jueves, 9 de octubre de 2008

Backpacking and professionalism

Ever since I started teaching –long ago–, and even before that, there has been a tendency to give preference to native “teachers” of English over local ones. And the word teachers goes between quotation marks on purpose in order to draw a clear distinction between those who have the qualifications to stand in front of a class and teach and those who simply have blonde hair, blue eyes and were born in an English speaking country (please, include in this group all those who have lived in the US, UK, Canada, etc and come back to Peru empty handed looking for a job teaching English as if their residence –legal or not– abroad were enough). It is true that those who are native speakers (or those who have lived abroad long) have an insuperable advantage –in the great majority of cases –over non-natives: they speak the language perfectly –we assume so, but I also remember many frustrating cases –and are much better equipped in that respect. However, giving jobs to these improvised people close-eyedly just diminishes our profession.
This happens for many reasons, among which I put our own failure to perform at their level, and even our own procrastination and laziness. We may need to ask ourselves what we are doing to improve our level of English. Have we read any book in English? Are we willing to go to language improvement classes? As long as we keep on letting other people think that we are not good enough for a post teaching English, the situation will not change.

jueves, 11 de septiembre de 2008

Has Communicative Language Teaching proved to be what we need?

This is a question that has been revolving in my head for a long long time. My personal view is that CLT has not solved the main problems: speed and efficiency in learning/ acquiring a second language. In fact, language courses everywhere have increased the time you have to invest to learn well. Just take a look at the programmes offered at the most prestigious institutes. I remember that when I studied at the ICPNA, the basic course was 12 months long, and we could speak English with minor mistakes. Three more months on the PGs and we were ready for their Teachers´ Courses, which lasted, again, 12 months. In other words, in 27 months, that is two years and three months, most of us were ready to pass the Michigan test. Is it the same these days? Take into account that we now have Internet, DVDs, PC labs with arrow-head software packages, cable television, textbooks with CD ROMs, companion websites, audio CDs, etc. We had nothing of the sort. Imagine that when we went to see a film on the 6th floor of the Lima branch, it was a special event, the teacher told us one week in advance so that we would do anything to be present at all costs. Of course, there are those that promise a fast –and miraculous– learning of the language with little effort: classes once or twice a week, music-what-you-call-it, conversation clubs, and the like, but still fail to deliver.

In short, CLT may not be what it seemed.

miércoles, 10 de septiembre de 2008

What to do if you´re new to the career (or want to re-vamp yourself)

Many tips can be given but the first, and probably the most useful, is this: be a pro. What does that involve? Many things. In our field, there are two important areas: knowledge of the subject, that is, the language; and knowledge of the procedures; that is, how to teach. With regards to language, you may want to ask yourself the following: Is my command of the language satisfactory? If I haven´t already, can I pass international exams at high levels? (e.g. Michigan Higher, CAE or CPE). In the many years I have taught at all type of institutions and levels, I have found that teachers tend to oversee and regret this important area. The result is that, in the majority of cases, the teachers´ command of the language they want to teach is really poor. If you want to teach English, then, learn it first. But learn it well, and then keep on learning more.

The knowledge of the procedures of teaching is much more than attending “workshops” organized with a commercial objective in mind or going to weekend conferences or taking certificate/ diploma level courses. Going through TEFL topics shallowly, in 90-minute talks or one-month-twice-a-week classes, is not the way to become a professional: more effort is needed. Happily, there are opportunities everywhere. Universities have now opened programmes for teachers who do not have a degree. The quality varies, but the market is full of these so we can choose. It depends on us.