ESL teacher | Youth Central

Natalie, early 30s

What does an ESL teacher do?

For Natalie, an English as a Second Language (or ESL) teacher, the best part of her job is the little changes she can make in her students' everyday lives. "The other day I taught a couple of Korean girls who were working part time in restaurants the word 'dishpig'. I don't know if they use it yet, but they've got a word they can use in their jobs."

Depending on the standard of the students, teaching English can include elements of increasing vocabulary, reading, writing and speaking the language. According to Natalie, "We give them opportunities to use words in semi-natural settings by setting up activities that might emulate the real world, like buying a tram ticket or going shopping. They don't necessarily understand what words mean at first, they'll learn that further down the track. So long as they know what to say, how to say it and what the appropriate context is, often the meaning will come to them through their lives."

How did you become an ESL teacher?

Natalie began teaching a single Ethiopian refugee student as a volunteer with the Australian Multicultural Education Service (AMES), because she had an "interest in other cultures and a bit of a social justice streak."

Natalie has since decided to formalise her experience with a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), that opens up even more career prospects. "There are heaps of jobs around, particularly if you want to take it travelling. Doing the CELTA qualification gives you a leg-up, because it's a world-recognised course."

Other useful courses are recognised by the National English Language Training Accreditation Scheme (NEAS) which highlights good, internationally-recognised courses.

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

While Natalie sees skills like performance, a good speaking voice and knowledge of English as useful, they're not essential and some can be learned through a course. In some cases, a natural way of speaking is almost an advantage: "A teacher I know is incredibly ocker and will say things like 'I'm cool with that' or 'You guys rock!' and I think, 'That's just wrong', but the students respond to it, because it's teaching them something that they will hear in society."

While often not hugely financially rewarding ("It's not a career you would do to become rich," Natalie says), it is a rewarding job. "Working with the students is great, particularly as they come to it with an enthusiasm to learn. Watching someone click, just seeing them suddenly get an understanding of something is just the best feeling."

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