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ESL Teacher Opens Up World to Students

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene  June 23, 2009 02:00 AM

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By Cindy Atoji Keene

The English language is full of idioms that make it difficult to understand, says ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher Robert Davis, who gives some examples: “‘Let’s go over that’ makes it sound like you’re flying over something; ‘Stand behind a product’ is another confusing statement,” says Davis, an associate director at the Boston Language Institute. Davis teaches advanced level classes that prepare foreign students for the linguistic and cultural challenges of such MBA programs as MIT Sloan and other business schools, but he also has experience teaching what he calls “true beginners” – those who have never been exposed to English before.

For immigrants living in the U.S. who don’t know English, life can be difficult, whether asking for directions or listening to a lecture at college. But with the help of teachers like Davis, who are certified to teach English to non-English speakers, every lesson makes a big difference in helping often-befuddled students get through the day. Davis starts with the general building blocks of language, like the verb “to be” and expands from there. “ His lessons start slowly: “I begin with, ‘I am,’ ‘she is,’ ‘you are,’ and then pair with an adjective or noun. Like, ‘I am a teacher,’ or ‘I am happy.’ I stick to present tenses, and then start to branch out,” says Davis, who encounters students from all over the globe, including Brazil, France, Vietnam, and Japan.

With the increasing number of immigrants entering the country – in Boston, for example, eight percent of the city’s population doesn’t speak English well– employment for ESL or ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) teachers is expected to grow by 14 percent to 2016, with many part-time positions available. The average salary for an ESL teacher is $35,000. At minimum, a certificate is needed to teach English to adults, with many colleges and universities offering master’s degrees in ESL.

Q: What cultural aspects come into play when teaching English as a second language?
A: Americans are careful not to stereotype, but there are ways to characterize different ethnic groups. Russians, for example, tend to be more outspoken, while people from Japan and Korea have trouble stating directly what they want. Almost everyone has trouble writing and there are common pronunciation problems. Europeans, for example, get confused as to when an “H” is silent or not, like when saying, “See you in a half hour.”

Q: How did you get involved with teaching English as a second language?
A: I was in the photography business for 20 years but I wanted to use my brain more. I have a dual major in English and psychology, and when I took a one-month course in teaching ESL, it seemed obvious to me that this is what I was meant to do. I enjoy helping people, and the ability to teach was almost like an instinct.

Q: What are the rewards of this profession?
A: I meet such a range of students, from doctors and lawyers as well as those who were janitors or cleaners in their native countries. At first, you don’t know these people or their personalities, but the more words they learn, the more they begin to open up. It’s very satisfying.

Q: If I end this interview by saying, “See you later,” is that one of those confusing idioms?
A: It certainly is. I had one student who heard someone say, “See you later.” So she waited and waited, thinking she would actually see him again. Needless to say, he never showed up.

Q: So, I’ll just end this with “goodbye.”
A: Yes, that’s best. Bye.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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7 comments so far...
  1. Hi Cindy
    How did you take a "one-month" course in ESL teaching? You must have a university education. How do you take a course, if you do not have a university education, but speak English perfectly well and also tend to teach it "almost by instinct"? But I can't get certified to teach because I don't have a degree. Do you know the process?

    Posted by Judy June 24, 09 06:23 PM
  1. Robert Davis, (the subject of the article), says he was a dual major in English and psychology - that's a bachelor's degree.

    Posted by HMS June 25, 09 05:25 PM
  1. Good call, Judy -agreed. Our culture values 4-year degrees way too much. I do have one, and it's simply a necessity - sadly - for too many things.

    I think the larger issue is we shouldn't even need this service. In the past, immigrant populations had to learn English before even being allowed into the country. We should return to that so we can allow the truly devoted immigrants to come here. All we get now are the worst society has to offer from other countries in the form of illegals, many of whom scoff at the idea of becoming naturalized citizens or learning English well, or even working all that hard. But Deval sure wants to give them free college education, huh? Yeah, great idea.

    Posted by FJ June 26, 09 08:40 AM
  1. Judy,

    The minimum qualification to teach English as a Foreign Language is usally CELTA or equivalent. The CELTA course is one month long and has entry requirements for your own level of English and education. Search for CELTA courses if this interests you.

    Posted by Al Clunnie June 26, 09 10:54 AM
  1. Hi, My name is Scott, an American teacher from Cape Cod. I live and work in
    Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, China. I have been here since September
    2005. I like it here very much. I teach English in a Middle School and I
    also help teachers find suitable schools to teach in.
    I would like to help you in your placements. I have many jobs available
    in various cities and levels. I have Kindergartens, Primary/Middle/High
    schools, Universities/Colleges, and Training centers. I only deal with
    reputable schools. If you are interested in any of these positions, please
    send me your CV, passport scan, degree/certificate copies, and a recent
    photo. At this time, the schools are only accepting teachers from THE
    USA,UK, CAN, AUS, and NZ only.

    Lianyungng, City by the Sea
    Huaihai Institute of Technology©vHHIT©w
    Location: Lianyungang City, Jiangsu Province, China.
    Benefit package for ESL Teachers includes:
    One Year Contract ( Sep. 2009 --- June, 2010)
    Salary: 5,000-5,500RMB/Month, 70% of which can be converted into foreign currency monthly
    16-18 teaching hours per week
    Holiday allowance: 2,200 RMB
    Round-trip ticket for one-year contract
    Housing free (available during all holidays)
    a furniture apartment free of charge£¨including a living room ,bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Cooking facilities will be equipped. Other electric appliances will be supplied accordingly,air conditioner,TV,DVD,computer,refrigerator,washing machine, hot water heater, microwave etc..
    Medical: Free in the school clinic
    Holiday Pay: salary paid
    Water, electric power, natural gas:
    Paid by the school
    Paid by the school
    arranged and paid by the school
    Residence permit:
    arranged and paid by the school
    Foreign expert permit:
    arranged and paid by the school
    A Brief Introduction Of Huaihai Institute of Technology
    Huaihai Institute of Technology©vHHIT©founded in 1985, is an engineering-oriented institute under the jurisdiction of the Jiangsu Provincial Government. The institute is located at the foot of Huaguo Mountain in the city of Lianyungang, the Eastern Bridgehead of the New Eurasian Land bridge and has a pleasant climate and quiet, charming surroundings.
    The campus covers an area of 123 hectares and the buildings with good layout and modern structures, cover a floor area of 440,000 square meters. The institute has good facilities for both teaching and research. There are 88 laboratories in 6 experiment centers, all equipped with advanced facilities and apparatus, six audiovisual centers, twenty-three modern multimedia classrooms, an institute-wide Academic Computing Network Station and one mechanical factory. Beside this, the institute has 17 off-campus practical training centers, and 24 hectares fields used for aquaculture. The library, with a floor area of 21,000 square meters, has a collection of more than, 700,000 volumes of books as well as over 1,400 kinds of periodical and newspapers in both Chinese and foreign languages. At present, the institute has a staff of 1,400 people and about 15£¬000 full- time students at the institute.
    The institute consists of 3 schools and 14 departments. They are the School of Marine Technology and Aquaculture, School of Donggang , the School of Continuing Education, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Architectural Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Computer Science and Technology, Food Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Space Information Science, Economics and Management, Mathematics and Science, Chinese Language and Literature, Foreign Languages, Social Science, Physical Education and College English.
    HHIT is active in international exchanges and cooperation. Every year, the institute sends both senior and young teachers abroad for further studies or to attend important international academic activities. Furthermore, the foreign experts are frequently invited here to give lectures or to teach. HHIT has established cooperation relationships between Flinders University, Curtin University of Technology, Gordon Institute of TAFE, Australia, Eastern Institute of Technology, Whitireia Community Polytechnic New Zealand, Togliatti State University, State Marine Technical University of Saint-Petersburg, Russia, Daebul University, Changwon National University, Korea, Kansai University of International Studies, Kyushu Tokai University, Prefectural University of Kumamoto, Japan, etc.
    Huaihai Institute of Technology is striving to the excellent spirit of Rigor, Reality, Unity and Dedication in an effort to build the institute into Jiangsu Marine University with a high academic standard and excellent research ability.

    Location: Lianyungang
    Compensation: 5,000-5,500RMB

    Posted by Scott July 5, 09 06:17 AM
  1. FJ--Comments such as yours perpetuate negative and harmful stereo-types. I am bilingual/ESL teacher in North Philadelphia, an area with a large Spanish-speaking population. Some of the people are here legally, some aren't. It is hard to tell and many that are there do not (not cannot) speak English. I've worked with children and adults and let me inform you that the majority of people are good, honest people. Not all are "illegals" and need to be classified as such. This world would be better off if we had faith in people. How can you be an ESL teacher without a heart? Also, degrees are important. They train and educate as well as separate the serious from the unqualified.
    You're right that some immigrants scoff at the idea of learning English or working an on the books job, but so do many of our own citizens and that's why the majority of the "illegals" work tremendously hard in the United States, long hours of labor--doing the work are "legals" gave up.
    All people are people and contribute.
    Ms. Keene-I thoroughly enjoyed your article.

    Posted by Jaime July 21, 09 09:58 AM
  1. People from other countries who come here to live are not the worst in society and many know English as well as other languages. The ones who come here illegally have a life of working without voice or promotion and are paid the lowest with twice as many hours. This paycheck goes quickly here in America and they even have to send much of it home...and somehow you call them the lowest of society and say they don't work hard. If they are caught they are brought to court, they spend years in prison -sometimes just waiting for the trial...and they have no rights of protection in prison and immigration appliations are LONG and costly!

    Posted by Kirsten August 13, 09 08:02 PM

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