TEFL just isn’t bloody worth it

16 October

Posted by cynic

If you’re still part of the real world and haven’t been suckered into the TEFL lifestyle, don’t bloody bother. If you have investigated even a little bit of what awaits you in the magical world of TEFL, you’ve probably come across plenty of simple, unavoidable truths: you will have difficulty sorting out which employers are honest and which aren’t, you may well have to work ridiculous split shifts or with a lack of resources, you probably won’t get paid on time and you are guaranteed to come face to face with some massive disorganization. Did I forget to mention the liars, cheats and criminals that you will ore than likely end up working for? Culture shock, communication difficulties and homesickness are what await you in almost any experience abroad. What’s more, if you make a mistake or otherwise cock things up in class, you’re not in the privacy of your own office, you’re out there in front of a group of people.

Given all this, you might wonder, ‘why anyone would do this job?’ Some say that the pay off in terms of wonderful life experience makes it worth the frustrations, challenges and the general everyday hassles. These people are idiots. Basically, no TEFL jobs are perfect. I may not enjoy a lengthy commute to teach, or hauling yourself off to nightmarish locations in the city to hold in-company classes. If you were working in your home country, you’d probably face similar or exactly the same challenges, but then again you could go down the pub with your mates on a Friday night rather than being forced to mix with the nut jobs who are drawn towards TEFL. OK, with TEFL you get to live abroad and interact with a variety of locals, a benefit that few other international jobs include. However, if you want my advice, stay at home, get a real job and go on holiday to the country instead. TEFL just isn’t worth it.



7 common misconceptions about language learning that aren’t misconceptions

10 February

Posted by cynic

There are a load of languages in the world, some of which are more important than others. Let’s get this clear before you start complaining, they’re not better or more advanced, they’re just more important. Why? Because they are spoken by more people, in more countries. That does not mean that Welsh is not important to the Welsh, and Mongolian is not important to the Mongolians. It is just that these languages are not so important to the rest of us because they haven’t been spoken by Empire builders or those dominating computer software development.

Looking at this another way, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by well in excess of one billion people these days. Chinese origin words account for 60% of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese vocabulary, I’m sure you’ll be fascinated to know. Knowing Chinese will help you learn these languages too. I’m telling you from experience before you start grizzling because it definitely helped me. Chinese culture has influenced the world for thousands of years with its art, philosophy, technology, medicine and the ability to package takeaway food. Chinese seems well worth learning.

Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese are essentially dialects of the same language. If you learn one, you can learn the others. I can already hear the sound of the angry torch carrying mob banging at my door as I write this but you all know it’s essentially true. Furthermore, if you learn Spanish, you open the door to the culture, music, history and possible business dealings with 800 million people in 60 countries, including the US and Canada. Therefore, Spanish is much better than certain other languages. It just is, OK.

Before getting carried away, let’s look at the present situation of language teaching. According to one Canadian survey which I haven’t just made up to support my argument, after 12 years of daily French classes, only one high school graduate out of 147 (0.68% for those who love percentages) achieved intermediate level proficiency. Seasoned pros among you won’t be surprised by another survey, this one of immigrants learning English in the US, which showed that classroom instructional hours had little impact on progress. If we can’t even teach our own official languages in North America, what hope is there for other languages like Chinese or Spanish, never mind Russian or Arabic? Well, basically we have to change the way we go about teaching languages. As there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening, it might be useful to understand why we’re bound to fail.

Language learning is difficult

It is only difficult to learn a language if you don’t want to, which is precisely why it really is difficult. Learning a language takes time, but is not difficult. You mostly need to listen and read. Believe me, it is that simple and that’s why most people fail. I have done it many times. Soon you feel the satisfaction of understanding another language. Before you know it you start speaking. It is the way languages are usually taught that makes language learning hard to like.

You need to have a gift for learning languages

No, you don’t. This is bullshit but it is a very good excuse for failure. Anyone who wants to learn can learn. In Scandinavia, everyone speaks more than one language. They can’t just all be gifted at languages and it can’t just be that there are more of those long winter nights with nothing better to do. In language learning it is attitude, not aptitude, which determines success. That’s why so many of us fail.

You have to live where the language is spoken

Again, total crap. Some immigrants never learn to speak more than halting English but you meet people in other countries who speak perfect English. This proves that you can do it if you really want, it’s just that most really don’t want to. With the Internet, language content is available to anyone with a computer, i.e. a lot of people, and you can even bloody download it to your iPod and listen. Where you live is not an obstacle, desire to learn is. That’s why you’re crap at learning languages and don’t you forget it.

Only children can learn to speak another language well

Rubbish. Brain research has demonstrated that our brains remain elastic well into old age. Consider this: Adults who lose their eyesight have to learn a new language, Braille. Adults have a wide vocabulary in their own language and are better language learners than children. I only learned a language effectively after the age of 30. Adults only need the child’s willingness to experiment and desire to communicate, without the fear of ridicule. Again, that’s exactly why adults can’t learn a language. Hell of an excuse, though.

To learn a language you need formal classroom instruction

Alright folks, this is the real crux of the problem. Classrooms may be economical to run and a great place to meet others. They have the credence of history and tradition behind them. Unfortunately, despite this being the place where we scrape out a modest living, a classroom is an inconceivably ineffective place to learn a language. The more students in the class, the more inefficient it is; remember this the next time the language school secretary opens the door midway through the class and dumps another half dozen people on you.

Not particularly well-kept secret of TEFL #14,793: Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned. Whatever you do, don’t tell the punters it’s them who have to put in the work or we’ll all be out of a job. Theoretical grammatical explanations are hard to understand, hard to remember, and even harder to use. Drills and exercises are annoying to most people. A majority of school kids graduate unable to communicate in languages that they study for 10 or more years. That, in a nutshell, is why we’re wasting our time trying to teach and learn languages in the classroom.

You need to speak in order to learn

Total pants. While speaking the language is frequently the goal of language learning, it really can wait. Once you have acquired the language, you’ll find the opportunity to speak. When you are learning the language it is more important to listen; trust me on this. Trying to just pick up a few handy phrases to say is likely to just get you into a mess. If you meet a native speaker, you will inexorably spend most of your time listening unless you already know the language. Most of us are forced into trying to speak using the twenty or so words we know as soon as we start learning a language. This is demotivating and bloody pointless, thus we give up fairly quickly. You don’t need to speak in order to learn, you need to learn in order to speak.

I would love to learn but I don’t have the time

Although this is basically the golden rule to achieving a consistent failure to learn, I saved this to last for added impact. Think about the time you spend commuting, doing things around the house or going for a walk. Why not use that time to listen to a language on your iPod? Once you get started, even 10 or 15 minutes a day will soon grow to 30 minutes a day, or one hour. If you believe you will achieve significant results, and if you enjoy doing it, you will find the time. The trouble is, you don’t really want to do this, do you? If, like me, you’d rather listen to the guardian football weekly podcast, you’re never in a million years going to utilise your time effectively enough to use it for learning a language.


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