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Teaching English Abroad: Top 5 Insider Tips for New TEFL Teachers!

I thought I was ready for teaching English abroad–but I’ll never forget standing in front of twenty teenaged Moroccan students, role sheet in hand, thinking, “this oughta be good,” as I struggled to pronounce their unfamiliar names in my head before butchering them aloud. Abdelaziz? Btissam? Oumaima?

That’s the thing about being a new teacher teaching English abroad—you’re going to face challenges that no teaching English abroad course or how-to book can prepare you for. It’s part of the of the adventure of teaching English abroad and it “builds character,” as my dad would say, but why not save yourself a bit of trouble and learn from my mistakes instead?

Below are my five favorite insider tips for new EFL teachers (learned teaching English abroad the hard way!):

1. Before you go, master the pronunciation of common names in your destination country. A quick Google search will clue you in to the most common names you’re likely to encounter, and learning to pronounce them will get you off to a much smoother start on the first day of class! This trick will also save you the embarrassment of wondering who’s a boy (for example, Noureddine and Ridouane in Morocco) and who’s a girl (Hind and Wafae) when teaching English abroad.

2. Speaking of your students’ names, learn them all!
 This may seem daunting when you have five classes of 20 students each, but trust me, your efforts will pay off. To help you remember, try writing notes next to names on the role sheet (wears glasses, is a doctor, or whatever jogs your memory). Students will respect your interest in them as individuals, and trust me, discipline will be a whole lot easier when you can ask Driss—by name—not to speak Arabic during English class!

3. When it comes to discipline, start out strict.
You may be afraid of making a harsh first impression on a new class, but I’ve learned by experience that it’s much easier to shift from a very structured atmosphere to one that’s more relaxed, than the other way around. Establishing clear, firm class rules from the start gives you the freedom loosen the reigns later, if you feel the class can handle it.

4. Take language classes.
 I recommend this not so you can use the local language in class (don’t!), but to make you better at teaching English abroad. As a language student yourself, you’ll better empathize with the struggles your students face in class— like understanding activity instructions, pronouncing difficult words, or getting homework done on time. You’ll also see what works in the classroom and what doesn’t and you can “steal” ideas for your own classes!

5. Bring realia from your home country.
 New teachers often wonder what materials to pack with them when going abroad. My advice is, if nothing else, pack realia. Go to a hotel in your city and snag some tourist brochures. Take Target ads from the Sunday paper. Grab those issues of People Magazine from beside your bed. These are cheap and light, and students love to get out of the book and see examples of real English in an authentic context.

These insider TEFL tips will help you face your first class with a few tricks up your sleeve. And before you know it, you’ll be writing your own teaching English abroad Top 5! Want even more tips about teaching English abroad? Check out the How to Get Started Teaching English Abroad eBook!

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

Jennifer is from Tampa, Florida, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in both English and psychology. After a short career in social work, she gave in to wanderlust, got TEFL-certified, and moved abroad to teach English. She has taught students of all ages at language centers in Costa Rica, Morocco, and Spain.