Teaching English in Costa Rica – Learning a new language is such a complicated process that it is often difficult to decide where to begin. From a teaching perspective this is even harder.
Great questions new teachers always ask is where to start with students they have never taught before or what students at certain proficiency levels should already know. These are seemingly simple questions that have complex answers.
The question of student proficiency levels can be as complicated as lesson planning. The three generic categories to place students in terms of proficiency are beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Where the inconsistency lies is that most schools or programs – and their accompanying level testing system – have different definitions as to what constitutes being included in one of those levels.
Given this, the answer to a question about what an intermediate ESL student should know is inherently “it depends.” Furthermore, the age of your students can, and in most cases does, affect what material you will teach.
It’s important not to confuse proficiency levels with age groups. Children naturally learn faster than adults and it’s not uncommon to encounter children who speak English with a much higher proficiency than adult students. With this said, the amount of material and its subject matter will be more restricted for children than it is with adults as they go through their natural learning process as children tend to learn second and third languages in the same manner that they learn other subjects.
So, if designing a curriculum or beginning with new students, where do you start? It’s really important to focus on your students’ objectives.
Teaching across different age groups brings different student objectives with it. This space, in one column, doesn’t permit for all of them to be covered. Since the topic is teaching English in Costa Rica, let’s focus on the most common demographic: adults.
Adult students are very different than children for many reasons. The main one though is that, in most cases, they are not being forced to take the class. This means that they are there for a specific purpose – and that purpose can range from general interest to work related. Which leads to the most essential idea of teaching this demographic: adults don’t have time to learn what they don’t need to know.
With children, school curriculum are designed to encompass wide ranging topics in order to enhance the overall knowledge and range of the students. With adults this is not the case. They are there to learn what they need to know and often times not much more.
As adults, we can empathize with the need to simply learn on a need-to-know basis and understand the potential impatience that can develop if this is not happening in the classroom. On the other hand, as a teacher it is natural to want to cover a range of topics that you think may interest all of your students. In the case of adult students, especially those in the business sector, the best route is often to stick to what their biggest needs are.
In this regard, a needs assessment on the first day of class is so imperative. Each individual student obviously has different objectives for being there; a needs assessment allows the teacher to clearly see those exact objectives. The teacher can then more easily shape the class or course to meet those needs.
While the natural instinct of an ESL teacher is to try and discover what your students need to know, when teaching adults the best strategy is to simply let them tell you.
If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email [email protected]
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.