Common Misconceptions and Myths about Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Its been a little while since my last blog entry. In this edition I am going to be looking at some common myths about teaching English. The goal of this entry is to help new TEFL teachers prepare for what it is really like to teach English as a Foreign Language.

Myth #1: I am a native English speaker, so teaching English will be easy!
I have to admit I thought this before I headed to Korea to teach English. Even though I had taught in high schools for a couple years before going to Korea, I was definitely not prepared to teach English. Just because you can speak, listen, read and write in English, does not mean that you will be able to teach these skills effectively. Firstly, native English speakers do not learn the language like second language learners. English comes naturally to us, without every having to study complex grammatical structures like adverbial clauses or reported speech. Teaching any facet of the English language takes in-depth study of the language and a special skill set. My first year teaching in Korea was tough as I didn't know how to teach English. As a result the kids I taught behaved badly and learned very little. After taking a TEFL course when I finished year 1 in Korea, my next couple years of teaching were much more fun and very meaningful.

Myth #2: TEFL teaching is just a holiday or getaway from real responsibility
No matter what you teach, to be successful, it requires a lot of work. Besides the everyday grind of standing in front of a class and teaching lessons, there is so much planning before you stand in front of the class, and as all good teachers know, a lot of reflection is needed to make yourself a better teacher. I'd say get ready for a couple hours of prep everyday for the first year of your TEFL career.

Myth #3: You need to speak the language of the country you are teaching in
I can personally tell you that this is not true. When I went to Korea, I couldn't speak a word of Korean. Sure there were times when it was difficult to communicate with Koreans, but with just a little Korean, mixed in with some English and miming, I was able to get by just fine. HOWEVER, learning some of the language of the country you are teaching in is a very very good idea. I encourage anyone before they go abroad to learn some basic words and phrases of the language spoken in that country (Thank you, Excuse me, Where is the...? How much is? Numbers, etc). And to try to learn the language while you are there. This will help you so much in your everyday life in that country.

Myth #4: Teaching English is only for young people (people in their 20's).
As  mentioned in an earlier entry, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Yes, the majority of TEFL teachers are probably between 25 - 35, but I have met so many people abroad that are much older than this. I have also met so many people at different stages of their lives. People who are just beginning their work lives, in the middle of their careers and retirees. There is no specific time if your life that you should teach English.

Myth #5: You have to teach children

Many people believe that in order to teach in a foreign country that you have to teach children. For some people who are not kid-people, this is enough to scare them away from teaching English. In reality there are many universities, adult academies and private businesses that are always looking for English teachers. If you really do not want to teach children, then stay patient in your job search and find a job teaching adults.

Myth #6: You have to go abroad to teach English
There are also many people who are really interested in teaching English, but are not ready to make the commitment to live in a foreign country for a year or more. Well the good news for these people is that you can probably teach English closed to where you currently live. If you live in a city in North American, England, Australia or any other English speaking country, then there are probably many ESL / ELL schools there. Also most universities in English speaking countries also offer English as a Foreign Language classes to international students as well. I have taught English abroad and in Canada, and I can tell you that they are both very rewarding experiences.

Alright people, those are some of the myths surrounding TEFL. There are probably so many more that I didn't mention as well. Let me know about some of the myths that you have encountered in the comment section of this blog.


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