As an Oxford Seminars instructor, one of the most common concerns I hear from teachers-in-training is that they might not know enough about English to become an effective teacher. Is such a fear justified? The short is answer is no. If you speak English comfortably, you can learn to teach it!
But what if I don’t know much about grammar?
You may not feel like you know much about grammar, but you know more than you realize. Much more! If you grew up speaking English as your first language, you already have 95% of the knowledge that you need; a TESOL training course will help you with the remaining 5%. Think back to a time you’ve had a conversation with a non-native English speaker. If their knowledge of the language wasn’t perfect, you probably noticed a mistake or two in their speech. Maybe they asked you a question incorrectly, like “Where did you bought that?” Of course, you know immediately that we should say “buy,” not “bought.” You may not know why that is, but no matter the circumstance, you know how to put the right words in the right order. That’s the hard part. It helps to know the terminology, but rest assured that employers probably don’t expect you to be an expert when it comes to explaining grammar.
But what if English isn’t my first language?
Congratulations! You have one significant advantage over native speakers: If you learned English in school, you probably know more of the terminology than your native speaking peers do. So long as you speak English fluently, you likely have far less to learn about how to describe the language than those who learned English at home. Most people who grew up speaking other languages finish their training reassured that they in fact do know plenty about English grammar.
But what if I’m not a great writer?
If you want to teach advanced classes at the University level, or help working professionals improve their written communication in English, strong writing skills are a plus. But fortunately, most native speakers are hired primarily to teach conversation—not composition. If you are comfortable helping your students write individual sentences, then there is a job out there with your name on it. Plenty of employers around the world value enthusiasm above all else. Especially if you’re planning to teach children, it’s more important that you can be an eager, encouraging conversation partner than if you know when to use “whom” instead of “who.” Schools aren’t necessarily looking for an essay contest winner; a passion for teaching might be of greater value than your ability to produce a well-polished paragraph.
So what do I still need to learn?
You just need to learn how and why we say what we do. Why do we say “more comfortable” and not “comfortabler?” And why do we pronounce the word “cats” with an “s” sound at the end, but “dogs” with a “z” sound. (We do, by the way—say it.) If you speak English fluently and are eager to learn the mystery behind English rules, then you have what it takes to teach ESL overseas. Give it a try!
Written by Jeremy White
Jeremy White has lived and worked in several states and countries, most extensively as a TESOL instructor in South Korea. He has a master’s degree in linguistics and has taught Oxford Seminars courses in both New York and Minneapolis.