We can say in general terms that all teachers are important, English teachers among them. However, the requirement for specialist teachers who are able to teach English as a second or foreign language is particularly important. What makes specialist ESL teachers so necessary?
Working knowledge vs Formal Knowledge
Globalized industry has led to an explosion of the use of English as the lingua franca. This trend looks as though it will continue in the near future. Whilst English is a mainstream curriculum subject in many countries, teachers of English are not necessarily equipped to teach English as a second or foreign language. Teachers trained in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are therefore in great demand.
Whilst it is generally true that Native English Speakers (NES) have a good working knowledge of the English Language, this does not mean that they have a technical or formal knowledge of English. It surprises many people to learn that most NES from the UK for example, have no technical training about English grammar in their formal schooling years. This fact is one of the reasons why TEFL teacher training courses have two main components, 1) How to teach and 2) Language Awareness.
What are the training options to become a TEFL teacher?
The availability of TEFL teacher employment throughout the world is vast. Due to this, the requirement for TEFL teachers, qualifications and training is vast and also varies widely. However, there are some general features of acceptable forms of TEFL training and qualifications required to get you started on your TEFL teaching career path.
The main types of TEFL courses are divided into online and onsite courses.
Online courses can be taken anywhere where an internet connection and a laptop are available. The course materials are downloaded and usually you are able to work through them at your own pace. The typical entry level online TEFL course will be for 120 hours of study.
Onsite courses are taken at a training center in some location around the world. These are face-to-face training courses and usually have a component of observed teaching practice with them. Again a 120 hour course is typical, conducted over a period of four weeks.
Types of employment
TEFL teachers provide a number of roles within the education system worldwide. These include teaching in mainstream schools, such as government and private schools throughout the world. Other teaching scenarios include working at language centers, teaching students from Kindergarten to adults. A very large part of the market is also teaching English online.
Many examination systems exist for students to show their English Language level for entry to employment or university in English speaking countries. A couple of well known examples are the TOEFL and IELTS examination systems. There is a very large market for TEFL teachers teaching students for those exam systems.
The areas of employment suggested above give us the answer to the original question of, why are TEFL teachers important?
TEFL teachers provide opportunities for non-native speakers of English to learn about the English language so that they may participate in the global industrial and technological world. Through external exam systems such as IELTS we can also teach students, giving them access to universities worldwide where a certain level of English language knowledge is an entry requirement.