Quality English Language Instruction for Adults
Since there seems to be a great deal of interest, on both the parts of the corporations trying to recruit native English speakers as well as several members looking to learn or improve their English, I thought I might share the benefit of my academic and recent Latin American experiences in Medellin, Columbia.
To begin with, obviously my years of teaching at the secondary (high school) and collegiate (university) levels and earning a BA in Creative Writing and MA and Ph.D. in Education are credentials and experience you are not likely to get in either an on-line curriculum or home/workplace instructional settings; these are qualifications normally only found in major university programs. However, with that said, I'd like to share a couple of real world mistakes, in choosing the right company/instructor, I've witnessed here in Medellin recently.
Since the ex-pat community tends to cling to one another in most major Latin American cities (for better and worse), it should come as no surprise that corporate business heads tend to choose either other Americans that they have met locally or, in many instances, they choose a company to give local English instruction based on connections from the U.S. This, in and of itself is not necessarily bad, but Tip number one would be to actually meet the person who will be giving the instruction. Don't give a major contract based on overseas connections- if the person at the local level can not deliver quality instruction.
A friend of mine here introduced me to just such a very poorly qualified instructor here recently- and I believe these types of situation occur more often than not. Here's what happened: My friend's father (while visiting here) met and instantly took a liking to a fellow ex-pat that was bored and wanted to create a business. These two talked briefly and the father (of my friend) told this other American of a high level corporate connection he had (from years ago in the U.S.), here. Instantly the bored ex-pat offered to get some business cards printed so that they might meet with the executive connection. Either the executive didn't notice that the bored ex-pat (ironically with a degree in journalism, but having zero teaching experience) didn't even capitalize the proper noun "English" on his business cards and/or he didn't care that this fellow did not speak standard English (using double negatives) or simply didn't care about these deficiencies. Either way, the outcome was obvious and pitifully executed instruction. When this ex-pat asked me to give him idiot proof lesson plans (for free)- I just laughed and told him that he should have consulted me beforehand. Even so, either his greed or his pride prevented him from offering to pay me (even the smallest of fees) to assist him with a custom curriculum designed to fit this specific enterprise. Hence, tip number two is to be sure your instructor understands what either you or your employees need to learn by the end of the course; this means that there should be an exit exam that proves students learned the key terms and concepts at a satisfactory level (meaning mastery of at least 80% of the material presented).
Tip number three comes from directly observing several large employers here overly relying on straight out on-line instruction. I'll just be blunt and tell you that this does not work except in the cases of the most highly motivated students that are willing to study for many hours above and beyond the time sitting in front of the screen. Most students really need personalized interaction with and instructor that can bridge the gap between what the student already knows and the material that the teacher is trying to connect to that pre-existing framework (in educational circles, this is known as, "The Zone of Proximal development").
Ok, so here's the brief recap (and I'm hoping others will ask questions or likewise post tips to help our members here):
1. You should personally meet with the teacher and make sure that he/she not only has the subject level experience in English, but also some idea of how to present that material and assess whether students learned what (the person paying for the course) was required.
2. Do not base your decision to hire on corporate connections, ask the instructor to give you an overview and explain how the course will be taught (*hint, if the instructor only wants to teach conversational English without introducing the rules for English pronunciation- this person has a very minimal understanding of the enormous difference between Spanish and English). Teaching students to simply memorize words and phrases is not even appropriate for elementary school children.
3. Ask for a sample mini-lesson. The former U.S. Secretary of Education, used to walk into a social studies classroom, and after taking a very brief look at the daily lesson plan, simply jump in and start teaching it. A 22 year old with only an ESL Certificate usually cannot do this.