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Chiang Mai Stories CMU TEFL

Gabriel Grapevine
 Story posted by Gabriel Grapevine on March 15, 2012 at 08:16:01 :: Practical

Teaching English is currently a popular method of either travelling or living and working in South East Asia, however it is not as easy a ticket into these amazing countries as it may seem. At a glance, particularly for native speakers, such a career may look like easy money, after all, if you speak English, and have been speaking it all your life, shouldn't you be an expert in the subject? I myself fell into this same category of thinkers; however my time in a TEFL course quickly forced me to reassess this assumption.

The TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification course is generally a month long intensive instruction in the teaching of the English language, and covers not only the grammar and idiosyncrasies of the language itself, but also past and current language teaching theory and methods and classroom management skills. This, in addition to the fact that it's a near prerequisite for employment as an English teacher in Thailand—many employers will weigh a TEFL certificate higher than a Bachelor's degree—makes the TEFL course a necessity for most who aim to teach ESL as a career. In a city like Chiang Mai, where a thriving influx of foreign travelers and aspiring expats determines its niche markets, the result of this has been a variety of institutions offering TEFL certification to choose from. Having attended and recently completed the course at the Language Institute of Chiang Mai University (CMU: Northern Thailand's largest university), I find myself best equipped to describe my experience of the course as provided by them, however it is worth mentioning that equal degrees of professionalism are evidenced by the instructors of Chiang Mai's other TEFL courses, most notable among which are the SEE TEFL and UniTEFL programs.

Entering the month long program under the assumption that it would entail a recap of English grammar and a general rundown on teaching etiquette and classroom management, I very soon found the full weight of the word ‘intensive’ come bearing down on me. The initial workload was so much more condensed than I would ever have guessed, and even the forewarning I had received had not prepared me for what would be expected. Aside from the voluminous assimilation of theory, part of the initial struggle was to not only commit what was learned to memory, but to utilize and enact it in actual English lessons, which began in the first week at sessions of 40 minutes, and which by the third week had increased to full hour long classes. Having underestimated the density of the course, I was surprised to find myself often awake and planning out my upcoming lessons into the early hours of the morning. However the diligence pays off, and there is no greater reward at this stage than leading a successful and energetic class. The trainers at the CMU TEFL program provided excellent instruction and breakdown of theory, as well as sharp but valuable critiques of and suggested for improvements for our trial lessons. This mixed approach of theory and practice is a very appropriate one, as in the real world the two necessarily come hand-in-hand and cannot be arbitrarily divorced from each other in the abstracted environment of the classroom. Thus being able to put what was learned into effect aided not only to retain it but also to gauge our own personal improvements and progression through the course.

By midway through the second week of the course, the learning curve begins to flatten out. No longer frantically scribbling notes on our peers’ performance, successes and failures during their practice lessons—as well as what successful elements to steal—or battling palpitations in the fifteen minute lead in to our lessons, we instead found ourselves working on our own upcoming lessons and much more comfortable and confident in front of our Thai students. This transformation was evidence of our empowerment via the instruction of the course, and that the theory learned armed us to succeed in our planning and teaching.

The second half of the course focused mostly on the use of listening, reading, or writing tasks in the classroom, and how to adopt these equally important features of language—the final being speaking—into the currently predominant model of communicative language studies—which emphasizes talking time in the studied language among students, and aims to limit the teacher's own speaking role to a facilitator of learning, rather than a lecturer—and ended with preparation for seeking employment, including CV writing, tips on etiquette and presentation for employees in Thailand, and lists of schools in the city. Although there was no additional employment assistance—as is offered at some of the rival TEFL courses—the information given was nonetheless thorough and detailed, and left me feeling sufficiently prepared to seek out work in Chiang Mai.

On the whole, the CMU TEFL program is one which deserves hearty recommendation, for the clarity and diligence of its instructors, the reliability and quality of its resources and facilities—free access to multiple computers, printers, photocopiers, drinking fountains and a coffee shop as well as an air conditioned staff dining room/kitchen—and of course for its location on the beautiful CMU campus, around which there are myriad food stalls for low budget meals. Chiang Mai University is an institution which holds its merits in high esteem, and which takes great pride in its status as one of the North's top schools. The staff at the Language Institute and the CMU TEFL course demonstrate the same degree of professionalism and personal commitment to education, and do the university proud.


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