Preparing to go
Leaving your family, friends and home country behind and moving to a new, location can be a very exciting but nervewracking experience and it is recommended that you prepare as much as possible for the move. Below are a number of suggestions to help you make this transition a little bit easier.
Gaining extra experience
A teacher can never have too much classroom experience and if you have a reasonable amount of time available before taking up a full-time teaching position it might be a good idea to try and gain some extra teaching experience. This can be achieved by offering your services to any local language schools that provide English language tuition or offering private lessons to non-native English speakers resident in your area.
In some countries there are also summer camps or summer schools that offer short, intensive language tuition programs and require hundreds of English language teachers for the Summer months. These summer programs usually provide accommodation for teachers and reasonably good salaries compared to the cost of living.
In order to reduce culture shock as much as possible when moving to a new country, it is important to do as much research as possible on the country/city where you will be living, the school where you will be working and the students that you will be teaching. The amount of information available on the internet makes it easier than ever to find out details about life in a different country. There are expat chat forums, country information websites, tourist information sites as well as websites dedicated to providing information about teaching abroad. You may also wish to speak to some of the teachers currently working for your employer to find out about living and working in that location.
It is a good idea to get as much information as you can about where you will be living, transport options in that area, where you can go to meet other teachers/English speakers living there, popular bars/restaurants, location of supermarkets etc. This information will hopefully prevent you feeling a bit lost when you first arrive. In addition to the internet there are many excellent books (such as the Culture Shock series) which provide a wealth of information about the country, the people and the culture as well as giving advice on how to avoid some of the negative aspects of life there.
It is also useful to conduct some research on problems that people from that country typically have with the English language as this can help you know what to expect in your first classes.
What to take
When you do your research on the city/country where you will be living, you will no doubt gain a fair idea of the climate and therefore also the type of clothing you will need to take with you. However, depending on the country, it may be better to take the minimum and buy the rest while you are there. Make sure you find out from your employer about any dress code for your teaching, so that you can take appropriate clothing for your workplace. Even if your employer doesn't require it, it is always useful to have some smart clothing for visits to government offices for visas and work permits etc.
It is very important to make sure you take enough money with you. Salaries are usually paid one month in arrears, so you need to make sure you have sufficient funds to keep you going until your first pay check. Also be aware that you may need extra amounts for security deposits on your accommodation and so on.
In order to obtain your work permit and/or residence visa you will probably need to produce a copy of your birth certificate and documents verifying your qualifications (degree/TEFL certificate), therefore it is essential to make sure you take such documentation with you. It is also essential to ensure that you have an adequate supply of any necessary medication as it may not be quite so readily available where you are going.
Other useful items to pack may include, English language novels/magazines (if not readily available locally), laptop, short wave radio, dictionary/phrasebook, favorite cosmetics and anything else that you might feel you need in order to help you feel comfortable when you first get there. If you are not sure exactly what you need to bring with you, you can always ask your employer for advice. Of course taking along some of your favorite teaching resources/materials (see the bibliography below) is a good idea.
The following books have been found useful by many teachers, during both their TEFL course and teaching careers. Obviously you won't want to have all of them but having a few favourites with you is a good idea, especially if teaching resources are a bit thin on the ground in the location where you will be teaching. Of course there are literally thousands of other resources out there and over time you will develop your own favorites but these are the ones we have found to be especially helpful to the new teacher:
Practical English Grammar, by A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet (OUP). As the title suggests, this is an English grammar reference book and perhaps the most widely used book of its kind.
English Grammar in Use, by Raymond Murphy (CUP). A worksheet-based self study grammar guide for Intermediate level students.
Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan (OUP). Regarded by many TEFL teachers as the grammar reference bible.
Collins Cobuild English Dictionary (Collins). The patterns of English language usage explained and probably the most popular dictionary in the TEFL industry.
How English Works, by Swan/Walter (OUP). Descriptive explanations of grammar (though with somewhat dated worksheets).
How to Teach English, by Jeremy Harmer (Longman). A practical guide to a whole range of teaching techniques.
Grammar Games, by Mario Rinvolucri and Davis (CUP). Cognitive, practical classroom games and drama activities for effective communication.
More Grammar Games, by Rinvolucri and Davis (CUP). More cognitive games and drama activities for effective communication.
Grammar Practice Activities, by Penny Ur (CUP). Grammar points explained, with activities to reinforce a wide range of grammar areas.
Grammar Games and Activities, by Peter Watcyn-Jones (Penguin). Activity sheets for practicing grammar points that can be photocopied.
The Resourceful English Teacher, by Chandler/Stone (Delta). 15 varied activities for a wide range of skills.
1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy, by Andrew Wright (Nelson). Pictures for all uses such as elicitation and worksheets.
Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students, by Mario Rinvolucri A range of fun activities to practice grammar and get students talking.
Beginners' Communication Games, by Jill Hadfield Around 40 communicative game based activities for Starter level students.
Elementary Communication Games (Teachers resource materials), by Jill Hadfield Around 40 communicative game based activities for Elementary level students.
Intermediate Communication Games, by Jill Hadfield Around 40 communicative game based activities for Intermediate level students.
Keep Talking: Communicative Fluency Activities for Language Teaching, by Friederike Klippel Over 120 communicative activities to keep students interacting.
Learning the language
As English is usually the only language allowed in the classroom, teachers are seldom required to have any knowledge of the local language. Having said that, it is always useful to have mastered at least a few essential phrases to help you get by when you first arrive.
Obviously if you have taken the job at fairly short notice, you will not have had much time to put into studying the language but if you do find yourself with a bit of spare time, it would certainly be a good idea to learn the basics.
There are many excellent free online resources that can help you get started with the language and there are many effective self-study courses for those that want to study it in more depth. The most frequently recommended self-study courses are Rosetta Stone, Linguaphone and the Colloquial series, although not all of them are available in all languages and they can be a little expensive.
If you have sufficient time before departing, you may also with to look at any classroom based courses offered locally.
Of course it is much easier to effectively learn a language when you are there and many employers will offer you the option to join a local language class but if not, you should be able to find some classes at language schools that run at times when you are not teaching. Language exchanges (where you provide some English tuition in exchange for the student providing you with some tuition in their language) are quite a popular way of improving your conversational skills as well as helping to get to know more people.
Having at least a basic knowledge of your students' language can also allow you to see the differences between that language and English and this can help you to understand why your students are having difficulties with certain areas of the English language.