English language learners in Switzerland and the interpretation of the word “free” or “without cost”

I’ve recently encountered something that I’d like to share with you. 

It’s one that, at first glance seems odd and difficult to understand, but when examined as a cultural phenomenon, seems less strange.

It involves language teaching in Switzerland and sale of language services.

The discussion starts with the word “free” and it’s interpretation.

Imagine being offered something for nothing. How would you react? Would you accept without question, or would you mistrust it and walk away?

If the answer to the second question was yes, perhaps you went about your business without question.

Now consider this. If you are looking to improve your English and see an advertisement for English lessons for free, how would you react?

For most, the word “free” in a business context may ring alarm bells as it is often considered a bi-word for poor quality and not worth anything.

In summary, beware of attaching the word “free” to your services and if you do, and don’t expect a rush. Not because your services are sub-standard, but because the word “free” or “without cost” is associated with sub-standard quality.



The “travelling” EFL teacher

I was recently asked what being a “travelling” teacher involved and my answer could have been short - travelling and teaching, but it wasn’t.

It wasn’t because as you will see, travelling and teaching are at two very different ends of the scale and we as travelling teachers must appreciate what they are.

As most of you will know, Switzerland is not a big country and you may think that travelling within it is no big deal and relatively speaking, you would be right, but when you think about it, travelling is one very big part of the equation.

Yes indeed, there’s so much more to being a travelling teacher than the title suggests and this post sets out to consider this…

If time is money, why not make the client aware and make the client pay?…

As you know, travelling takes time and many non-teaching professionals travel as part and parcel of what they do. Some love it (indeed see it as a perk) and some just do it either because the novelty has worn off, or because they simply have to.

So, what about “travelling” EFL teachers?

Should we feel any different?

No we shouldn’t, except when you consider that the time taken for travel is “dead time” - or time where no money is being earned. In fact on the contrary, money and time are being spent on travel! Yes, that’s the harsh reality.

So, if you enjoy travelling, great! But, sooner or later you’ll discover what it actually means in real terms.

At first, I enjoyed it! It was interesting going to new places, meeting new people and by and large, it still is!

However, as with the business traveller mentioned above, over time, it started to lose its appeal - that is until a client opened my eyes to it and I started to see the role of the travelling Teacher in a new light.

Now try this…

Imagine a situation where you didn’t have to travel, a situation where all your clients came to you, were always punctual and if not, let you know in plenty of time for you not to care.

You never have to worry about getting from A to B to C and back again in time for D. You never have to pay for train and bus tickets, or pay fines when you realise you’ve forgotten to get one. You have everything you need when you need it to give a great lesson and the client leaves happy. You’ve fulfilled your role as a teacher first by taking the travelling part and all that entails out of the equation.

Now look at your real situation and consider this.

If you are a travelling teacher, make sure the client is firstly aware of the fact that you don’t just magically appear, fully equipped and ready for them! Secondly, make sure they pay for your travel and thirdly, appreciate you coming to whatever remote point you’ve agreed to meet in. Finally, make sure they pay for the “dead time”, yes, you’ve heard correctly, the time you’ve sacrificed for them in which you could be earning.

Then and only then, will have have truly fulfilled your role first as a teacher and secondly, as a travelling teacher.


On conveyer-belt style teaching in EFL

A summary and critical analysis of TEFL

Theory in TEFL: Help or hindrance?

TEFL (see notes below) employs the standard much practiced ‘linear’ approach of PPP - an abbreviation describing a sequence of Presentation, Practice and Production prevalent in EFL. Furthermore, standard textbooks commonly used in the EFL classroom are adept at promoting this practice.

The linear approach mentioned here is indeed standard practice incorporating a warm-up, presentation, controlled practice, free practice and feedback phase of a standard EFL lesson.

As competition in the EFL textbook industry stiffens, publishers are increasingly offering additional teacher resources such as lesson plans and supplementary materials as ‘all-inclusive survival packs’. 

In general, these include detailed descriptions of how and when the EFL practitioner is to proceed with the lesson along the lines of the standard linear approach of PPP. Unfortunately, the result is that more and more EFL teachers are tending to follow such prescribed approaches which tend to ignore other vital areas of pedagogy such as classroom management and group dynamics to name but two.

Policy, documentation, lesson plans and ‘conveyer belt teaching’

Policy has a big part to play in the changing face of EFL teaching and learning with language learning institutions in Switzerland advocating the PPP approach in a bid to secure the coveted eduQua certificate (see notes below).

EduQua requires certain documented evidence of practice and proof of training with the aim of improving practice. One such requirement is transparency for ‘clients’ which can be found in detailed, ready-made lesson plans and course overviews of the EFL materials being produced and published on a conveyer-belt scale. Indeed owing to time constraints, it is in the EFL practitioner’s interests to have these ready-made plans available as they can be used time and time again. 

The result is the proliferation of a set format in EFL which publishers have recognized and thus respond to market needs by producing this type of conveyer-belt approach to teaching.

Overriding the conveyer-belt system through experience and reflection

With time a consideration then, it is easy to understand why so many teachers would appreciate this pre-packaged approach to lesson planning and teaching.

Experienced teachers however, will be aware that the same routine can be generated through reflection on what works which in turn generates the awareness that prepares the teacher for what’s coming next. In simple terms, a question is anticipated, the answer formulated and given, the information received and understood and all in a matter of minutes.Reflection and awareness also allows the teacher the confidence to wait - students are often capable of answering their own questions with a little prompting which invariably speeds up the process of learning.

Taking this on board, detailed lesson plans could be considered unnecessary and purely a policy and market-driven requirement which aims to keep the client happy and the publishing industry’s conveyer belt turning.

Sticking to the tried and tested?

Modern EFL is essentially a business which caters for career-orientated adults and this seems to be reflected in changes to the curriculum which are driven by market forces.

Perhaps it is for further studies to show, but a recent example of how the market place drives TEFL can be gauged from Cambridge ESOL activities in recent times.

On their website, ESOL claims the following: ‘In order to ensure our exams meet the needs of users, FCE and CAE have recently undergone a review and the examinations have been updated. The first session of the updated FCE and CAE exams will take place in December 2008’. (http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/general-english/cae.html)

It is interesting to note that the FCE and the CAE are two of Cambridge ESOL’s most popular exams. Approximately 60,000 people from 127 countries take the CAE every year. (http://www.geos-oceania.com/links/cae—-certificate-in-advanced-english.htm) and the FCE is taken by about 300,000 people from 100 countries each year. (http://www.tlh.ch/English/courses.htm).

In my view, the market has become saturated and Cambridge ESOL has deemed an ‘update’ of course materials necessary.

There is no question that it is big business with ‘a huge range of course books, practice tests and learning resources’ being produced by publishers as preparation for Cambridge ESOL exams. Cambridge claims that ‘several hundred titles specifically linked to the exams are available’ (http://www.cambridgeesol.org/resources/books-for-study.php)

Final thoughts

For the EFL practitioner, policy and market forces alter the way English language courses are planned, structured and taught. However, while Cambridge ESOL offers a wide range of materials and practical help to aid the practitioner, experienced practitioners rely on reflection and action - methods which are establishing a foothold in the face of changing curricula driven by client’s demands and market forces.

Unfortunately, with time constraints an ever-present reality, reflection is perhaps a luxury that most teachers can’t afford and therefore welcome the pre-packaged system that has been discussed here. That is not to say however, that it doesn’t play a part - in my experience, the ‘linear’ method of PPP works in conjunction with course materials and the competent practitioner will ‘pick and choose’ from the wide-ranging wealth of resources on offer to provide the best practice for the client.

In Switzerland, EduQua also plays a part in ensuring that quality is maintained at a high level and it’s insistence on continual training means that teachers attend regular group seminars which are essentially forums for reflection and shared experience on what works.

Of course, marketing and promos will never be far away either. 


TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language

SWEB - Schweizerisches Qualitätszertifikat für Weiterbildungsinstitutionen labels a good quality institute in further education; contributes to securing and developing quality of institutes in further education; adds more transparency for clients (http://www.eduqua.ch)

eduQua defines six criteria, which are key to the quality of an institution: the course offer, communication with clients, value performance, staff - meaning the educators, learning success, and quality assurance and development

Cambridge ESOL offers the world’s leading range of certificates for learners and teachers of English - taken by over 2 million people in 130 countries. They help people gain entrance to university or college, improve job prospects or measure progress in English. (http://www.cambridgeesol.org)



Teaching EFL? Getting started in Switzerland - are you prepared for life on the road?

For those of you who have completed a TEFL course - be it CELTA or the Irish equivalent RELSA and are considering a stint at teaching EFL in Switzerland, this post is for you ; )
My name is John Mc Glacken and I’ve been teaching EFL in Switzerland for almost 9 years. In that time, I’ve worked in many schools for many employers and in many systems.
It’s been a hard slog and I’d like to tell you about it.
Firstly, you need to put the idea of getting that elusive full-time teaching job in picturesque Switzerland on the back burner.
I’m not saying forget about it, but I am advising you not to expect it.
I’ve heard far too few stories of people who’ve actually succeeded on that front (you probably stand a better chance of winning the lottery) to fill your head with it.
Consider instead whether you’d be prepared to settle for a number of part-time positions in less scenic environments because that’s the most likely route you’ll be offered.
Most of the jobs are to be found in the more industrialised urban areas surrounding Zürich, Basle, Bern, etc. and most of my experience is in the Zürich area - practically all of it has involved travelling around. That can be quite taxing, but can also be well worth it.
Basically, if you can juggle your time and are prepared to put in long hours (much of which is spent travelling), you can do quite well financially.
Additionally, you’ll get a lot of experience quickly which will stand you in good stead later in your career.
Generally speaking, the Swiss like the following - certificates (the more the better), experience and competence in that order! It also helps a lot if you are charismatic, imaginative, creative and can make them laugh.
So, as a start, if you’ve got any of the above mentioned, you stand a chance.
Thanks for reading, please leave a comment and stay posted!