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ESL Teaching Tip: Laugh a Little

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English as a second language (ESL) teachers of adults are in high demand in the United States and abroad, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than 14,000 new jobs will be added in the U.S. between 2008 and 2018. ESL teachers working in the U.S. are most likely to instruct adults in higher education settings, community-based programs and local education agencies where a large population of non-native speakers exists. Many ESL schools are non-profit organizations dedicated to helping immigrants improve their workplace skills and expedite immersion into the culture.

When working overseas with adults, those certified as teachers of English as a foreign language (TEFL) and ESL teachers often work in corporate or business settings where a significant number of employees need to learn business English. Colleges and universities also need certified TEFL and TESOL (teachers of English to speakers of other languages) educators.

TEFL, TESL and TESOL certifications: What's the difference?

TESL (teaching English as a second language) and TESOL certifications are almost identical in their purpose and student body. Both qualify the recipient for ESL teaching, where the focus is on day-to-day living in an English-speaking culture, rather than learning English for fun or academic purposes.

TEFL certificates are most valuable for ESL teaching abroad. For those without an English or education degree, TEFL or TESL certification is almost essential for teaching in a foreign country. Teachers of English as a foreign language are similar to their French, German and Spanish teaching counterparts in high schools and colleges in the U.S.: The goal is academic and cultural enrichment for the student.

What makes a good ESL teacher?

At least one characteristic is common to all top-notch teachers: Allowing ample time for students to receive, decode and respond to information. In the TEFL.net series "20 Teaching Tips," educator Liz Regan provides an overview of excellent strategies for engaging students and gauging learning.

The following four tips should be considered essential for ESL and EFL teachers:

  1. Checking understanding: Ask students "Is that clear?" after learning a new concept. If the answer is "No," then try to have another student explain it. If no one in class understands, then review the concept, using new examples, once or twice more.
  2. Model correct pronunciation: Ask students to repeat words after you say them. Write words on the board, using the phonetic alphabet, if possible.
  3. Let them talk it out: Allow students to speak English to one another in small groups or pairs. The teacher as talking head is so 20th century.
  4. Learn the art of ending an activity: Provide students plenty of time to engage in the task, but end it before they get bored. Notify them a minute or two in advance, so that they can complete their work.

5 one-liners to engage and teach ESL students

Any student of a foreign language knows that remembering unfamiliar words and sounds can be difficult without memory aids such as acronyms (Roy G. Biv, anyone?), funny sayings or jokes. Successful ESL teachers are armed with a range of strategies to help students learn vocabulary and remember English sounds and idioms.

These quick riddles, taken from the Internet TESL Journal, can help teach students about the alphabet, homophones and humor:

  1. What letter is a part of the head? - I (Eye)
  2. What letter of the alphabet is a drink? - T (Tea)
  3. What letter is a body of water? - C (Sea)
  4. What word has only 3 syllables, but 26 letters? - Alphabet
  5. In what way are the letter "A" and the word "noon" alike? - Both are in the middle of the day.

For ESL teachers, salary and career outlook depend on location, location, location

In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts ESL teaching for adults under the category of literacy and remedial education. Nationwide, ESL teachers had a mean annual salary of $50,390 in 2009, the BLS reports. California, Oregon and New Jersey pay ESL teachers the most, while Florida, Texas, New York and California generally have the greatest number of positions. The best financial packages come with full-time jobs and benefits, but many ESL teachers work part-time.

When teaching abroad, EFL and ESL teaching packages often include round-trip airfare, fully paid housing and health benefits. In some cases, the teacher is required to pay local taxes, but unless he or she is earning $90,000 or more, money earned overseas is not taxed by the IRS. The best paying positions for EFL and ESL teachers abroad tend to be in Korea, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and similar developed or oil-rich countries. There is no international law governing the enforcement of ESL teaching contracts, so working conditions can vary dramatically.

A number of online resources and forums for those teaching ELS abroad, such as Dave's ESL Cafe, can help teachers start gathering information on a particular school or company. Contacting former employees is another way to check out an employer before committing to a contract. Bottom line: Do all the homework before boarding the airplane to launch an overseas teaching career.

As English language skills become important for both those living abroad and immigrants to the U.S., ESL teachers should face good demand for their skills and can reap the benefits of knowing they are helping others gain fluency in one of the world's most spoken languages.