English Teaching in Asia
English in Asian Schools
The standard of English teaching at primary and secondary school level in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Lao is generally still low. Teachers in government schools are low-paid civil servants, teaching with very limited resources, whatever the subject. They have only rudimentary training and knowledge themselves, especially in English. Text books are often written in the local language, then translated into 'English' – unchecked by a native speaker and containing many spelling and grammatical errors. These are then passed down to the students.
Local teachers also have a lack of English conversational abilities because many have no actual experience themselves of conversing with native English speakers. Therefore class emphasis is mainly on reading, writing and grammar, rather than speaking and pronunciation. Grammar and vocabulary skills may be quite well developed, but students cannot (or are too shy to) converse in English, or ‘role play’, amongst themselves.
Many Asian school students reach adulthood without ever meeting or trying to speak to a native English speaker. When they do, conversation is all but impossible. They only know what they learned from their books and cannot actually ‘think’ in order to ask or understand a question or answer one. The limit is usually reached beyond this: “So what is your name?” “My name is …”. “And where do you come from?” “I come from [country]”. “How old are you?” This may or may not elicit the expected response; it can even draw a blank or even desperate look for help from a friend, or reversion to the local language. After that the 'going gets tougher', as they say! In 2010, unbelievable you may think, but sadly it's true in many developing SE Asian nations where English is still a very foreign language.
Commercial Teaching and Training Facilities
In recent years, local businessmen have seen English training as an opportunity for making good money and English schools have sprung up in major centres. Parents who can afford it are willing to pay high prices to give their children better opportunities for future employment. Many schoolchildren attend classes after school has finished. Not all teachers employed in these schools are ‘native English speakers’; some will be from other Asian countries where English is a second or third language, such as Malaysia, Philippines or Singapore; also from Europe. Although some do not have teaching qualifications or classroom experience, they are an improvement on the locally-trained teacher. The commercial colleges use training methods and training materials from British, American or Australian sources. Manuals and work books are often technically illegal photocopies of copyrighted work. But no one seems to care about that.
Teaching Position Availability
There are often vacancies for part or full time 'travelling teachers' in many countries and schools. Age is not a barrier – many teachers are in their fifties or more! Teaching in many of these facilities is not that difficult. Firstly, courses of lessons are provided by the schools, as previously mentioned. The students, although not always attentive (they get bored easily), are usually polite and well-behaved (compared to their Western counterparts) and have grown up with respect for age and authority, if little else in the way of general knowledge.
Suitability for Teaching
Not everyone is suited to teaching English in Asia. Firstly you need patience. The pace is slow. Classes may contain students with widely varying backgrounds, ages and basic education. One of the more frustrating aspects is communication. Although it is not encouraged in the classroom, if you speak some of the local language, it can help in conveying ideas, translations and explanations when students' current level of English is very low. Dictionaries, including translators and talking dictionaries are useful for both teacher and students, but not sufficient for 'ideological' explanations. Many words and ideas we use in English simply do not translate. Asian ideology, logic and thought processes are different. See our page on Cultural Differences between East and West.
Secondly, to teach young children or teenagers, you need to be comfortable in their company – and not everyone is. If you are beyond enjoying the exuberance of today's youth, they won't enjoy being taught by you, no matter how expert you are with the English language. Most of them are attending classes because their parents want them to. Many take evening classes after spending most of the day at school, and are tired already. Keeping their attention is difficult without diversions to make learning English 'fun'. If this might be a problem for you then you should try to find work in a business environment where your own life and business experience will be appreciated by older, more serious trainees.
As a potential teacher, your chances of finding employment are greatly improved if you already have or get an English teaching qualification (available in the USA even as a 'crash' Weekend TEFL Course) from an accredited facility. The pay is usually better too. There are different ways to qualify for certificates or diplomas in English teaching.
You can even take a Online TEFL Course Free Trial. Several acronyms like TEFL, TESL and CELTA are in common use, but they all mean much the same thing: teaching English to foreign students. See more on the next page. You can also buy a cheap book from Amazon which will give you information about becoming an English teacher. See some titles on the right of this page.
Is it possible to get a job without a TEFL Certificate?
Maybe. In Thailand, Laos and some other SE Asian countries, English training schools are usually commercial businesses aiming to make money by selling pre-paid English courses. Some are better than others, but considerations such as the quality of English teaching and teachers or instructors are secondary.
Teaching English in many of this type of school is not very lucrative. Because there is a shortage of certified or experienced teachers looking for full time work, some schools employ virtually anyone with a light skin and preferably Caucasian features (this is what students and their parents expect to see). They need only basic English skills and the ability to follow photocopied teaching courses provided by the school. Pay may be as low as $10 per hour. No contract will be offered, and no work permit or visa assistance offered. Understandably there is a high turnover of teachers in these places, as teachers can be hired and fired easily, and many just leave. Some schools hold back pay into the next month to discourage this. Schools have closed without warning, the owners disappearing, leaving teachers unpaid and students and parents out-of-pocket. This is less likely to happen with the better operations, but they have more strict criteria for hiring teachers. Also, Thai schools can incur heavy fines if they employ unqualified teachers now.
Better schools insist that their teachers are certified. This is neither difficult nor expensive to achieve, and will ensure a greater choice of jobs and more money too. The modest investment is worth it.
Go to the next page to learn about different options and recommendations for getting TEFL certified in as little as a weekend in one of several US cities.
You can also attend TEFL courses in the UK, Europe and even Asian countries like Thailand and China.
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Updated July 25
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