My Day Job

i am an ESOL English TeacherI do have a day job.

Although I rabbit on a lot about writing, social media and my dog, I don’t mention my day job very often on my blog. So for those of you who may not know, I fill my days being an adult EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. That is, teaching adults how to use English for professional purposes.

Although quite specialised, I’m lucky to be living in Switzerland where the need to use English is increasing every year. While the official languages are German, French and Italian, English is often used as the ‘lingua franca’ or bridge language between the various parts of Switzerland and of course Europe.

While many first think that learners of English are doing so to communicate with say Americans, English or Australians, this is not actually the case. Most European speakers of English use the language in their work to communicate primarily with others who use English as a second or third language. So this fact changes the aims and the way that English is taught.

The well known jokes about the expressions that were used in many an old text book for English adult learners such as ‘my tailor is rich’ and ‘the cat sits in the bough’, are luckily now far removed from the language that is taught today. Cambridge have coined a new name, ESOL, (English as a Second Operation Language) which much better defines the aims of teaching English to adult learners.

It’s all about operating in the language and not necessarily mastering it. So even for a student new to English, the simple matter of answering the telephone and being able to take a simple message can be enough. Perhaps being able to write a short email or greet someone politely. Teaching English for professional reasons has now become ‘function’ based. Sometimes referred to as ‘Can Do’.

So by this measure, it is very easy to quantify a student’s progress. Can he or she spell their name and address and be understood? Can they greet a client politely? Can they describe a product? Of course lexis and grammar are used in teaching at this level, but they take a back seat to the practicalities of being able to communicate effectively. This method is used right up to an intermediate level.

Of course there is also strong demand for the much more traditional teaching required for students who are taking official Cambridge examinations, so my grammar gets a work over during those classes. But what ever level and for what ever purpose, I think I must have one of the best jobs going. Great fun with great people working towards a productive goal.

5 thoughts on “My Day Job”

  1. Nice one Derek. It’s funny when you consider that English in all its many forms is in effect a ‘bastard’ language, borrowing from so many others. :)

  2. The comment about answering the phone reminds me of Manuel on ‘Fawlty Towers’. He was the most misunderstood character on the program. The poor fellow was intelligent but just didnt have a decent grasp of the language.

    If only he had a good teacher.

    I would expect our language to be difficult to learn for the reason Jack cites above. We have phrases and rules from the Romans, Angles, Jutes, Saxons… pretty much everyone but the indigenous peoples. I learned a fair bit of Gaelic from the old minister down the road from our farm but I don’t recognize a single connection. There is more in common with Indian languages. (Celtic Ri = Indian Raj = Latin Rex)

    Funny thing, languages.

  3. Fatima Rosales Naya

    I combine my Spanish teaching job with EAL (English as an additional Language), which replaced EFL (English as a foreign language) as the word ‘foreign’ was no longer considered politically correct. Like you, I find it extremely gratifying and rewarding and I feel my students appreciate it greatly. I teach young teenagers, who often come to England with very little English, and it’s a pure joy to see them grow in confidence and ability to communicate with their English counterparts.

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