Panel Discussion Part One: Teaching English as a Second Language

by Carrie Kellenberger /
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May 25, 2010 / 0 comments

Panel Discussion Part One: Teaching English as a Second Language

Are you thinking of teaching English abroad, but you’re still not quite sure about it? Our special two-part series on Teaching English Abroad answers some basic questions about teaching English as a Second Language.
Our ESL contributors have taught in various destinations around Asia. Read on for a few tips and tricks for first-time ESL teachers. Feel free to drop by any of the following sites for additional information about teaching abroad in Asia.

Our Experts



John Bardos 
John is the author of JetSetCitizen, a popular website offering advice and information on how to redesign your life. John and his wife have lived in Japan for over ten years. They own a small English school in Japan, but they recently left to travel the world. John also publishes You Can Teach English, a web site that offers practical advice for English teachers and information on ESL jobs around the world.





Nancie Mckinnon 
Canadian expat Nancie Mckinnon has lived in Asia since 2000. Catch up on her Asian travel adventures through her stunning photography and descriptive travel writing on her personal website 
Lady Expat, or stop by on Budget Travelers Sandbox if you're interested in budget travel. Nancie teaches English at a university level in Daejeon, South Korea and she has also co-authored several TOEFL textbooks. 





Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott quit her corporate IT job two years ago and has since traveled to 23 countries. She relocated to Ho Chi Minh City to teach English. In her free time, she blogs about her adventures at Ott's World. Sherry is also an accomplished photographer and the co-founder of Briefcase To Backpack.





Sasha Peakall
Author of On Your Way Travel, at 21 years of age, Sasha Peakall has already traveled to 23 different countries throughout Europe and Asia. At the moment, she’s in Shaoxing, China, where she is teaching English and saving up to continue her worldwide adventures.





Carrie Kellenberger
Carrie has lived in Asia since 2003. She works part-time as a private ESL instructor, has co-authored dozens of GEPT and TOEIC textbooks, and works as a freelance writer, editor, and photographer for several print and online publications. Her photography and stories about life in Asia can be found on My Several Worlds. She is also the founder of Taiwan Photographers.



Where do you teach? Please list one thing that you love about your location and one thing that you think a new teacher moving to your area would need to know.

John Bardos: I taught English in Nara and Osaka Japan for 13 years and owned my own school for about 10 of those years. 

Japan is a fantastic country to live and work. It is incredibly safe and clean with the absolute best quality food in the world.

Cost of living is much cheaper outside of major cities. You will save a lot more money and have more opportunities to practice the language with locals if you live and work in smaller cities.


Nancie McKinnon: I'm currently a Visiting Professor in the English Language and Literature Department at a university in Daejeon, South Korea.

I love the fact that Daejeon is large enough to get lost in, but small enough to get home with a five-dollar cab fare. 

Go to the Tourist Information at Daejeon Train Station. Ask the kind staff there for the English bus map (fantastic), and they have two other great English publications focusing on living in Daejeon. Then cross the street and head into the Daejeon International Community Center. If you're interested, they'll give you all the information you need about learning Korean. 


Sherry Ott: I taught ESL in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a year beginning in 2008.  I started out at one of the large English Language Schools, but eventually through my networking connections, I started teaching privately at a business in Ho Chi Minh City.  

I loved the culture in Vietnam; however it's not for everyone. It's an undeveloped country (yet it's making big strides quickly), so there is a lack of infrastructure there that can be frustrating at times. There are no McDonalds or other western type chains there yet.  Women walk around with the conical hats and sell soup, noodles, drinks from bamboo baskets.  It's not a re-enactment for tourists - it's real life.  

I think new teachers need to know that the noise never stops in HCMC. There are approximately 9 million people and 7 million motorbikes. It's noisy and it can be difficult to find a 'calm' place.  

The other thing that is good to know is that the maturity level is not what you would expect. My students who were 21 years old had the maturity of 17 year olds most of the time. It was a bit surprising since I had requested to teach adults. Even though I was teaching adults, I still found that it felt like teaching teenage kids.  

Finally, all Vietnamese students take some English in their regular schooling, so they all come with a basic understanding of grammar - however the pronunciation is often incorrect since they had been taught by local teachers. The good news about this is that you have something to start with, AND you can always find someone in HCMC that can speak English if you need assistance with directions, etc.

Sasha Peakall: I'm currently teaching in Keqiao, China at Shaoxing Experimental Primary School in the International Department teaching foreign students from the Middle East. This is my first TEFL job after completing my TEFL certification at the end of 2009. Teaching in China has certainly been a baptism of fire but I've loved every minute of it!

What I love about living here is the size, the city is not very big and if you're a walker like me everything is within walking distance. The city sits on a giant swamp, just like Venice but not as beautiful although it still has it charms.
Strolling along the canals you could find yourself in a beautiful park, passing construction sites of soon to be high-rise apartments or viewing traditional Keqiao life in the hutongs.  

The most important thing I think other foreign teachers need to be aware of living in Keqiao is that there aren't many foreigners besides the large Middle Easter Population. If you need to be in a city where an Irish pub or foreign filled club nearby then Keqiao is not the city for you.


Carrie Kellenberger: I’ve taught English in northern China and Taiwan. Don’t make the same mistake that I did and assume that teaching English in either place will be the same, because it isn’t. Everything from the cities and environment to food, public school systems, and public mentality are completely different. 

I spent three years teaching in Changchun in northern China and I loved it! Living in Changchun felt very much like living in the Wild West. In 2003, there were less than 300 foreigners in the city, so every day was an adventure in itself. I was instantly able to immerse myself in the culture, and I started learning Chinese within a few weeks of my arrival.

The city isn’t really westernized when compared to places like Shanghai and Guangzhou, but Changchun is not without its appeals. For one, it’s full of large, landscaped parks, which are perfect for lazing around, reading, and flying kites. Most of the parks also have a lake and rowboats for rent. Changchun is a great outdoor city during the summer and fall.

People are also very friendly in Changchun. Simply walking by a group of people practicing tai chi almost always elicited an invite. I made a lot of really great friends in Changchun.

I really liked the anonymity of being on my own in a big city. Transportation is cheap and it’s easy to get around. The cost of living is extremely low.
Be forewarned: Winters in Changchun are bitterly cold, so if you’re a person who doesn’t like cold weather, this might not be the place for you. 

Taiwan is great. It has a great rail system and you can be anywhere on the island within a couple of hours. Geographically, the island is as diverse as they come. There's everything from salt-pounded coastlines, and towering mountains to unusual rock formations, sandy beaches, and stunning outlying islands. 

Taipei is a busy metropolis, but I'm only there for work. Rentals in Taipei are expensive, so if you want to live downtown, you'll have to consider paying a lot for a larger space or get used to living in a shoebox.

Many people choose to live outside the city because the rent is lower. I live twenty minutes from downtown in a beautiful apartment on the 24th floor of a luxury apartment building. Our monthly rent is exceptionally low for what we have.

Like China, the cost of living in Taiwan is quite low, and monthly salaries are significantly higher, which means we are able to save a lot. 

Taipei does struggle with air pollution, being in a low-lying land basin surrounded by mountains, but a good strong wind can clear the sky in a couple of hours. 

The city is making a huge effort to become environmentally friendly and I’ve seen a lot of changes occur in the past four years. 

The expat community here is quite large and there are always lots of fun events on each weekend.



Click here for Part Two of our panel discussion next month. 


Carrie Kellenberger is the ESL Editor for Wandering Educators