Teaching English in Canada can be significantly different from teaching in other countries, particularly those which are non-Anglophone.

If you land a TESOL job in a private language school, it is likely that the majority of your students will be visitors to the country, studying full-time for a period of 1-12 months.

The majority of ESL students will be learning English primarily for the purposes of work or study and are studying at great personal and financial expense, so stakes and expectations are high.

At the same time, these students are also generally open to new experiences in a culture different from their own, so learning to strike a balance between rigorous study and fun is a necessary skill. What can new teachers do to take advantage of cultural factors and give their students an excellent experience studying English in Canada?

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Understanding Your Students

Many of your students will come from a handful of countries, including South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan, but over the past eight years of teaching in Toronto, I have taught students from all over Europe, Asia, South America and, to a lesser extent, Africa.

Inquire about the demographic makeup of the school at which you will be teaching, and investigate the major linguistic differences between English and those languages here. Your students will be grateful for any display of understanding of the unique challenges they face as learners that arise from their first language.

Also consider reading up on the cultural norms around education in your students` countries, as this is key to understanding their needs and expectations. While it would be ideal that all students could instantly understand what study behaviours will allow them to thrive in a Canadian context, it is wiser to expect that this adjustment can take time. Knowing where they are coming from can greatly ease this process.

For instance, you will likely notice that study habits prevalent within certain cultural groups may not emphasize communication skills, focusing on pen-and-paper exercises instead.

Encourage students to step outside of their `comfort zones`, whatever those are, to take advantage of the opportunity to devote their time to improve their English. Be available to discuss learning strategies with students who are struggling to find what works best for them. Also, take into consideration how the role of ‘teacher’ is perceived by students from other countries; in Middle Eastern and East-Asian countries, for instance, teachers are highly respected for the skill and knowledge they possess.

For this reason, it is often the case that students expect them to take their work seriously, and to practice an authoritative style of classroom management. Though I am not suggesting you conform to these expectations, it is important to understand them and to preemptively address them by clearly articulating your philosophy of education.

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