Teaching English As A Second Language

If you want to travel and get a job abroad, teaching English is one of the easiest ways to do so. And, usually you don’t have to have any experience in teaching, as long as your a native speaker.

The program I am doing right now, TAPIF, requires you to have a intermediate (B1) level in French. But not all of the teaching positions call for any knowledge in the native tongue. If you want to learn the language while you’re there (example: Chinese), you can take classes.

I’m technically only a teaching assistant but I have my own classes, so I’m by myself in a classroom with a group of 10 to 15 French high school students and expected to teach them as much as I can about English. One of the nice things is that I don’t have to go over grammar and I don’t have to grade. I can if I want, but my goal is to make them write, listen, and, most importantly, speak English. I want them to enjoy speaking English; I don’t want it to be a chore. One of the reasons French has taken me so long is because I dragged my heels with teachers who didn’t show their passion or spark interest in the language. I hope to be different. I’m already different; I’m like some strange, mythological creature from the West. And I’m Texan. I get stared at a lot, but I’m used to it now.

Most of the kids I have been teaching are interested in English, in my culture, and in me, so usually it’s pretty easy. But sometimes it’s not. Most of the time, no one understands me when I speak, whether it be because of my accent or their lack of English. Recently, I’ve had some of my students laugh at my accent when I tried to speak French. They ignored me and went back to their conversations.

But, it’s also impressive that they learn languages at such a young age. I get asked a lot if I speak any Spanish. I probably should, and I wish I did. But these kids are intelligent and sometimes I can forget that, to them, I’m speaking a foreign language. I was curious one class and asked what other languages they can speak. They can speak French and English (of course), Italian, Spanish, Korean, and even some Arabic.

Languages are awesome. I’ve come to the realization that I’ll probably never be fluent in all the languages I would ever want to speak, but just being introduced to as many as I can is enough for me. I know one day I’ll be bilingual. I hope to maybe get where I am now in French in Spanish – able to depend on myself, even though I may not understand everything. Maybe some conversational German and Italian. Even some Japanese, why not?

I work 6 hours on Mondays, 4 on Tuesdays, and 2 hours on Thursdays.

It’s only 12 hours a week.

Sure, I work more than that, staying late to maybe meet with some students, organizing lessons, going to meetings, hanging out in the staff room in my breaks. 12 hours a week is the French part-time. I took more hours in university than I work now, but I’m not complaining. My paycheck is fixed, so no matter how many hours I work, or don’t work, I get paid the same every month. So, I do have a lot of free time but I have a hobby or two to keep me busy.

Free time = traveling. I haven’t been able to travel much on the weekends yet, at least not out of the country. Mondays are my busiest day; I work from 8 am to 4 pm, on and off. Sometimes I’ll take the train an hour or two south. Last week I went to Toulon for the day. The week before that I went to Marseille. Soon, I’ll have to venture to either Nice or Paris; they’re easy weekend trips.

I like teaching high school because I have more discussion topics at my disposal. I can talk about politics, sports, music, literature . . . it’s pretty much endless. I do like to throw in some games. Though, I may not be allowed to play Pictionary anymore; the last class got a bit too excited.

Personally, I did not have any experience teaching before accepting this position. It’s been a lot of trial-and-error. Sometimes topics and discussions work better for certain classes than they do for others. It’s a lot of public speaking and pretty much every day I give a presentation of some sort. The internet has been my saving grace; there are so many things out there, free to download and use, for ESL teachers. 

I noticed in the first few weeks, as the only native English speaker in the entire school, whatever I say is considered final. Students, and teachers twice my age, will come to me asking for grammatical and vocabulary advice. Learning a different language makes you look at grammar differently; the rules and structure I always took for granted are now questioned. It’s hard to explain why something is or isn’t correct when you’ve never had to explain it before. But the ultimate power I have it daunting yet amusing. As an American, I’m also expected to know every fact about my country: population (in exact numbers), what each of the 50 states are like, every important (and unimportant) date and every author, what kind of food do they eat in the north (when I’m from the south) . . . it’s endless. I used to say, “sorry, I don’t really know, don’t take my word on it,” but I would get blank stares. No one expects that. Just always end your answer in “I think,” and you’re good.

Sorry, I’m not an encyclopedia.

It’s been strange working in a high school. It’s like I went backwards after college. There are annoying bells after every class, specific lunch breaks, and cliques. Couples cling to each other in the cramped halls, attached at the mouth. The seemingly bad boys group outside in between classes and share smokes, blasting French rap.

My favorite part is, when I am alone with students, the words that they use with each other are a bit looser than what they would ever say in front of the professor. None of it is directed at me, but I love the look on their faces when I respond.

Of course I brushed up on my French curse words.  I know what you’re saying.    

3 thoughts on “Teaching English As A Second Language

  1. It has to be said, it does amuse me how “native speaker” seems to be a synonym for “qualified”! I was an assistant in a lycée in Alsace two years back and I’m currently teaching English in a university and it always surprises me how senior colleagues will see you as the authority on the subject. I’ve barely studied English grammar so teaching it to students requires a heck of a lot of Googling before classes so that I’m able to answer their questions (like, “Miss, what’s the difference between ‘for’ and ‘during’?”) and seem somewhat knowledgeable!


  2. Yes, it is very amusing that you only have to be a native speaker to be qualified to teach English. English is difficult, especially the grammar, so yeah, I Google a lot! It’s very cool that you taught in Alsace! I haven’t been there yet, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. English grammar is a nightmare as there are so many exceptions to the rule! I tell my colleagues they probably know it better than I do! Alsace is gorgeous, especially atmospheric at Christmastime 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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