Thursday, 26 September 2013



So, you’ve got your EFL Certificate, you’ve done a year teaching in your own country, and now it’s time to spread your wings and get a job overseas. Which country will you go to? Native-speaking English teachers are in demand all over, so you’ve got a wide range of countries to choose from. Which one is best for you? I’ve worked in seven different countries, so I’ll add my few random thoughts about each, and this may help you decide.

Before venturing overseas to work, you have one major decision to make (apart from choosing the destination, that is).  How will I go about finding a job? You have two options: find a job on the internet before departure, or just fly to the country of your choice and do your job-hunting on the spot. I’ve always chosen the latter way, but that’s not to say it is the best way. Schools that advertise vacancies on the internet, on sites like ELT JobLink Weekly Digest, are the larger, more reputable ones. They’ll have a list of requirements – EFL qualifications, tertiary qualifications, age, minimum length of experience, etcetera, etcetera. They’ll offer a range of perks, too: things like sick pay, holiday pay, assistance with documentation, accommodation assistance, flight costs, contract-completion bonus. They’ll be following the strict letter of the law of the country they’re in, so your employment will be safe, secure, and most of all, legal. As you board the plane bound for your new job, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting yourself into employmentwise. It’s the safe, sensible way to go.

I’ve never been one to follow safe, sensible approaches, and consequently I’ve always chosen the country first, gone there, and then looked around for work. This method has its advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, you’ll get a feel for the country, its weather, its people, and its accommodation options before you commit yourself to a year or so’s stay, and if none of these come up to your expectations, you can always move on to a neighboring country. You can visit the prospective school and see for yourself its location, its standard of management, and the nature of your future bosses. On the other hand, as a ‘local hire’ you probably won’t be offered any of those extras like sick or holiday pay, flight expenses etc. In a surprising number of cases, these schools may not necessarily feel compelled to observe every little letter of the employment laws. And that’s something that can prove to be a plus, especially if your qualifications and prerequisites don’t quite match those stipulated by the Education or Labor Department.

OK, back to my original question: which country is best for you? Let me share a few of my own experiences in various countries that I’ve worked in.

First, Indonesia, where I worked from 1976 to 1980, and 1982 to 1992. Indonesians are lovely people. Open, friendly, immensely likeable. Those are the ones not in positions of authority. But put a uniform on an Indonesian, and he is transformed into an entirely different creature. Someone who sees you as a spoilt, moneyed foreigner, and a source of revenue. Their methods of separating you from your money are many and varied. You need a driving licence? Certainly, Sir, that’ll be 10,000,000 rupiah please. What’s that? You’ve read that the official fee is only 500,000 rupiah? Oh. No, Sir. Those are last year’s figures. Visa extension? That’ll be xxx rupiah, please. Work permit, marriage certificate, birth certificate? No problem. That’ll be xxx rupiah, please.

Right, let’s move on. Indonesian students. You’ll find most classes a delight to teach. The students are friendly, willing, and full of fun. They won’t be all that keen on working hard or coping with the complexities of English grammar, but they’ll be more than eager to pepper you with personal questions, make jokes, and have a jolly good time in class. Apart from any contacts with officialdom, life in Indonesia is laid-back, relaxed, and enjoyable (provided deplorable driving habits and traffic jams don’t overly bother you). The weather is good. Indonesia has two seasons: Hot, and Hotter. The food is exquisite. An Indonesian smile will melt the heart of even the most hardened and cynical foreigner. Indonesia is a good place for you to spend the next year or so. (I went for two weeks, and stayed there for 20-odd years.)

Next, Thailand. I worked there in 1975 and again in 1996. Captivating  country. Lovely people. Fascinating culture. Such is the pull of Thailand, there’s an overabundance of expat teachers looking for EFL jobs, and consequently the salaries offered are not going to make you rich. They’ll cover your everyday living expenses, but there won’t be much left over at the end of the month. If you’re working in Bangkok, you’ll have to get used to traffic jams, pollution, small, expensive apartments, overcrowded transport, and a population that mostly doesn’t comprehend a word you say, whether it be in English or your faltering attempts at Thai. Thai students are bright, bubbly, talkative, and out for a good time. They won’t complete their homework, or commit long lists of new vocabulary to memory, but they will speak out willingly in class, and enter into every activity enthusiastically. To get a workable number of hours, you could well find yourself teaching an hour here and an hour there, with a harrowing taxi or bus ride between schools. But when your working day is over, you have a mind-boggling range of nightlife to choose from, and a wide choice of Thai dishes to try. (A word of caution – some can be hot, Man, eye-wateringly, tongue-blisteringly hot. Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Now, Korea. I worked there in 1981, the year Park Chung Hee was assassinated. I am in two minds about this country that I spent a year in. Korea has two seasons: Too Hot, and Too Cold. Koreans are a mixed bag; some likeable, some not-so. The first impression a foreigner gets in Korea is that Koreans are abrasive, argumentative and not particularly friendly. This impression stems from the nature of the Korean language. It’s loud, in-your-face, and peppered with what is best described as hoicking sounds. Schools vary between the over-regimented, and slip-shod bucket shops. Korean students are hard-working to a fault, eager to get English off to a tee, and demanding. They won’t hesitate to challenge you if anything you say doesn’t fit with their pre-conceptions about how English should be taught. They’ll feel short-changed if you don’t issue them with heaps of homework. Schools insist on you teaching American English, despite the fact that most Koreans despise America and Americans. (And that includes the people in the long queue at the American embassy’s visa department.) As in Thailand, you’ll probably find yourself working at three of four different schools each day in order to get your hours up. It will take quite a few months to happen on one school that offers five or six hours work a day. Yes, I’m in two minds about the country. The year I spent there was instructive, but I can’t see myself going back there any time in the future.

OK, so that’s Indonesia, Thailand, and Korea. Which leaves China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Vietnam, which I’ll cover in my next blog.


My new book, EFL minus the B.S., has a country-by-country break-down of countries you can teach EFL in, and also includes chapters on Documentation, Management and Mismanagement, and Applying for a job. EFL minus the B.S. is available on Amazon.

Monday, 16 September 2013



I once knew a retired lawyer from a small, provincial town. Over a few whiskies he would me regale me with fascinating stories from his fifty years in the legal profession.  Some of the weird cases he’d handled, some of the mid-trial upsets he’d experienced, some of the inexplicable verdicts he’d seen. I’ll never forget one little story he told me. “If the defence attorney is making his closing speech, and he’s got you out-boxed, out-manoevered, and outsmarted, there’s always one last little trick you can pull out of the hat. Just as he reaches his final impassioned argument, the clinching point sure to swing the verdict in his favor, knock your glass of water over. There’s no need to make a sound, just frown and mop it up. You’ll have every eye in the courtroom fixed on you. The other guy’s beautifully honed argument is lost to the four winds. He may try backtracking and saying it again, but the moment has gone. You’ve taken the wind out of his sails completely and irrevocably.”

A lovely tale, and one that set me thinking about my own lessons. I’m about to wind up my brilliant explanation of tense-changes in reported speech, then Mr Han drops his notebook on the floor. The class’s attention immediately switches from me to Mr Han’s little predicament. I may as well be talking to a herd of cattle for all the good it’s doing me. Or I’m explaining the rules of a little warm-up activity that I’m about to launch, then a huffing and puffing Robert arrives late for class. Forget the warm up, just look at poor Robert!

Your average class’s attention-span is tenuous to say the least; one little distraction will have it evaporating before your very eyes. So, how to ensure you hold the students’ riveted attention, and keep them on-track  for a full two hours? Good question. Here’s a few suggestions.
Variety. Alternate challenging language with language already learnt. Present them with little surprises. Don’t always follow the same old routine. Change the seating configuration mid-class. When doing repetition drills, have them saying it normally, then shouting it, then whispering or singing it. Keep up a brisk pace. Toss in a tongue-twister. Inject little bits of silliness into the lesson. There’s nothing students like more. “OK, Group A bark like a dog, Group B miaow like a cat. Award a lollipop to the best barker and the best miaower. And another idea – oh shit, I’ve just spilt my glass of water, goddam it, and I’ll have to go and mop it up.


My new book, EFL minus the B.S., is now available on Amazon. If you’re looking for a weighty tome on pedagogy, and the meta-cognitive paradigms of second-language acquisition, give this book a miss. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an entertaining dissection of the English teaching game worldwide, EFL minus the B.S. is the book for you. Order your copy today from Amazon.