Teach English in Sanxi Zhen - Bazhong Shi

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Although limited, I do have some experience teaching English as a Foreign Language. From 2005 to 2006, I was a part time assistant language teacher at a Japanese public high school, where I assisted Japanese teachers of English with their tasks, helped teach correct pronunciation and grammar, and interacted with the students on a social level in order to expose them to English outside the classroom. The students ranged in age from 16 to 18, so it was easy to communicate with them on a more intellectual level than if I had taught much younger children. English language classes in Japan are compulsory for at least six years (and in some areas for nine years). Despite this, I found that the older students that had already had English for four or five years were still uncomfortable and intimidated by the language. One afternoon, while having lunch with a group of seniors and chatting about English, I broached the topic with my students: Why, after studying English for so long, are many Japanese students still uncomfortable using English? One of the more vocal students gave an answer that the rest of the group readily agreed with: “English has too many rules; it is a weird language and stupid. Why is English so stupid?” It was the peculiarities of English that put many of these students off of the language. Japanese is a very structured and organized language. For example, there are only two irregular verbs in the entire language; the rest of the verbs follow set patterns in every conjugation. In Japanese, sounds are spelled in their phonetic script as they are pronounced – always. This does not mean that Japanese does not have its own difficult points; the grammar, for example, can be quite difficult. But for Japanese students coming from this context, English would seem like an absolute nightmare. So during that conversation, it became open season on English. The students complained about the weird spelling and pronunciation rules – “Why is knife spelled with a K?” “Why does ‘worked’ end with a T sound but ‘created’ ends in an -ID sound?” “Why does ‘eat’ become ‘ate’?” “Why is the animal ‘cow’ but the food is ‘beef’?” “Why is ‘I have a car’ different from the have in ‘I have been to the market?’” These were all great questions that I did not know the answer to. Native speakers tend not to think about the nuts and bolts of their own languages in an objective manner. But the conversation with my students that day inspired me to look into English’s peculiarities more closely. I decided to do some basic research around the history of the language, and the reasons why our words and some grammar points are the way they are. In the last six months of my time at that school, I helped design two lessons that touched on these subjects. The first lesson had to do with the etymology of some of the vocabulary words we were studying at that time, which also afforded the opportunity to introduce concepts like prefixes and suffixes, as well as dictionary usage. The second lesson had to do with comparative grammar, showing how some basic grammar concepts were close to German and French grammar, thus illustrating why some English grammar points could seem confusing. This afforded the opportunity to talk about the history of the language, which the students were particularly interested in. Both of these lessons were very successful, and I felt the students were able to grasp more of the context of the language. In my opinion, students studying English not only wish to be taught the “how” of English, they also have a desire to be taught the “why” of the language. This is not to say that ESL classes should be turned into courses on English language history, linguistic theory, or word etymology. ESL classes should be focused on enabling students to be able to communicate effectively in the language. But giving students some insight into the history of the language, the reasons why grammar structures are the way they are, or the origins of some important vocabulary can add character to the English language, which can often seem abstract and alien to students studying it. And I believe that teachers can create very effective lessons by touching on these subjects that still meet the goals of ESL communication.