All teachers encounter the same problem when they are faced with a classroom full of fearful-looking children, rowdy teenagers or inquisitive adults alike – where do I begin? But what do you do when you don’t speak the local language and your classroom-full of students don’t speak English either? Sounds impossible, right? Wrong!
Thousands of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teachers do this all day, every day, all around the world. I know what you’re thinking…they must be mad! Wrong again…adventurous, yes!

How Can I Get Around the Language Barrier?
It might sound like you’re trying to achieve the impossible but in actual fact the reason why there is such a high demand for English teachers (and ones that can’t speak the local language) is that schools want their pupils to be completely immersed. In the adult world, many businesses are also aiming for complete immersion when it comes to learning English as a Foreign Language – so the need for English-speaking teachers is a universal one!
Some top tips and ideas:

  • Use visual aids! This is the easiest way for you and your students to meet in the middle. This is great for presenting new vocabulary as you can accompany the image of the new word with a round of drilling! Visual aids/realia can vary from images, slideshows, videos and even hand-drawn images. So, unless you are terrible at drawing…you can’t go wrong!
  • Be confident in what you’re teaching – your pupils will be looking to you as the respected authority so it’s therefore really important that you know your grammar – no pressure!
  • Tailor your lessons to the right age-group – although everyone loves a good ice-breaker game, a lesson involving lots of running around will obviously not be appropriate for all ages.
  • Be culture-conscious – it is also highly important to do your research on the local culture – especially with things such as gestures and games. For example, in Japan it is not considered culturally acceptable for teachers to suggest a game of hangman.

The Main Challenge?

  • Frustration – yep we never said that teaching English as a Foreign Language would be easy! There will be times when you feel like you’re just not getting through to your students. Take a deep-breath, have another look over your lesson plan and try, try again.

Should I Learn the Local Language?

Many new TEFL teachers feel more comfortable teaching in a country where they at least have some understanding of the local language – for example, many English-speakers set their sights on the likes of France or Spanish-speaking countries – putting those school language lessons from all those years ago to good use!
BUT what if you want to go and teach in a remote part of Vietnam? Unless I’m mistaken, Vietnamese wasn’t really on many schools’ curriculums…
The TEFL industry seems to be divided when it comes to whether or not you should speak the local language. This is what I think – only speak English in the classroom as there are ways to get around the language barrier (as discussed above!) but definitely try and learn the local language in your down-time – especially if you’re aiming for cultural immersion. Plus, it’s always a nice feeling to chat to the shopkeeper when you’re buying your groceries or when you can have local friends outside your expat crowd!
Bottom line: You don’t need to be able to speak the local language to teach English abroad…and be good at it!
About The Author: Helen Hargreave is one of the TEFL Experts at i-to-i TEFL you can read more articles by Helen here.