Student story: Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Britain is still Great at teaching people to speak English. Leading global providers of certificated training include Cambridge ESOL and Trinity House, which are both UK organisations, and there are thousands of schools all over the world teaching people to speak English based on their methods.

Graduates trained to teach people to speak English have used the qualification to help them work their way round the world.  Fewer people consider it as a longer term career, but we spoke to Camille Joseph – an English graduate from Queen Mary about her decision to switch to TEFL teaching after establishing a career in events and marketing.

Camille, let’s start with your current work. What do you do?

I now specialise as a freelance trainer of business English in London and my clients work for high profile international companies such as investment banks and media corporations.

You can do this role once you have experience as a traditional TEFL teacher. I get work through a number of different agencies and independently. I tend to work with individuals who have come to work in the UK. Often they have a good level of English already but need to learn more about English in a business context. This ranges from issues around the language of negotiation, learning idioms such as ‘burn my bridges’ and ‘in a tight corner’ and cross cultural awareness. Typically, for example, British emails would be sprinkled with lots of gentle phrasings such as ‘I hope you are well‘ ‘would it be possible’ and ‘I’m afraid I can’t…’.  These require more effort and understanding from trainees from different cultural backgrounds unfamiliar with British nuances and who may come across as too direct or even rude in a British context.  Part of my job is to help them become more aware of these slight differences and adopt such phrases to use in the appropriate way.

Incidentally, there’s a blog which highlights in a light-hearted way what British people say, what they mean and what others understand.

What did you do after you left Queen Mary?

I graduated in 1998 and was looking for a career in Public Relations and marketing. Curiously though one of the most useful things I did was to do some voluntary work for Age Concern, because this really gave me some credible administration skills. Consequently, when I wrote speculatively to the Newspaper Society. I was able to get some voluntary work.  Eventually this evolved into an interesting career working in events and marketing with the Newspaper Society which positions itself as the voice of local media.  While this part of my career was a positive experience I’d never lost an interest in travel.  Also some elements in my job (such as training media graduates to understand and appreciate the strength of local media) really helped me focus on combining these things in a career as a TEFL teacher.  I didn’t do this lightly. I researched the different schemes and decided to go with the CELTA course certificated by Cambridge ESOL. One of the well-known providers is an organisation called International House. Typically, schools offer both teacher training and language courses with the trainee teachers getting some teaching practice with the classes in the school, which is a key requirement of the CELTA.  I felt the combination of the CELTA and International House would help to make my CV stand out.

One thing I would suggest prospective teachers consider when choosing a TEFL course and school is where these programmes are offered around the world. Where the schools are and how many there are could be significant. Trinity is also a recognised training programme and they also have lots of schools offering their programme all over the world.

How tough are the courses?

They are fairly rigorous. You have written assignments and assessments of your teaching.  I took mine at evenings and weekends but you can take the courses full time over a period of a few weeks and now also online.  The cost can be £1,000 – £1,400 depending on the school but this does pay for itself relatively quickly because there is a specific job market attached to it.

Tell me more about the job market?

There is work in the UK and Europe but the market in Asia and emerging markets is increasingly buoyant due to the growing demand for English. Again, when choosing a location to train and or teach in people would be advised to consider a number of things. For example is the school well established; does the school offer a subsidy for accommodation – this can make a big difference; what are the hours and the curriculum like? Is the school accredited by a recognised provider?  There’s a great forum at which provides insights about particular regions, schools and job availability.

Where did you work?

Well I had thought I’d be heading for China but when I was doing some voluntary work to build up experience I worked with some Vietnamese women in London– they were manicurists learning English to help them with their clients.  During this time I happened to meet a recruiter from a language school in Vietnam and I was really glad to get a job offer to go there. This was a great break for me because it was a really good school and was also interested in offering business English courses which helped me with my longer term goal of getting into this better paid part of the sector. Having said that, even on the regular TEFL salary I was able to live well in Vietnam.  This isn’t always the case. If you choose a country that has more ‘first world’ prices you may not feel so well off, so you need to think about your finances and the country before you set off.

How does the business English sector fit in? 

One of the reasons there are lots of young people in the TEFL profession is that many people do it as a way of financing a gap year or gap experience.  It is great for that and you will pick up a lot of experience and skills but in the longer term it’s hard to progress your career without becoming an Academic Manager or Director of Studies (and there is a DELTA qualification that can help you do that).  The other way I decided I wanted to shape my career was working in the higher paying business English sector.  This is all freelance work which suits me because I end up with varied clients and I can set my own hours and I get better pay for the hours I do work (nearly double what I would earn as a regular TEFL teacher).  Of course there are drawbacks – like no paid holidays or sick pay! You do need business experience as well which is where my previous career helped and the school I was working for in Vietnam had some business clients.

When I came back to London in 2010 I was able to build on this experience by taking an additional qualification called the CertIBET (Certificate in International Business English Training).  It’s a 2-week intensive course offered by International House with a 4,000 word assignment to be submitted approximately 3 months after course completion.  The assignment is moderated by Trinity and English UK.  The reason I took this course was to give me an additional ‘edge’ in the Business English marketplace and to let employers know that I’m focused on this particular area of TESOL.  I then registered with the agencies that are in this sector and have been working successfully with corporate clients ever since.

My new focus is my own English language training service called Fuel-English: which is tailored to the needs of its clients and includes services such as: pronunciation skills, business communication skills, exam preparation and other bespoke programmes – as and when requested. International students establishing a career in the UK are invited to consider whether they could benefit from support from Fuel-English.


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