Teaching English in the U.S. and Abroad

Being an ESL teacher in the U.S. is a rather different experience than going abroad to teach English as a second language.

This person has probably studied education and intends to teach long term, maybe making teaching or even TESL teaching into a career. TESL in the U.S. is not an escape route as it might be for those going abroad to teach, but it is also not just another teaching job. The dynamic is quite different, especially since your average students are adults, and their immediate income depends on their ability to learn and apply proper English as quickly as possible – which puts more pressure on their teacher. TESL in the U.S. may seem a bit more urgent and practical to you; however, your environment when teaching abroad is itself a source of overwhelming sensation and may make your students’ lessons a less pressing matter while you try to adjust. That’s essentially the main difference of TESL in the U.S.: you are not contending with the fascination and/or intimidation of a new culture while you teach, you can focus solely on your students and their individual goals. This is not to say that those in TESL abroad are forever distracted and make for poor teachers. In fact, it also can happen that an ESL teacher in the U.S. may take their students for granted, whereas lesson planning abroad may be more involved and draw out creativities and skills in the teacher that she never knew she had.

Teaching styles around the world vary greatly, from the more interactive American/Western European approach to monotonous lecturing, drilling, and reciting still commonly found in schools in the Middle East and Asia. If you are teaching abroad in the latter regions, or if you are teaching students in the U.S. from the latter regions, you can probably expect they will be passive learners in the classroom, waiting for you to do everything as they simply stare at you or take notes. You will need to be proactive and get the students involved, make your classroom an entertaining and engaging place to be for those 45 or 60 minutes that you have your students. Breaking down your students into small groups or even pairs can be extremely beneficial to their ability to absorb what you are trying to teach them. If your class remains in a large group in every lesson, it will be hard to know who is actually learning something and who needs more help.

Regardless of where in the world you end up working, teaching in the ESL field is vastly different than teaching in any other field. You cannot assume anything about your students’ background and culture. You must be patient and learn from them as they learn from you. You will eventually develop a teaching style, based on what seems to work for you and your students, which is why flexibility is key as an ESL teacher.

Just because your students might know a little bit of English and can usually understand you, you still should make a concentrated effort to speak more slowly and distinctly than you normally do. They will literally be hanging on your every word, and each word that comes out of your mouth might have an impact on the way they view and use the English language.

The main difference in TESL abroad is dealing with the culture shock and lifestyle changes you encounter on a daily basis. Practically speaking, you, as an American will have a hard time getting a job in the U.K. as an ESL teacher, as your students are immigrants who are trying to find work in the U.K. and need to hear and practice British English. As most ESL teaching is technically done in English-speaking countries, your adjustment period should (theoretically) be smoother than in a non-English speaking country where you don’t know the native language.


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