Proof You Don't Need to Speak English Natively to Teach Abroad
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Interview with Ana Silva — Proof You Don’t Need to Speak English Natively to Teach Abroad

Sure, it’s true there tend to be more opportunities for native English speakers to teach ESL abroad, but that doesn’t stop the determined.

Take Ana, for instance. She’s a 20 something year old from Portugal, proving every single day that you don’t need to be American, British, Australian, etc. to succeed as an international English teacher.

How did she do it? Let’s dive in.

Ana Silva

You’re Portuguese! When did you start learning English as a second language?

I started learning English very late compared to other people around me — I was nine when I started. One could say I’m a late bloomer because only in 8th grade did I develop an enormous passion for the English language and from then on, that passion only grew.

What aspects of your life led you to want to become an English teacher?

First of all, my passion for English. I became obsessed with it, I wrote poems and my diary in English and only listened to English songs.

From there was born a desire to share this passion and knowledge, so I decided to become an English teacher. Best decision I have ever made.

What kinds of advantages/disadvantages do you have when it comes to teaching English as a second language?

When it comes to advantages, I would say that because I learned English as a second-language, I know how hard it is and I can share my study methods with the students. Not only that, I can program my classes to non-natives easily because I was on that side not so long ago.

Also, students view me as a model and living proof that if you study hard, you can achieve everything, even if you’re not a native English speaker.

As for disadvantages, maybe pronunciation or fluency become a hinder sometimes; that’s why before every class I double check those, so when I’m teaching, it goes smoothly.

Tell us about your path to finding an ESL job abroad. Were there many difficulties that arose?

Of course, most programs don’t even give me an opportunity to show my true colors just because I’m not a native speaker. There are some downsides — the payment will not be as high, the prestige and impact on some people won’t be as noticeable.

Fortunately, there’s always good people willing to give a chance in life and that’s how I ended up here!

What piece of advice would you offer future potential non-native English speaking ESL teachers?

Be brave, bold, and courageous but most of all, believe in yourself. If you don’t believe you can teach English, nobody will.

No one is perfect, even native speakers make mistakes, so don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams!

We want to know about your most recent experience teaching abroad. Where was it, what kind of school were you in, any favorite stories from the classroom you’d like to share?

My first and most recent teaching experience was in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. I was teaching for six months in the College of Information and Technology at Shuangliu District; the classrooms and the school itself was very good.

Everyday was a fun day, there’s not a particular story to tell. I had a lot of fun calling their names, a few students decided to use numbers as their names so I called them: One, Two, Zero, and Six. Everytime that I checked the attendance everyone would laugh.

I also loved when they came late, because as punishment they had to dance or sing a song — the students and I always end up having a lot of fun while learning!

What do you wish you knew about teaching in China before you got there?

The lack of organization and fixed dates/schedule. They are also very ambiguous when telling some information so a common answer here is “maybe.” So we have to learn to relax and always be prepared.  

In your opinion, what is the hardest English-language concept to teach and what successful strategies have you used to connect with students on this topic?

I don’t have a lot of teaching experience, so I haven’t found any particularly hard English-language concept. I did try to introduce them to irony and sarcasm which are concepts quite hard for Chinese students. I used cartoons to help transmit the message.

What is your favorite thing about your Chinese students?

My favorite thing about Chinese students is how hardworking they are. You can see that all their life, they barely did anything else besides studying just to reach where they are. They are also very caring, sweet, and helpful.

It will be hard to leave my students, but as one of them said to me “All good things must come to an end” 天下没有不散的宴席

Thanks and obrigada to Ana — keep rockin’ your non-native English speaking TEFL life! <3

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