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See the world and more with teaching ESL at Concordia

by Archives January 22, 2003

Grads, fearing the transition from free wielding student to a disillusioned 9 to 5 corporate slave, may find what they never knew they were looking for at 1455 Blvd. de Maisonneuve: Concordia’s teaching English as a second language (TESL) centre.

For many antsy young ones, TESL has become a surprising opportunity to travel extensively, make money and gain unique working experience abroad.

“[TESL] is one of the fastest growing and largest grossing industries on the globe right now,” says Barbara Barclay, one of the centre’s coordinators.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the English language is used by more than 300 million as a second language and a foreign language by one hundred million more. Listed as the official or co-official language of over 45 countries, more than half of all business deals are conducted in English. Clearly there is a market for such an essential commodity.

The TESL centre, created in 1973, is one of the first in Canada to specialize in the instruction of teaching English as second language. It offers a new 120-credit bachelor of education in TESL, a programme approved in 1998 for provincial education standards.

Teachers of ESL are considered by the Quebec Ministry of Education (MEQ) to be in the second most-wanted category (after teachers of math and science) in the province. Concordia’s website, artsandscience.concordia.ca/tesl/tesl.html, states that graduates, satisfying certification criteria, are recommended for immediate, permanent provincial employment to the MEQ.

The centre also offers a 30-credit certificate in TESL to students with an undergraduate degree and a proficiency in the English language, which can be completed in a year. Courses are usually available in the evening and for those 40 to 50 applicants a year, an average of 36 will graduate.

Barclay also mentions that while this certificate does not provide basic teacher training for provincial certification, it allows for teaching in adult education and commercial language schools in Quebec. It is used most widely, however, to travel abroad while teaching ESL.

Marlise Horst, an instructor at the centre who teaches language acquisition and methodology, has taught and helped design ESL programs in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Hong Kong. “[Concordia] is recognized as having the best TESL program in Quebec and pretty much in Canada,” she says, encouragingly.

Sean Earl graduated from Concordia almost ten years ago with a Bachelor of Education in TESL and has never looked back. “In a near decade that I’ve been teaching overseas I’ve learned more about life, the world and myself than I could possibly have conceived of beforehand,” says Earl.

In that time he has traveled and lived in Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, Russia, Spain, France, England, Ireland and Scotland. Of that, he simply says he did what he set out to do. “I chose a program that would facilitate two of my great passions – travel and education. It was somewhat of a calling,” he says of TESL.

According to its Web sites, www.eslworldwide.com and asiafacts.kingston.net, there is such a high demand for ESL instructors in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America that formal training or experience is not even always a requirement for employment.

When Earl started out with a bachelor in education in TESL he was shocked to realize that the majority of ESL teachers had either a bachelor in arts in an unrelated field or no degree at all. “In countries like Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, appearance is everything and qualifications secondary. A crisp business suit and fake degree will almost always be hired over a casual dress and legitimate, relevant qualifications,” he adds.

TESL hopefuls should realize that while some employers may be relaxed on qualifications, the challenges of teaching, especially with a language barrier, are numerous. “It’s really important to get good training,” Horst says, recognizing the problem that TESL doesn’t require proper training.

According to Horst, to truly flourish in TESL, it takes an individual of personal and emotional stability willing to face cultural situations.

ESL training can also lead you to unexpected professional paths. Earl, who was teaching on the side, landed a job as a desk editor at an international real estate company in Thailand, competing against more than 50 other applicants. “I was the only one who managed to pass the oral and written grammar/style tests,” Earl says, accrediting his success to the then-seemingly tedious grammar component of the TESL program.

However, while Earl raves of his years abroad, he warns that like any job there is a usual mix of good and bad bosses and job situations. He stresses that thoroughly researching a country is imperative, even suggesting so far as visiting it before committing to a job contract there.

While it is hard to universalize working conditions, pays and experiences in specific countries, websites such as http://www.eslcafe.com/ and http://www.eslworldwide.com/ offer excellent insights from hundreds of TESL instructors working overseas. Such sites also give invaluable advice on actively seeking TESL employment.

The standards in Europe and Asia according to Earl is 20 to 30 hours of contact teaching a week with a salary anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 Canadian dollars monthly, which can be highly boosted with private tutoring.

While Earl both opted for packaged deals and worked through agents to handle visas, work permits, living accommodations and contracts, he does not recommend this and advises to seek jobs through non-profit organizations/agencies. UN volunteers and the World University Service of Canada usually can assure better working conditions. He also warns to avoid any position which needs to be urgently filled, because this could be the result of dissatisfied employees leaving abruptly.

Horst agrees that non-profit organizations, through which she first started teaching ESL, are a safer route. She also states that answering ads can be pretty scary as they secure no guarantees.

“An ounce of common sense will most often keep you out of harm’s way. The horror stories you may read on sites such as Dave’s ESL Caf

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