My teaching history plus some facts hard to swallow

Teaching has been part of my life since I was very young. Back then, I was not a teacher de facto, but I somehow was involved in teaching. I started teaching Portuguese and Writing skills in a cram course in 2008. Since then, I have taught Portuguese, Communication, Publishing, and mostly for the last five years, English. My students have come from various walks of life, but because of a recurrent demand among many of them, and also my personal goals, I have devoted more energy to academic English, known as English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in the ELT jargon.

Besides working in an English school for almost four years, I have dedicated most of my teaching time to private students and their projects. For the past five years, I have helped to hone the English skills of more than 30 learners of all levels (and ages) with different purposes: traveling abroad, sitting an exam, applying for all kinds of academic positions, brushing up on speaking, or getting ready to move to another country. My youngest private pupil was 8, and the oldest one was 83 when we first met (we even traveled abroad together, read the story here).

Now let’s take this “story of success” with a grain of salt: learning is a three-way process from my point of view. One is the instructor; the other, heavily influenced by the teacher, is the material or coursebook; the last one is the learner. Some of my students needed an intensive, short course for a test, for instance; this would normally be something around 2-3 months. That’s perfectly fine. Any other way, learning a new language is an ongoing process. Sadly, a lot of students (need to) give up for all sorts of circumstances, so they feel they are eternally stuck in the same level when they get back to learning the language. I can honestly relate to that because I also lived it: I did not commit enough to learn German nor French in the past. When it comes to English, as a language I have been constantly exposed to since I was 8, it is a different story. At the end of the day, I have been studying English for the past 23 years.

Cambridge levels for the CEFR, 2015. This version is a little old, but I prefer its clarity over the new one. Source: Cambridge English.

This gets me back to my past and current students: each of them has/had specific goals, so long or short-term classes depend on those very goals. What is important is to know what you need (your instructor usually knows it better) and face the facts when it is not just taking a test or a quick Skype interview. If you want to keep your feet on the ground, the bottom line is: to be a proficient user of the language, it will take you a few years. The exact amount of time will depend on many factors, but the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) has some broad estimations of “guided learning hours” one needs to progress from basic user (A1) to an independent one (B2).

Number of “guided learning hours” to progress in the CEFR levels. Source: Introductory Guide to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for English Language Teachers, CUP, 2013, p.4.

Having the facts, even though they are not really exciting, leave you to the question of how much work you need (and are willing) to do in order to learn the language and if you can commit to that. Maybe you just need to refresh things. Or just pass an exam, write a bunch of emails in English, and so on. Knowing what you need and what you want will save you a lot of time, money, and stress.

Published by Luiz Coletto

I am a Ph.D. student (UFMG) and I hold an M.A. in Communication and Culture (UFRJ). I teach English online both as a Foreign Language (EFL) and as a Lingua Franca (ELF). My main areas of expertise are Conversation, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and Exam preparation (TOEFL iBT, TOEFL ITP, and proficiency exams for Brazilian Graduate Programs). I am currently based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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