English language teaching with punch in Barcelona

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
With many teachers tempted to work overseas, Julia Horton tries a TEFL course at the International House language school and discovers just how tough and rewarding it can be

It is only day three of my month-long course in Barcelona teaching English as a foreign language when I suggest illustrating the verb "to hit" by demonstrating forcefully on disruptive students.

I am joking of course, as clearly that would be highly inappropriate and we have a great group of students. But I am realising how useful gestures and mime can be in teaching English. My attempts to explain meaning do include pretending to punch an intermediate student in the face for the expression "give someone a black eye".

Considering how exhausted I am, even miming an attack on someone is risky. I have never worked so hard and learnt so much in such a short space of time.

From day two, trainees for the Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (Celta) are teaching and observing classes, giving and receiving feedback, and attending sessions with experienced tutors on everything from pronunciation to rapport and classroom management.

And that's just from 9am to 5pm. After that, we fill in self-evaluation forms, detailing how our lesson went that day, and plan our next class.

We are told by our tutors at International House Barcelona which area of English we have to teach, and given suggested course-book exercises. We receive masses of information and ideas, but planning timings, adapting, printing and photocopying exercises for handouts, giving instructions and feedback, monitoring students' progress and correcting errors is up to us.

Since starting the course, I am both amazed and embarrassed to admit that I have stayed up as late as 4.30am planning a lesson.

I didn't start working on my plan properly until about 10pm on a typically sweltering night, and I was waging war against a particularly persistent mosquito while my brain battled with English grammar.

Tenses such as the present perfect are vaguely familiar to me through learning Spanish, but in my own language they are alien concepts. I know what is right and wrong, but struggle to explain why.

As it turns out, the 12 students in the class already have a fairly good understanding of the tenses. I am so relieved, and shattered, that I completely forget to go through their answers to the last exercise.

It is only my second class, but already I feel less nervous than in my first teaching practice, when I felt inwardly like Alice in Wonderland, shrinking before everyone's eyes, my speech getting faster and quieter during my 20-minute slot.

My third lesson is the longest, at an hour, but time flies by as we look at newspapers to promote reading and explain verb expressions, such as giving someone a black eye.

I realise that, despite the fatigue and the anxieties, I am really enjoying teaching, and I am not alone.

Glasgow English literature graduate Kenny Sexton, 30, felt less comfortable in his second class than his first, because he wasn't sure what to do while the students were reading, but he is already set on a teaching career in Australia.

He says: "I wasn't sure if I wanted to study again after graduating, but I feel I'm quite a natural at teaching. It seems to suit my personality. The more I think about it, I can see myself teaching long term."

Camaraderie and socialising are crucial to surviving the course. Being in Barcelona as Spain experiences its first victory at a World Cup final guarantees a fun night out.

There are 18 trainees on the course, divided into three groups of six to create a mix of backgrounds, ages and nationalities.

Moroccan Jinane Bentaouet, 27, is one of several teachers doing the Celta. She works at an American school in Tangiers and has just starting teaching English as a second language.

She says: "I realised that there is a lot that I need to teach and I don't know how. English is my first language, but my Moroccan colleagues probably know more about grammar than I do. I know I'm going to be a much better teacher after this."

Exhaustion is normal and working late is common, though not recommended.

Gill Holley, IH Barcelona Celta trainer, says: "It's often the most intensive experience that people have ever had. People say that week three is the worst - they are getting progressively more tired, and (expected) standards are going up. But in week four things come together.

"Most people pass and have a real sense of achievement because of what they have learnt and how they have progressed in a very short space of time."

My group tutor this week, Joanna Dossetor, is encouraging. Despite my nerves, she says my manner is "very natural" and I have met the Celta pass criteria so far. My teaching skills, language knowledge and lesson plans, however, need more work.

After starting to get to know my students, in a few days I'll be teaching a completely new group at a different level, under a new tutor.

I know I'll be exhausted for the duration, but hope I'll continue enjoying teaching, and won't accidentally hit anyone.


The Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, or Celta, is a well-respected TEFL course.

International House (IH) is a credited provider of Celta and has centres around the world, running courses throughout the year. Celta at IH Barcelona costs 1,550 Euros (pound;1,306). The next courses start on August 2 and 31. For more information, visit the website at www.ihes.combcn.

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