How to Teach English as a Second or Foreign Language

As I travel I get asked this a lot. There is a lot of information I could share about getting jobs, managing your schedule, finding resources, writing material… but really there are three main rules to teaching, and I´m talking about the time you spend in the classroom with the students. For specifics about how to get a job and visa in Mexico, I wrote a series of blogs for a TESL school here:

Teach English in Mexico

But here are my three rules, and the first two are by far the most important:

1. ESL schools are a business and the students are your customers. You are providing a service, and like any other business, you must be aware of what service they want. Your responsibility is to your customers, not to the book you have or the lesson plan you made. You are not in a position of authority. You are not a traditional teacher, the kind you hated back in middle school. The customer is always right. Figure out what they want and do it. Do they need grammar? Or practice? Lots of teachers show movies in class – is this a service your customers actually want, or are you just being lazy? And remember, if you are teaching children, your customers are really their parents. You might not ever meet them but you should be aware of their needs.

2. Speak as little as possible in class. This oft-broken rule is closely related to my first. Whatever your students (customers) want, listening to you talk about your day, tell stories, or explain anything at length almost certainly isn´t it. Teaching a language is unlike teaching many other subjects in that the students need to practice what they are learning with the supervision of a teacher who will correct them. For example, don´t answer questions – invite other students to answer them for you. Don´t give lists of vocabulary, but give the category and elicit vocabulary words from the students. Don’t interrupt your students. Be patient. Let them talk. Now, when you develop a rapport with some classes they may be interested in you and you can tell them a story or two, but keep it to a minimum and make sure they ask for it.

3. If you don´t know the answer to something, never fake your way through it. You will get caught and instantly lose respect. Just admit that you don´t know, tell them that you will look it up, and do it.

If you follow these rules, you will be a good ESL teacher. If you don´t, well, you are a bad ESL teacher. Your students or boss may be too polite to tell you, but your funny stories that all the students laugh at… the truth is that none of the students care.


About Ted Campbell

U.S.-Canadian writer, translator and university teacher in Mexico. Travel stories and practical tips on my blog No Hay Bronca: Twitter: @NoHayBroncaBlog // Contact: nohaybroncablog (at)

Posted on June 17, 2011, in LANGUAGE, Working in Mexico and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Excellent advice! I’m a new English teacher and although I love the job, these words of widsom are a good reality check for me. Thank-you very much!

  1. Pingback: Teaching English Abroad | no hay bronca

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