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  • Celia Jenkins

BaBs - Interview with TEALE tips founder

As a TEFL teacher, I'm always on the look out for new teaching websites and blogs that I can get tips and ideas from. This month I got chatting with the founder of TEALE tips, a website which focuses on the unique challenges of teaching English to East-Asian learners. Having spent most of my past teaching career in East-Asia, I was particularly interested in hearing more about it.

Can you tell us in a nutshell what your website (TEALE tips) is all about?

Sure, it's a website focused on teaching East-Asian learners English. I'm an English language teacher and I lived in Japan and China for over five years. Due to cultural differences in society and education there are various things we have to think about when teaching communicative English. To share my thoughts and experiences I thought I'd start a website and hence was born. For a full introduction, do have a look at the "about" and "bio" sections on my site.

Who do you think will find your website useful and of interest?

I think that teachers of English will find it particularly useful as I add various blog posts and bits of material. Specifically (acronym alert!) EAL, EFL and ESOL teachers. I can also imagine that with the increasing influx of Chinese students in international schools and universities, these institutions might find it particularly useful. I think my training materials will be useful to senior teachers and those in charge of training. I also hold a master's degree in political theory, so I've shared various pieces of writing on that topic which can be downloaded on the website. That might be interesting for people interested in or studying philosophy or politics. I am also planning to add some blog posts and thoughts about learning Chinese, one in the pipeline is a quick guide on how to start learning Chinese (which I have learned), so that should be useful for anyone learning that language.

You have over 9 years of teaching experience as an ESL teacher - what nationalities have you taught and how are East-Asian learners different?

I've taught many different nationalities since I've worked in an international school in the UK. Among others, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Kazakh, French, Georgian, Chinese and Japanese learners. I'd say East-Asian learners are more reserved in general, apparently shyer (although this is usually more to do with manners) and more focused on writing and reading. Chinese and Japanese students are quite different to each other, actually. I'd say that in general Chinese students are rather more competitive and boisterous, whereas Japanese learners tend to be quite sensitive to the feelings of others and therefore often stay quiet to avoid standing out. There are many reasons for this, I've tried to cover a few on a recent blog post about quiet Japanese learners.

There are many other differences, too, such as East-Asian and western essay styles being very different. I'm currently doing some research on this and plan to share a post about it soon. I'd like to add a couple of quick points: we must always remember that these are tendencies and that we should treat each student as an individual, avoiding making assumptions. The second point is: sorry for the lack of information about other East-Asian cultures, for example Korea, I haven't been lucky enough to live and teach in any other East-Asian countries!

What resources and materials and can teachers find on TEALE tips to aid them in their teaching?

I'm currently adding materials to the site on a reasonably regular basis. So far, I've uploaded materials for a training session on East-Asian learners, which includes a Powerpoint and worksheet. I've also uploaded a few conversation class worksheets that are designed for low-fluency learners. I've included full teaching notes on those. I've also added a useful classroom language sheet for quiet learners, to give a confidence boost. Aside from that, there are my blog posts designed to share ideas for teaching. I'm planning to add some materials for higher level learners soon.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering teaching English in an East-Asian country?

I'd definitely recommend trying to talk to someone who has taught there before, if that's possible. One thing I'd say is to start your first contract with a large company that has little chance of messing you around. I started with English First and, although it was not my favourite company for various reasons, they did have an excellent first contract for China. It included flight costs, help with induction into Chinese culture, language lessons in house and pretty decent pay for an entry-level job (very good in China).

I'd also recommend reading blog posts about experiences there, which you can find in many places, I know you've written a few! Try to do things to connect with the culture, to avoid culture shock. For example, learn the language, find out about the history, culture, food. Most of all, don't shut down if it's not what you expected, try to enjoy the things you enjoy about it.

In terms of preparing for the learners, don't expect them to be exactly like the learners you may have had in the West. This means not using exactly the same approaches, so if something doesn't work remember not to get frustrated with your learners, instead go and think about why it didn't work, talk to other teachers (including local ones!) and try to work out how to adapt your style to the local culture. Basically, be constructive and think about what the experience can do for you in terms of opening your mind and increasing your teaching skill. For the more academic among you I'd definitely recommend doing some prior reading, I've recently added a blog post with some suggestions. Finally (plug alert!), read my website... ;-)

How can this website benefit teachers who are working outside of an East-Asian country? Do the tips apply to students of other nationalities?

I'll take the UK as an example here. There are a huge number of Chinese learners coming into the UK to take advantage of our renowned higher education system, but to get the edge a lot of these students are attending independent schools with EAL (English as an additional language) departments. It is therefore becoming vital to understand how to teach those particular learners, both for their own development and also to stand out from the competition. I'm pretty sure parents who are spending huge amounts of money on their children's international education will want the best-possible learner-centred teaching. I'd also add that tips for East-Asian learners are quite useful for students with similar tendencies. For example, shy students, bookish students and so on. I think understanding very different cultures will also help us help our students do the same thing.

What does the future hold for the TEALE tips website? Do you have any plans about future articles or topics you'll be exploring?

I'm planning to add things every fortnight or so. I'll keep adding teaching materials and blog posts. I might start doing some interviews with people who have taught in East Asia. I'm planning to cover essay styles, classroom management and more tips on getting students talking. I also want to do some pieces on getting jobs in East Asia and other career-based information. I'm also an avid language learner, so I'm going to share some ideas about how to get started learning Japanese and Chinese (it's not as impossible as it seems - I managed!). I'll also add some of my work from my earlier academic career.

Can you recommend any further reading for those interested in teaching East-Asian learners?

I know you've written some useful and very accessible pieces, which are available on the teaching section of your site. I do think these are excellent for those who want a quick introduction to some practical considerations. If you want something a lot more substantial, then my current favourite is Teaching English in East Asia by Clay H. Williams. It's pretty pricey, but does provide an incredibly extensive overview of the experience of teaching in East Asia. There are a fair few useful websites, such as the Asian EFL journal and the Journal of Asia TEFL. These are pretty academic, but interesting if you want a deeper look into the topic.

A general piece of advice I'd give would be to read more widely about the culture of that country, it always helps to have more potential points of common understanding in the classroom. So, for example choose something you are interested in and read about that country's approach to it, be it history, pop culture, food or education. It's amazing how much a but of shared knowledge and evident interest in the local culture will help you connect with your students.

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