English Language Awareness: why TEFL teachers still need help with grammar

John Hughes, author of Cactus TEFL’s online courses, looks back at three years of raising English Language awareness and explains why prospective TEFL teachers still request help with their grammar.

About twenty years ago I was being interviewed for an intensive four-week course in teaching English as a Foreign Language. It felt like a real make or break situation. I’d given up my day job and saved enough money to live on for a month. Then I was going to head to the first country with a language school that would take me. The Training Course Director asked what most worried me about taking the course? I had no doubts about the answer: “Teaching grammar”.

Years later, having taught EFL in many different countries, I also found myself interviewing and training would-be teachers for intensive TEFL courses. And, in most cases, people’s concerns still echoed my own: their lack of knowledge and confidence with grammar. Like me, they’d never had much formal education at school into how the English language works, so wondered how they would be able to teach it.

Three years ago, Cactus TEFL set about changing this situation by offering a grammar course either to help people before taking a TEFL course or for existing teachers who wanted to brush up their skills. Perhaps one reason why no one had really offered this kind of quality language awareness training before was because there had never been the opportunities suddenly provided by the internet and online training. In terms of course content, the online format allowed us to present aspects of language in conjunction with video extracts of how a teacher might present the language to students. We were also determined that – unlike many other online courses at the time – our course would have a ‘real’ tutor who could help participants with questions and queries as well as facilitate and moderate discussion in the forums.

Now, Cactus TEFL’s first ever online course is three years old. The course has evolved and grown over time which is what we’d hoped for. As a writer of courses both in book-form and online, the key advantage for me of online courses is that they are much more organic than a book-based course. Course participants can post feedback and suggest improvements which help with the process of writing and developing the course. Over time the Cactus course has expanded from being an introduction to the English language into also covering areas of methodology and classroom skills.

Having said all that, what surprises me most is that the basic format of the course remains more or less the same as it was three years ago. There are thirty lessons in each course and we use a combination of readings, video and audio to present language items. Then there are exercises which follow to help consolidate what has been learned.  The tutor support has always been a key feature of the course and it’s the area which receives more regular praise.

The best part about being involved with these Cactus courses is that you know so many of the people taking them will go on to take TEFL courses (such as CELTA or the Cert TESOL) and then go off to teach in every corner of the world. Raising your language awareness and then teaching English as a Foreign Language really will change your life. Take me, for example. When I completed my first TEFL course I expected to travel and teach for a few years and then do something else. Now, I find myself still heavily involved in TEFL – and as for my concerns about grammar? Well, my third grammar textbook for language learners comes out later this year, so at least I’ve finally laid that fear to rest!

Cactus TEFL is the only international admissions and jobs service for TEFL. It works with over 125 TEFL course providers in 35 different countries. Its English Language Awareness course has been nominated for a British Council Innovation Award.

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