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Got a job teaching English overseas? It's time for you to be the student!

By: Kathleen O’Hagan, Ingle International

Got a job teaching English overseas? It's time for you to be the student!A shy four-year old child can be as cute as a kitten. Add five noisy kids to the mix and you've got yourself a handful. But add another ten—who don't speak your language—and it can feel like your worst nightmare.

The first time you realize this, you might be sitting amongst a group of children, reading them a fairy tale in a language they don't understand. First you'll notice their attention start to wane, and soon their cute little kiddy voices will be talking over your own. As you holler at them to quiet down, you'll realize that your words have no effect. And as it hits you that you've lost all control, you'll likely start to wonder why you didn't learn the language before heading over…

Think about this:

  • How do you discipline a child when s/he doesn't understand the words coming out of your mouth?
  • How will you know to rush a child to the washroom before s/he has an embarrassing accident?
  • How do you let a group of children know that something is dangerous when you can't express it in words they recognize?
  • What if you don't understand that a child is trying to tell you s/he is sick or sad?

Sure, you can use non-verbal cues – and they get you by for a little while – but then there's that day when you're confronted with that little devil who keeps whacking other kids on the head, or that little angel staring up at you with tears welling up in those big, sad eyes. Then what do you do?

In both cases, you'd probably give away a day's wages to be able to communicate with them. A good ‘talking to' can help keep a ‘wild child' under control and some soothing words can definitely help calm a crying babe. And although you may have been assured time and time again that you don't need to know the language to get the job, you may want to think twice about taking this advice before heading overseas.

Because there's a very real need for English teachers in many parts of the world today, getting the job is more often about your English capabilities rather than your high-level second language skills. And, in most cases, if you're a native English teacher with a degree, the job is yours. Congratulations!

But it is naïve to think that you will be a happy, successful teacher if you head over not knowing a lick of the local language.

I'm not suggesting you need be fluent to succeed, or that you should spend all of your hard-earned cash on over-priced language courses before you go. But, learn from my mistake. Head over to your home away from home with a knowledge of the local language that exceeds the basics. “Hello,” “thank you,” and “good bye” just won't cut it when you're surrounded by a group of screaming six-year-olds.

The good news is: There are ways you can prepare yourself on a budget.

1. Get yourself a language book. While you're still on Canadian soil, read a few pages over coffee, on your commute home, and before bed at night. It may not feel as though these new strange words are sinking in. But, believe me, they are. You may not realize it until you arrive at your destination only to recognize words and phrases here and there. And, the longer you stay, the better you'll understand when and how to use these new expressions.

2. Find yourself a language exchange partner. No matter where you happen to be living in Canada, I guarantee you'll be able to find an eager international student dying to improve their language skills. Post ads at the library, ESL schools, and at local coffee shops. You may find a free teacher (but don't forget to reciprocate the favour!) and a new bud. (I met my first language exchange partner back in 2004 and he is still one of my dearest friends.)

3. Find an affordable language course for beginners if you're willing to spend a bit of cash. But don't worry about forking out all of your savings for the higher-level courses that follow (unless you have time and money to kill). Once you're living in your host country, you will be experiencing free language immersion every single day – whether you like it or not. And the foundation you built in your Beginner course? It will help you get to a conversational level all the sooner!

4. Know people who are already there? Interview them! Ask them about power words and need-to-know classroom expressions – and make yourself a list. Memorizing words like “Stop!” or “No,” expressions such as “Good job!” or “Time out,” and even full sentences like “If you don't listen quietly, I will have to speak with your mother” will be a big help initially. And you'll be surprised at how quickly the language will start to roll off your tongue naturally.

Learning a new language doesn't have to be financially burdensome or dull! It can actually be great fun – and seeing that you're an English teacher yourself, you'd probably agree!

You might be moving overseas to teach English, but until you become a student and pick up some of the language spoken, don't fool yourself – it won't be an easy job.

This article, written by Kathleen O'Hagan, is provided by Ingle International. Ingle International has specialized in travel insurance since 1946, and provides insurance solutions for individuals living, working, studying, or travelling anywhere in the world.