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  Home > TEFL Primer

An Introduction to TEFL

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What exactly is TEFL? You probably already know that TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. If you are a native speaker of English, you are probably aware of English programmes aimed at immigrants in your own country. You might be forgiven for thinking these are TEFL courses. In fact, they are not. They are TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) programmes. What is the difference? After all, they both involve teaching English to non-native speakers, don't they? Well, yes that is true, but TESL is carried out in a country where English is the first language whereas TEFL is not. What difference does that make? Quite a lot, actually. If you stop to think for a moment, you will realise that ESL teachers are likely to have three big advantages over EFL teachers. What do you think they are?

ESL teachers have the following advantages over EFL teachers: First, since they are living in an English-speaking country, ESL teachers have unlimited access to a huge quantity of materials and resources, such as newspapers, magazines, literature of all types, TV and radio broadcasts etc.

Secondly, their students have many opportunities to practise English with native speakers outside the classroom, and are constantly surrounded by the English language.

Lastly, ESL students are very likely to have stronger motivation to learn than EFL students. This is because ESL students need English in order to function successfully in the country in which they are living. In other words, they need it to survive day to day life.

What is taught? Though it may be true, it is just too simple to say 'English' in answer to this question. We cannot, of course, hope to teach the entire language. It is just too big - not even people normally considered to be native speakers know all of their own language. We must content ourselves with teaching a useful sub-set of the language. This includes both vocabulary and grammar. On the vocabulary side, we teach phrasal, idiomatic and functional language alongside word combinations, or as we prefer to call them, collocations, such as 'apologising profusely' or 'heavy rain.' On the grammar side, among other things, we teach the parts of speech (nouns, verbs, prepositions, clauses etc) and the English tense system (the present perfect, past continuous etc). We also teach pronunciation, punctuation and the four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking). Teaching these skills to adults who can already use them well in their own language may seem strange but it is necessary.

In addition to the above, it is important to understand that TEFL breaks the language down for teaching purposes into areas so as to better meet the needs of the students. For most people that means a course of General English but for others it may mean English for Specific Purposes (ESP) which includes English for Vocational Purposes (Business English, English for secretaries, etc), English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Science and Technology (EST).

Finally, EFL teachers are also regularly called upon to teach their students examination skills and techniques. This is usually for International Exams such as the Cambridge University First Certificate in English (FCE) or the American TOEFL.

What sort of people become EFL teachers? It is first necessary to say that there is no 'typical' EFL teacher. EFL teachers come from all walks of life and bring with them invaluable knowledge and experience gained in many different fields. They do, however, share some characteristics. They are individualistic, independent and are able to live and work in an alien environment. The last is important and needs to be stressed. EFL teaching is NOT for those who are not flexible enough to adapt themselves to a radically different culture the language of which they are unable to speak. As far as age is concerned, people can and do start working in EFL at any age, that said, the majority of new EFL teachers are aged between 22 and 26 and stay in the field for one to three academic years.

Why do people want to become EFL teachers? The reasons are many and varied: to enhance their career prospects, to experience a different culture, to improve their knowledge of the language of the country in which they intend to work, to be near friends, because they are not yet ready to start a career at home, etc. One thing is for sure, it certainly isn't for money as most EFL schools pay only a modest local salary.

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