TEFL Tales – What’s my name?

How friendly should a TEFL teacher be?

Please don't call me Sir

There is an old TEFL adage: no learning without fun – but no fun without learning.

Whether we’re teaching adults or children, TEFL teachers are running a class. We are responsible for discipline, and the reason there has to be discipline is that without it nobody learns anything.

A class of half a dozen adults can become unruly and unfocused if you let it slip from your grasp, so it is important to be clearly in charge. If you choose to tell a joke or in some other way lighten the atmosphere, that’s good – a fun class is, generally speaking, a good class.

However, it can be puzzling in a different culture when the teacher-student relationship you have taken for granted (because it’s how things were when you were at school) suddenly seems somehow wrong. In certain cultures there is much more of a divide. While in the UK teacher-student, just like salesman-customer, has become less formal, with a conscious removing of barriers such as the desk, in other places the student doesn’t feel comfortable with such an equal balance.

My name is Chris

Forms of address have to be taught, too. The tendency of my Spanish-speaking students to call me “Mister Chris” can sound quite cute at first, but if you let them do it with you, they will think it’s the correct form of address. I explain that if it’s Mister anything it’s Mister Morvan (and then get them to pronounce that correctly, which isn’t easy sometimes), but I would rather be just plain Chris – and not Crees, either, because I am not an ironed fold in a pair of trousers or an unwelcome bit of damage to a piece of paper.

A Chris can demonstrate the difference and turn it into a bit of fun, and those of all other names just have to work out something for themselves.

I am not Meester Crees (2)

The crucial thing is to get the message across and make them stop the Mister First Name business, because it immediately marks them out as a slightly comic foreigner, and we want to avoid that at all costs.

As a kind of bonus, any discussion has your students thinking in English and trying to speak it. What they call you may not be that important to you, but it’s all learning – and something like this can be amusing for everyone.

Good manners have to be taught as well as language – our idea of good manners, that is. If we offer someone a glass of water and they just say “No”, that might be acceptable or even standard in their culture, but in English it sounds rude. By explaining this to them, “It has to be no thank you”, you are doing them a favour.

It’s important to emphasise that although you know they are not bad-mannered, out in the big English-speaking world, hosts in private households, waiters, receptionists and so on will think much more highly of them if they use please and thank you.You may call me teacher if it doesn't sound like t-shirt

Students are often grateful for this kind of tip, because it makes their life easier when they weren’t aware they were doing anything wrong.

We’ve all heard the stories about hand gestures that can be wildly misinterpreted in other countries, and it is true. It’s something everyone has to be aware of when abroad.

Want me to teach English to you or someone you know?
Want me to teach you how to teach English?
Email me, chrismorvan@gmail.com, and let’s talk about it.

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TEFL Tales – get them talking about themselves

I was a midfielder, pretty good defensively, not so great going forward

Tips for teaching English as a foreign language

It is vitally important for the teacher to get the student’s attention. This is not just a TEFL issue; it applies to every teaching situation, but when we’re teaching language, this can be easier than, say, teaching maths.

So, how do we go about ‘engaging’ them?

What we are trying to do is get them listening, responding, talking and writing, and people are more inclined to do that when the subject is something they know a lot about.

Themselves, for instance. There is no greater expert on the subject of you than you yourself.

So you had to have an operation? You could also call it ‘surgery’. You had surgery on your knee

As a journalist, the key skill involved in interviewing is getting people relaxed. Then, because you are usually asking them about either their life, their interests or their professional specialities, you basically just turn on the tap (ask a question) and let it flow.

This is perfect for teaching English one-to-one, because you can be very specific, concentrating on their particular areas of interest.

And it can also be done with larger groups.

When I was first teaching English in Venezuela, I had a group of students at the Ministry of Finance. They weren’t senior figures, but 20-somethings working their way up the ladder.

It was, as usual, a variety of characters. There was the keen, helpful one who was quite confident about his English. There was a young woman who was friendly and talkative when invited to do so, and attentive the rest of the time.

There was also a slightly disruptive one. You expect this with children, but perhaps not with adults.

What this guy needed was attention, and of course you want to give it to him, but not at the expense of everyone else.

I got him talking about himself and it turned out that he had hoped to be a professional footballer but a knee injury had put a stop to that.

This opened the door to several opportunities for me as a teacher. First I encouraged him to talk about it – in English, with me supplying English words, which he had to convey to the class by roundabout means: long explanations, mime, demonstrations and so on. Sometimes his classmates would come up with the word.

And there, where the thigh bone meets the lower leg, that’s the knee, and the cushion between the bones is called, errr, cartilage

Eventually we reached the stage where everybody knew about his knee problem. That gave us an avenue to go down for vocabulary. Ligaments, cartilage, the leg as a whole and its constituent parts. Pain and its varying degrees. Treatments, types of specialist (physiotherapist, chiropractor, surgeon), frequency (every Wednesday for six months having physio, gentle exercise on a bike three mornings a week) etc, all accompanied by my pathetic attempts at diagrams (never be afraid to make yourself look silly – it gives the students confidence to have a go when it’s their turn).

We moved on to football teams: big diagram on the board, discussing and naming positions.

Our sole female student joined in, fortunately, but if she hadn’t, we could have digressed to a sport she knew about and done the vocabulary of that.

So former football star Kenneth had his day with the class, learned how to discuss that part of his life in English, and in the next class we talked about somebody else’s subject.

It’s not always that easy, of course. But if you can get them involved, contributing, taking the spotlight off the teacher, the class develops its own momentum.



Want me to teach English to you or someone you know?
Want me to teach you how to teach English?
Email me, chrismorvan@gmail.com, and let’s talk about it.

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