as teaching English is not just about vocabulary.

Use online resources

If you’re stuck on how to make a lesson plan effective and fun, utilize the myriad online resources there are for ESL teachers. Some of my personal favorites include California State University, Northridge, Total ESL, and Reach to Teach.

Be confident in your abilities

You were selected for this position because you’re a native English speaker. Be confident in your abilities and know that you have the knowledge and resources necessary to do the job; the trick is simply finding effective ways to disseminate it.

Bank of China offers expanded yuan service

The Bank of China has begun offering its customers in New York City and Los Angeles services in yuan, Bloomberg reports. Services include deposit, exchange, remittance, and trade finance. Business customers may access these services in New York City and Los Angeles, while at the moment individual customers can only access these services at the New York City branch.

What does this mean for travelers? Not much, yet. If you’re one of the many English teachers in China you can send money home more easily, but that’s about it.

It’s the long-term view that’s interesting. China is obviously trying to expand the range of the yuan (also called the renminbi) beyond its borders. In fact, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said as much last year when he expressed worry over how much China’s international assets are dominated by the dollar. This move allows international trading in yuan, which is sure to attract more investment and, if it’s successful, bolster the currency’s strength. It’s already at an all-time high against the dollar. The New York branch’s general manager says the move will eventually lead to the yuan being fully exchangeable with the dollar.

This will encourage further investment in China and could lead to more foreign businesses opening up shop there. It would also make it easier for international travel businesses to have offices in China. A yuan that’s strong against the dollar, however, will make trips to China more expensive for Americans.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Chinese economy. More and more Chinese are traveling abroad, and with greater access and use of their currency, those numbers will only increase. The World Trade Organization says if current trends continue, China will have the largest share of the world’s tourism industry by 2020, with 8.6 percent of global revenue.

Could yuan become another international currency like the dollar and the euro? Could we see money changers accepting them in more destinations? Only time will tell.

[Photo courtesy user Polylepsis via Wikimedia Commons]

Best ESL video ever: Japanese diarrhea aerobics

Teaching English as a Second Language can be a great way to see the world. You actually get paid to be immersed in a foreign culture and spend all your time speaking with the locals!

Here in Madrid most of the Anglos I know are English teachers, but they all complain that it can sometimes be hard to engage students. That may be because they’re teaching in a traditional classroom environment, like this room full of bored Chinese students submitted by user Strudelmonkey to Gadling’s flickr pool. What not try something different to liven up the lesson?

Back in the Nineties, Fuji TV in Japan decided to break the mold, and came up with Zuiikin’ English, a combination of catchy tunes, scantily clad female exercise goddesses, and important phrases such as “I was robbed by two men” and “It’s your fault that this happened.”

By far the best is the one below, which shows you how to tell someone you’ve eaten some bad sushi and are now paying the price. Note the biologically appropriate pelvic movement.

The Internet being what it is, many of these aerobic sequences have made it onto YouTube, including ones on how to avoid sexual harassment and important phrases for surviving a mugging. It’s all very educational, but don’t expect to scare off your attackers by singing “spare me my life” while hopping up and down and smiling.

If you can read Japanese, check out Zuiikin’ English’s official website and start getting into shape!

The East Highland Way day three: exploring Scotland’s lochs

The best part of long-distance hikes is seeing the world get bigger.

We spend so much time in cars, planes, and trains that the miles go by in the blink of an eye. Subtle changes in topography and flora aren’t noticed, and little corners of beauty are passed by undiscovered. Walk, and you see the world as it really is.

It’s my third day on the East Highland Way and I’m deep in the Scottish countryside now. The town of Ft. William is far behind (although still only an hour’s drive) and the rare villages now have barely more than a dozen houses. For hours I don’t see a soul.

Heading out from Tulloch I enter a forest. This, like so many woods in Scotland, is managed for logging. Rows of slim fir trees alternate with cut areas where tiny saplings have been planted to make the next crop. It’s a slow process, and not once does the roar of a chainsaw or the crash of a falling tree disturb my peace. After a few miles I come to Loch Laggan, the first sizable loch I’ve come across at seven miles long. The glassy water, unrippled by a single boat, reflects the hills beyond. All is quiet. I sit down to have lunch and enjoy the view.

There the peace ends, courtesy of an army of midges. These little insects are as annoying as they are persistent. They’re like miniature mosquitoes with more intelligence. First one flies around my head. While I swat it away, another sucks blood from my neck. The signal goes out, and within a minute there’s a hundred all around me. I wipe off my arms, neck, and face and my hands become smeared with mashed midges. Time to move. The strange thing about midges is that if you’re moving they have a hard time keeping up, but woe betide the hiker who gets caught while sitting peacefully by a loch. I finish my lunch on the go.

%Gallery-100127%Continuing along the southern shore of Loch Laggan I spot the spires of a Disney-style castle poking above the greenery. I’ve come to Ardverikie House, a stately home built in 1870 that recently gained fame as the setting for the BBC series Monarch of the Glen. I don’t own a TV, so I’d never even heard of this hugely popular show until I came to this part of the country. Now I sometimes feel like I hear of nothing else. The estate has become a pilgrimage site for fans, and locals tell me that people even peer through the windows and knock on the door. I can understand why there are Private Property signs everywhere.

Sadly, this means I can’t see the wonder of Loch Laggan, the ruins of a castle on a tiny island. The wooded, rough shores block the view from everywhere except the estate. Luckily there will be no shortage of castles on this hike.

I have another problem. The lone accommodation in this area, a B&B in the village of Feagour, has recently shut down. It’s 17 miles from Tulloch to Feagour, and the next place to stay is in Laggan, another five miles. I can walk 22 miles, but somewhere between 17 and 22 miles it stops being fun. So I’ve arranged for the folks at The Rumblie B&B in Laggan to pick me up at Feagour. Lazy? Sort of, but I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.

They’re meeting me at a waterfall on the River Pattack near Feagour. I arrive early (having, ahem, walked 17 miles in an hour less than I thought I would) so I have plenty of time to admire the falls. The fast-flowing river has cut a narrow gorge through the rock. The water, brown from the peat upstream, rushes down it. I scramble up the rocks to get a better view and to my surprise discover a wooden platform and railing, plus a path down to a parking lot on the other side. This rugged view of nature has been made safe for those who want to appreciate nature without actually being in it. Nothing can spoil the beauty of the falls, however.

Right on time a car pulls up and I’m whisked off to Laggan, a booming metropolis with two shops, a school, a public telephone, and some houses. I arrive at The Rumblie to a hero’s welcome. A Spanish couple is staying there who don’t speak any English. Their poor 14 year-old daughter has been doing all the translation on their vacation, using her high school English to book hotels and rent cars from people with heavy Scottish accents. The owner of the B&B knows I live in Spain and told the family that help is on the way. As soon as I get there the kid heaves a sigh of relief, all English stops, and I become translator for the evening to give her a well-deserved break. You never know when a foreign language will come in handy!

Next to The Rumblie is the Laggan community center, and I hear there’s a céilidth on tonight. A céilidth (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) is a traditional gathering to perform folk dances and sing songs. I’m exhausted from a long hike and two beers, but I can’t pass this up. I find the céilidth in full swing. Locals of all ages are gathered around tables in a long hall with a stage at one end. Old photos and children’s drawings about farm safety adorn the walls. A slim young woman is dancing to the accompaniment of a fiddle. I grab a beer and sit down. Everyone seems to know everyone else and the common greeting is, “What are you performing tonight?”. Not “are you performing” but “what are you performing”. Singers perform a series of Gaelic songs before a man with an accordion gets everyone out on the dance floor. I know nothing about the history of dance, but I think I’ve discovered where square dancing comes from. Scottish dances involves the whole crowd dancing together, making lines and circles and moving with each other in complicated patterns.

Then comes the next surprise. A crowd of Spanish and German teenagers come in, volunteers from a local farm where they do manual labor in exchange for learning English. Ironically the Spanish press reported a couple of weeks ago that farmers in Spain can’t find Spaniards to help out in the fields, despite a good wage and an unemployment rate of 20 percent. Instead the farmers have to hire Africans on temporary work visas. Good deal for the Africans, because they need and deserve the money more, but it’s weird to see these Spanish kids working for free in the Highlands when they could be making 1,000 euros ($1,271) a month back home.

Hey, if they stayed home they wouldn’t be seeing this! Every one of them seems to have acquired a local boyfriend or girlfriend and soon they’re doing the dances like they were born here.

It’s getting late and my eyes are getting heavy. As an old woman mounts the stage I stumble to my bed next door. I fall asleep to the lilting sound of her clear, strong voice singing in Gaelic.

Don’t forget to read the rest of my series on the East Highland Way.

Coming up next: Prehistoric forts and empty wilderness!

Travel Read: Surviving Paradise

If you have any friends who’ve taught English in a foreign country, you’ve heard some sob stories–the trouble of simultaneously dealing with culture shock and a new job, the students who just don’t get it, the adverse conditions at school. . .the list is as long as there are ESL teachers.

Peter Rudiak-Gould
has them all beat.

Right after turning 21, Peter went to spend a year on Ujae, one of the more remote atolls in the remote Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands. This tiny island has a population of 450 people and he could walk around it in less than an hour. He arrived speaking virtually no Marshallese and quickly discovered his students were equally lacking in English.

So how does one teach a class of students when there is no shared language and the culture has no tradition of classroom learning?

Badly, at first. But Peter rallies quickly, and as he adapts to the culture he’s immersed in, we’re right along with him. His ability to learn the island’s subtle and alien language shows a deep intelligence and no small amount of desperation, and he shares some fun linguistic tidbits. For example, the eleven words for coconut, ranging from kwalinni (just beginning to grow on the tree) to uronni (ready to husk and drink) all the way to jokiae (turned into a sapling). There are also 159 coconut-related terms, like emmotmot, the sucking noise you make when you drink green coconuts.

There are the usual traveler-out-of-his-depth stories, some of them hilarious, and all of them teaching something about the culture rather than simply whining about discomfort and lack of modern amenities. Peter’s greatest shock was to find out he wasn’t going to be living on a tropical island paradise. No grass huts, no luxurious food, just concrete shacks, noisy children, and nightly Nintendo marathons courtesy of the local generator.

Braving shark-infested waters and falling coconuts, our hero forges ahead with his teaching. He comes to understand and respect these very different people while not being blind to their flaws, and fear for what would happen to them if sea levels rose just a few inches and ate away their island. Surviving Paradise is more than your typical traveler’s tale–it’s a look at a culture that might literally vanish beneath the waves, and also a look at Peter growing up. Perfect for the traveler or English teacher in your life.