If you’ve been mulling over a career in teaching English (all thanks to the stellar and inspirational performance by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society – #OCaptainMyCaptain), you’ve likely been digging up for research across the Internet and hunting down advice about certification options as well as job requirements.
Chances are, you’ve stumbled upon one or more of the common acronyms like TESL, TESOL or TEFL. While they may appear to be a tangled ball of jargon, rest assured that these are merely different abbreviations used to illustrate the various ESL (English as a Second Language) certification programmes.
With English sitting comfortably at its throne as the second leading language in Malaysia (after Bahasa Melayu of course) and the rise of aspiring educators who are passionate in TESL (or short for Teaching English as a Second Language), here’s a comprehensive guide to give you the lowdown on TESL.
The Basics of TESL
What It Is
TESL, an acronym for Teaching English as a Second Language, reflects the teaching of English in countries which utilise English as their common medium of conversation after their mother tongue. Such countries include Argentina, Czech Republic, Poland, France, Denmark and Spain.
TESL could also be in settings where non-native English speakers are trying to improve their proficiency in English in English-speaking countries. For example, this could mean teaching English to foreign students who are living in Australia or the United States.
In Malaysia, a degree in TESL grants you the eligibility to teach English as a second language within the realm of education – both private and government schools. For government schools, it is crucial that your qualification is recognised by the Public Service Department (also known as JPA). In most universities, TESL typically lands under the faculty of education.
Beyond the Acronyms
#1. TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
For starters, TESL should not be confused with TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). The TEFL qualification highlights the essential skills required to teach English in another country, particularly where individuals are not native English speakers such as China, Korea, Japan and Thailand, just to name a few.
The advantage of a TEFL qualification is that around the globe, TEFL is one of the more widely recognised qualifications related to teaching English.
#2. TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
TESOL is one of the newer qualifications related to teaching English to non-native speakers. A TESOL course usually covers both TEFL and TESL, which means that you have the flexibility to teach English abroad as a foreign language (TEFL) and in countries where English is not the first language but is widely used (TESL).
Do note that while these are some of the common differences between TEFL, TESL and TESOL, it may vary from one university to another. One university’s TESOL could be another university’s TESL. It pays to do your research by understanding the curriculum and subjects offered, and also speaking to the lecturers if possible.
#3. Degree in English vs TESL
While both majors revolve around the magnificence of English language, they are in reality, two different disciplines.
An individual who opts for a Degree in English is typically one who also possesses the fervour for English language, fascination for hefty tomes of English literatures as well as the desire to plunge deeper into the history and development of the language.
Nonetheless, this should not be mistaken with the aspiration to teach the language (although it is possible for English majors to embark on the path to become educators).
On the other hand, the TESL qualification emphasises on teaching English to individuals who utilise English primarily a second language – in addition to their mother tongue. A great depiction of such an environment would be in Malaysia, where many business meetings, casual day-to-day interactions and the main medium of instruction in private colleges and universities are often in English.
#1. TESL Is NOT an Assessment of Your English Proficiency
Before you go breaking news to your friends that you are studying TESL and relishing in the moment of glory for being a master in the language… the truth is, you don’t necessarily need to be one.
In TESL, it’s not about flaunting how good your English is. Instead, it has everything to do with how effective your teaching skills are. Undeniably, the course still requires a fair amount of critical thinking, writing and reading in English. Thus, an adequate command of English is an added advantage.
In fact, you should be aware that teaching TESL itself IS going to consume a considerable amount of effort. As such, it goes without saying that TESL does call for more than just knowledge about the language but also the passion and enthusiasm to teach.
#2. TESL Is NOT an Avenue for Learning English
Unsurprisingly, many of us may have the common perception that TESL is just the right programme to improve our English, particularly for those of us who are not proficient users of the language to begin with.
No doubt there will be plenty of room for improvement throughout the duration of the course but chances are, you’ll still struggle to cope without a solid foundation.
You’ll notice that the programme does incorporate a great deal of critical writings and readings. Therefore, a good grasp of language is essential before you decide to jump in the direction of TESL.
Studying a TESL Course
What Qualifications Do You Need?
In order to pursue a TESL course, you will generally need:
(1) SPM / O-Level Qualification
- Minimum of 5 credits
- Good credit in English for SPM (preferably a B and above)
(2) Pre-University Qualification
- A-Level: Minimum of 2 principal passes
- Australian Matriculation: Minimum of ATAR 65
- Canadian Pre-University: At least an average of 65%
- STPM: Minimum of 2 principal passes
- Relevant Foundation programme: Minimum of CGPA 2.0
Certain universities may also require you to pass an English proficiency test (e.g. at least MUET (the Malaysian University English Test) Band 4, IELTS Band 6, etc.).
Entry requirements generally vary depending on university, so make sure you perform your research thoroughly and pick one that will fit you like a glove. Without a doubt, one of the most crucial subjects that should be on top of your priority is English – so make sure you ace it with flying colours!
There is also the option to go for a Diploma right after SPM if you do not fancy the idea of enrolling into a Pre-University programme.
How Long Is a TESL Course?
As a rule of thumb, TESL degrees are approximately 3-4 years long.
If you opt for the route of Diploma instead, it typically calls on the duration of 2 to 2.5 years.
Upon completion of your Diploma, you can choose to either tap into the working world immediately or enter directly into Year 2 of a Degree in TESL.
What Will You Study in a TESL Course?
A majority of the TESL courses offered in Malaysian universities are under the umbrella of faculty of Education.
As part of the TESL course, you will pick up the many purposes, principles and uses of English as well as the necessary fundamentals that will enable you to competently deliver your lessons to students.
Some of the subjects include:
- Theories & Practices in Language Teaching
- Introduction to Linguistics
- Educational Sociology
- English Language Training (ELT) and Methodology
- Teaching Reading, Writing and Grammar
- Language Testing & Evaluation
- Curriculum Design
- Teaching Practicum
Why Should You Study TESL?
Offering some immensely apparent benefits, TESL is arguably one of the most rewarding and fulfilling courses out there. Aside from the instant allure of a teaching career, there is more to TESL than just the breeding a pool of proficient speakers.
Here are more hidden gems as to why you should consider studying a TESL course in university.
(1) You’ll be armed with transferable skills
Despite your love for teaching, at some point reality might nudge and squish you to another direction for a change of scenery. But fret not, the notion of embarking on a fresh career path will less likely trigger a TESL graduate from pushing the panic button of “crap-what-should-I-do-now”. Reason being? Teaching prowess aside, a TESL course will also grant you with a multitude of transferable skills that you can haul in from one line of work to another.
For starters, “people skills” is already at the top of the list for TESL graduates, further refining their forte in the field of communication. Other solid skills include leadership, interpersonal, project planning, organisational, creative problem solving as well as decision making – all of which are highly sought after in every industry. From teaching to planning and lecturing to counselling, TESL graduates are what some may term as the Jack or Jill of all trades.
(2) It’s a fulfilling career
Make a difference. By escorting your knowledge and skills to teaching, you can carve a real difference to people’s lives. As a matter of fact, there aren’t many careers that couple tangible awards with the opportunity to play an important role in other’s lives – but that’s exactly what teaching offers.
Teaching is not only an enormously rewarding career, the quality of life is great too – with up to weeks and weeks of holiday to the liberty of pursuing your interests.
(3) You’ll have lots of employment options
With the growth of awareness in language learning, demand for English teachers will only snowball from here. Talk about promising career opportunities as a TESL graduate and you’ll be astounded with the array of selections available.
If teaching isn’t up your alley after all, you can always dive into other job prospects (i.e. technical writer, journalist, editor, interpreters, research analyst, biographer, advertising copywriter, public relations executive, corporate communications manager and the list goes on).
You can even dabble with the development of textbooks, games, education applications as well as administrative positions in higher education.
What Skills Do You Need for a TESL Course?
In order to excel in a TESL course, you’ll need to equip yourself with the following skills and qualities.
(1) Passion for teaching
Undeniably, a good teacher is inherently fuelled by the passion and enthusiasm to spread knowledge. Yes, great teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason.
At the end of the day, it’s not just motivating students to learn, but also teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful and memorable.
Still think it’s merely about handing out homework, grading papers and giving lectures? Think again because it also has a lot to do with caring for your craft, cultivating a passion for it and channelling that passion to your students.
(2) Patience is a virtue
Patience may very well be the most crucial quality of all, feasibly above other characteristics like willingness to adapt or knowledge of the subject. While some students are able to comprehend subject materials with minimal effort, there are always others who may require more extensive explanations.
In this sense, patience as a desired quality also embraces the attributes of attentive listening, active questioning, being responsive and remembering that students are always poles apart.
Not every student is going to be intrinsically motivated to learn English and that’s where the virtue of patience comes in to elicit responses. It’s about pushing students to excel; at the same time, it’s about being human, respecting others and being professional at all times.
(3) Problem-solving skills
Indeed, teaching is not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid. But rather, it has everything to do with being fluid, experimenting and having the confidence to react and adjust to unforeseen hurdles.
No, we are not talking about the rocket science of solving problems with twisted equations. It’s about injecting a creative balance when students are uninterested or inattentive. If there is a need to deviate from the lecture schedule to make way for some innocuous jokes, well that falls under your job description as well!
(4) You’re all ears
In other words, a competent teacher transcends beyond the basic condition of teachers brimming with knowledge and pouring it into the empty vessels of students. In reverse, it also directly corresponds with being a good and active listener.
Good listening skills are as essential as it is to cultivate empathy and understanding with the students as it is to assess whether they are taking home with them what they are being taught. A two-way process, listening skills also pave way to a heightened sense of cultural sensitivity towards students who are of different walks of life.
Career Options for a TESL Graduate
After completing your TESL course, here are some of your career options:
- English Teacher
- Advertising / Digital Copywriter
- English Materials Developer
- Journalist / Reporter
- Corporate Communications Executive
- Technical Writer
Where Can You Study TESL in Malaysia
Here are some of the most popular universities for TESL in Malaysia.
Bachelor of Education (Hons) in TESL
Campus: Kota Damansara
Intakes: Feb, May, Jul & Sep
Estimated Fees: RM69,800
Scholarships: Up to 100% tuition fee waiver
Has over 35 years of teaching experience in the industry
Encourages students to participate in community work and social causes
PACE Programme which allows students to attend classes with flexibility
Bachelor in TESL (Hons)
Campus: Bukit Damansara
Intakes: Jan, May & Aug
Estimated Fees: RM70,600
Scholarships: Up to RM10,000 tuition fee waiver
Strong links with 110+ universities worldwide
Great team of lecturers ready to lead students and guide them
HELP’s Career Placement Programme assists you in your search for jobs after you graduate!