Teaching in Central and South America

Is the approach to TEFL different to native speakers of Spanish in Central and Latin America than it is in Spain?

Diary submitted by Amy H

In this diary, I am going to discuss the notion that the approach to TEFL differs, depending on which country you are teaching in. I will primarily be focussing on the difference between teaching in Spain to countries in Latin America. I am currently on my TEFL internship in Spain, and as a native English speaker from the United Kingdom, I am aware that although I am in another country, I am still in Western Europe, and the cultural differences are only minor compared to teaching English in Central and South America. 

Although I have never taught English in Latin America, it is easy to understand the difficulties that may arise in this situation, compared to working as a TEFL teacher in Spain. 

Firstly, it is certainly true that there is a higher degree of economic inequality in central and south America. Although on the surface it may seem that this does not directly link to learning English, it certainly does. In the language school that I teach in, many of the students live or study in Madrid, and are therefore from middle or upper class families. They have consequently benefitted from the opportunities to go to the UK, or even to the USA, for summer exchange programmes and even for university placements. Therefore, they have had weeks or months of practicing and studying English in countries which it is the main language. In contrast, students in Latin America are less likely able to afford extra lessons and training opportunities. Therefore, as a TEFL teacher, it is more likely you will encounter less advanced students, which is challenging if you are not used to teaching beginners. 

Furthermore, although some learners in Spain are complete beginners, they have still had more cultural exposure to English than learners in Latin America are likely to have had. Across Europe, English is often the “common language” when you travel to a European country. Doing this TEFL internship as an Erasmus placement has made this very clear to me. Many of my students have studied as Erasmus students, and have told me that they end up improving their English more than the language that is spoken in the country they are studying in. In Latin America on the other hand, all the surrounding countries are either Spanish or Portuguese speaking. Even if a complete beginner, exposure to English pronunciation and accents is invaluable. I teach one student who is an older woman from the Dominican Republic, and during her first lesson she found it extremely difficult to pronounce words such as “who” and “where”, because she had never been exposed to English. 

In conclusion, there are many differences between teaching English in a Western European country such as Spain, and working in Latin American countries. Although the approach to teaching the content remains largely similar, it is of upmost importance that cultural and economic differences are kept in mind and expectations of students are adapted, depending on the country. 

Source- “Teaching Across Cultures: Culture Shock”, Carnegie University (Accessed 12/09/17: http://eberly.cmu.edu/teaching-across-cultures/culture-shock)

Teaching in Central and South America TEFL Trainer

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