How the EFL and ESL Classrooms Differ

This is the final blog in a four-part series on teaching English abroad. This blog will focus on ways in which the EFL classroom differs from teaching in an ESL context.

Homogeneous Classroom
If you choose to teach English abroad, you will likely be facing a group of students who have a similar linguistic and cultural background. Of course, every student will be different, and cultures do not only exist at the national level. Nevertheless, the level of homogeneity may be greater than you would experience teaching ESL. Although this homogeneity may limit your students’ opportunities to engage in traditional cross-cultural interactions, it can have its benefits. Teaching in China, I can sometimes use Mandarin to facilitate teaching in a way that was impossible when I was teaching ESL in the United States (because doing so would have required learning five different languages). I’m also better able to address specific issues of grammatical accuracy because my students often make the same kinds of errors. So, though I love teaching an obviously multicultural group of students, a more homogenous group gives me more time to focus on how my students’ linguistic background can influence their English learning.

Missing Motivation
Another factor that needs to be considered in teaching EFL is motivation. Students may be studying English because it is required by the government or to get a promotion. However, they may have few opportunities to use the language for genuine communication outside their English classes. An ESL setting provides more opportunities to speak English that can motivate even the most reluctant student. In an EFL setting, you will have to create more opportunities outside of class for students to practice English. Providing these opportunities will help motivate them to work on their language skills, especially speaking and listening.

Teaching Culture
When teaching abroad, one final thing to keep in mind is that your perceptions of effective language instruction and classroom culture will likely be different from your host culture. How different will vary. It is important to find out what is expected of you from administrators, fellow teachers, and students. Differing expectations can create a negative impression on all sides. Learn as much as you can from different voices about how teachers should behave, what language teaching methods are most commonly used, how much content is expected to be covered, and the kinds of grades students normally receive.

If you feel very strongly about an expectation, you will need to find a diplomatic way to make a suggestion or change. Do not be surprised, though, if your suggestions are initially ignored. Programs are often unwilling to make many changes for someone who may not even be teaching at the school next year. So learn as much as you can and be prepared to make some adjustments. These challenges can help improve your teaching skills and effectiveness!

So, that’s all for this blog series. For more suggestions, activity ideas, and other insights, check out the latest edition of TESOL Press’s More than a Native Speaker!

The Other Blog Posts in This Series

About Maxi-Ann Campbell

Maxi-Ann Campbell received her master’s degree in applied linguistics from Georgia State University. She currently teaches academic writing and oral communication at Duke Kunshan University in China. Her research focuses on improving attitudes towards nonnative English accents, and best practices for teaching English as a foreign language. Aside from teaching and research, she does teacher training for novice EFL teachers. She is coauthor of the third edition of TESOL Press’s “More than a Native Speaker.”

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