As every TEFL Teacher might know, there are six levels of comprehension in the English language. They range from A1 – C2. A1 is an extremely limited understanding, and C2 is Operational Proficiency, and the student will have no problem producing language. There isn’t a week that passes when I don’t visualize the conundrum that TEFL Teachers face when they actively pursue and practice their Native Language as a career. It’s at the forefront of my mind as an educator. Should TEFL Teachers be proficient in English, in both language and literacy? Of course, one has to consider the need for Proficient English in even today’s world. Because it is only for a certain kind of student, the need for it may be low. At the same time it’s my contention that when we, as teachers, work with Spanish Speakers who are learning to speak English, that they, the students, should feel that they are in the hands of an expert. Could one call themselves an expert without experiencing, and subsequently understanding the toughest aspects of the English language? Incidentally, is one’s awareness of proficient English able to effectively teach it? Let’s say that one doesn’t have that awareness. What would a Native English Speaker need to do in order to be able to teach Proficient English? These are some of the basic questions that TEFL Teachers need to think about when someone requires that extra level of fluency and understanding.
Typically, there will be a greater influx of students at a Beginner level than there will be at a Proficient Level. Referring back to what was said earlier, the need for Proficiency is relatively. However, parents will want their children to pass language tests. Companies will want their employees to do business with English-speaking clients. Within that framework is a multitude of requirements that could vary from simply being able to speak independently with tourists, to effectively commanding a lecture with terms and phrases related to Psychopharmacology. Where do you lie in all this? Perhaps with the student who only requires a need to converse with tourists, you may be able to do so without needing to use words like ‘verisimilitude’ or ‘loquacious’. That being said, do you think it may be possible that while the student may not necessarily need certain words or phrases to add to their linguistic knowledge, you may need it ‘just in case?’ To put it simply, it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. It’s a good skill to have. Skills like that one are actively used in today’s business world. Students who actively want to participate in that world are the students who are likely to come back, and they’ll want someone who can help them effectively communicate, present themselves, or negotiate in that world. One of the big problems with even Native English Speakers today is that when they’re presented with a Proficiency or even an Advanced English Test, they wouldn’t be able to call upon their innate talent to pass it successfully. This will certainly be a problem when you’re dealing with Spanish Speakers who want to Learn how to Speak English. If you can’t pass a C1 level exam, how can you possibly teach your would-be students the skills that they need to pass it? How is it possible that through your experience as a student in High School or University that you didn’t at least hear the language that would go into these tests? It’s logic. Whenever I heard a word that I didn’t understand, I picked up a dictionary (and a thesaurus, in some cases), and I learned it. My hope with teachers is that if they choose to come out here and help those who need them that they bring not just their education, but their experience, as well. Your TEFL students will depend on it.
Now, let’s say that you have the knowledge and the experience in question. You’ve written articles in University Publications, and you also have the social life to be approachable. If Cambridge University approached you and asked you to pass the Proficiency Exam, or if ETS approached you to pass the TOEFL ibt online, you wouldn’t have any problem taking care of it. Does knowing and understanding the language mean that you can teach it? As you can see, all that experience was just the beginning. You have to be able to take that experience and put it into a context that your students will be able to understand. As one might be able to see, Proficiency lessons, even for TEFL Teachers, aren’t really different from teaching grammar at a basic or intermediate level. The big difference is the complexity of the language. Fundamentally speaking, the vocabulary of Proficient language, and how it is brought together into a coherent and understandable form is what sets it apart from more basic forms of the language. Following the class structure of meaning, form, and pronunciation is still how a teacher is expected to deliver a class. So, as one might be able to tell, if you have the awareness of how language works in theory and practice, and you couple it with the experience that goes with the active use of the language itself, you should be able to help a student achieve that all-important Proficiency level. Of course, simple understanding of Proficient language may not be enough without experience.
Taking that last point into account, how does one go about acquiring the ability to teach a Proficiency class? If you decide to come to Madrid, getting that TEFL Certification may be a very good start. English Teachers in Spain still need to be qualified to be hired by academies and individuals alike. Taking that all-too-necessary TEFL Course will certainly make your C.V. a lot more attractive than simply coming over with your Bachelor’s Degree. With trained professionals, you’ll be able to see how your language works, and to the more sophisticated of would-be teachers, you may be able to see why your language works the way it does. You’ll be able to impart language onto your students that they didn’t think was possible. Now, the TEFL Courses that are offered in Madrid are certainly reputable, and they produce hundreds of qualified TEFL Teachers every single month. That is just the beginning. Teachers should never cease being students just because they’re teachers. Gather as many English-language materials as you possibly can. Go through their pages, and see the grammar that you’ve actively used, and understand what it means, and how it’s put together. I have a small collection of Proficiency textbooks, and workbooks, and practice exams, and I always (and I mean always), read through a couple of pages, and do a few exercises. I try not to be cocky as an Native English speaker. It humbles and excites me to continue understanding the language that I call my own. Another thing that I’d like to say is that you’ll be shocked at how quickly you’ll see how much you still need to learn, yourself. The more often you experience the level of difficulty that comes with understanding English at its toughest level, the quicker you’ll be able to see how simpler forms of the language work. Your students will see you for the expert you truly are. They need your insight, so I always say to continue building that insight. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As I always say to my students, “If you’re failing, you’re succeeding.” So, fail. Fail often. Fail forward. They will appreciate you more for the expert you are always becoming.
I think that you may know what it is that I was getting at with this piece on Proficient English. The need for it is low, but students always want to be able to feel that their teacher is an authority on the subject that he or she is teaching in the classroom. Whether you’re keen on giving conversation classes, organizing language exchanges, preparing students for language exams, or showing them English grammar step-by-step, it’s important (in my opinion, at least) for the teacher to be able to demonstrate expertise at the most unexpected of moments. It may also be important for this expertise to be the focal point of a class, or even for an entire course. Questions that demand a proficient knowledge may never come, but it’s important for a teacher to be prepared. One thing that I remember when I was learning French was how quickly my instructor was able to show me how it worked at the snap of her fingers. You need to be able to do that, as well. So, if you don’t know, learn. I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it a thousand times over, you will appreciate yourself for taking the time to be an expert, and your students are depending on you, whether they ask questions of a proficient nature or not. So, learn, make mistakes, grow, and pass that insight on to the people who need your help.