ESP - your ticket to see the world

5th May 2000 at 01:00
From Premiership footballers to Czech bouncers, teaching English for Specific Purposes was a passport to adventure for Nick Raistrick.

I'm not sure which was worse - the Czech ice-hockey team who insisted that I translate American porn, a task I found technically impossible, as well as distasteful, or the ballerina who burst into tears 30 seconds into her first class. My course tutors might have warned me. A lot of people know that TEFL is something to do with teaching foreigners how to speak English (and nothing to do with toasters), but not many people know about ESP, short for English for Special (or Specific) Purposes.

ESP accounts for a good proportion of the global EFL industry, which is estimated to be worth over pound;6 billion, and means teaching English to enable students to communicate within a particular field of work. I ended up teaching in banks, nightclubs, advertising agencies and even football stadia - I taught at West Ham United FC - as more people realise the clubs' foreign stars need English for their career.

I started teaching ESP after graduating from Goldsmiths' College with a media-related degree. I wanted to escape from London and see the world, so I studied for a TEFL certificate at Leeds Metropolitan University.

After completing the course, I left for Prague. It can be surprisingly easy to arrive in a country and find EFL work, even if you don't speak the local language. It is estimated that around half the business deals done in Europe are conducted in English and there is a huge demand for teachers around the world. Planning helps, though. Prague was very cold in February, which I would have known with a bit of research, or common sense.

If you are working freelance, use contacts - you may need someone to translate for you when negotiating with clients - and be prepared to build up a full timetable gradually.

Some jobs abroad are advertised and filled in the UK (see Tuesday's Guardian and The TES), which can give newly qualified teachers peace of mind. However, wages can often be lower, and you are tied by contract to a school you have not seen. Often the hours are longer (regard 25 contact hours as a maximum), but you do have the security of a paid airfare and a pre-arranged job.

I spent almost a year in Prague working for an American school teaching a variety of clients, including Olympus, K-Mart and Knorr. I worked full-time with a few intensive courses during the summer. Hours can be strange and holidays are often unpaid - many teachers spend summers teaching residential courses back in England.

One of my favourite Czech students was Milos, a huge doorman. He had been given one month to learn English or face the sack - a not infrequent problem with ESP is teaching pupils who are pressured to learn but who have little inclination. Classes were going slowly until he saw my copy of Spot the Dog, which I had used to cover a colleague's kindergarten class. He insisted we read it, followed by The Hungry Caterpillar and similar books. Not only was he starting to enjoy himself, his English also showed great signs of improvement - you have to be flexible in this kind of work.

I spent quite a lot of time at a bar teaching a pair of Polish twins, who described themselves as proud members of "the Eastern Bloc's first cocktail circus". At first they were estless, but tasks such as practising their favourite chat-up lines drew out sentence structures where traditional methods failed. They sprang to life in role-play activities - their English seemed to improve when they were simultaneously spinning bottles of vodka on their elbows - an active learning environment is essential.

After a year, Prague got unbearably cold again and I moved to Madrid. Despite speaking no Spanish, within 11 hours of arrival I was teaching a substitution class at Lloyd's Bank on the 14th floor of a huge building that overlooked the city. Despite warnings to the contrary, I found it easy to get work in Spain. Cynical EFL teachers will say you should have been here two years ago, but demand for teachers continues to increase.

After a few weeks' supply teaching in Madrid, I spent a week teaching the staff at a luxury hotel in Tordesillas. I spent a month being fed at almost hourly intervals by maternal waitresses who would insist that I try such local delicacies as sheep's head and piglet.

After a spell travelling, I moved to Barcelona, where I taught a mixture of general and business English for an agency. For some clients, you need to learn vocabulary specific to their industry: for example, lawyers need precise terminology. For this reason, there is often a demand for teachers with a business, engineering or legal background.

Juan Carlos was a typical ESP student. A senior executive in a large multinational light bulb firm, he had been learning English for 20 years with little progress. He had managed to pick up words like "paradigmatic" and "coaxial", but had problems with "afternoon" and "hello". He requested that his lessons be heavily geared towards the lightbulb industry, which was as interesting as you would imagine. I tried, with limited success, to introduce the concept of light bulb jokes.

If you stay longer in a country, you can afford to be choosier about your students as you build up contacts. Many teachers supplement their income with lucrative private classes, and others end up working in-house for companies, or even in areas such as importexport or PR. So it's a great way to see how a country works, learn a language and have some fun.

When I returned to England, I taught on a number of intensive residential courses before ending up at West Ham. There are dozens of foreign players in the country so, if you teach and can speak a language, you might have the chance to get involved in this interesting and well-paid line of work. I was even interviewed by a breakfast television crew about my job.

However most clubs recruit informally, so it's often a player's friend or family member who ends up taking on this role.

In general, there are fewer interesting ESP jobs in this country, and more experienced teachers - often returning from years of teaching abroad - to take them up. So you'll just have to go abroad...

A basic qualification in TEFL takes four weeks full-time (up to a year part time). Look for Trinity or CELTA courses, which cost between pound;700 and pound;1,200. Contact the British Council for general information. Tel: 0161 957 7755. For details on training centres contact the British Association of TESOL Qualifying Institutions (BATQI) for training centres in your area. Tel: 0117 928 7093. Email:

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