Aldo Williams: How to find freedom - hit the south coast

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The Independent Online

Fed up with health and safety? Want to teach in a school where it doesn't seem to matter? Where, if the sun shines, you can just take the class out on to the streets to do a survey, or into the park for a game of footie? No forms to fill in, no tick-lists to tick, no first aid to freak you out...

And you want to do this in the UK? Then teaching in certain English language schools for foreign students should be right up your boulevard, carretera and via.

The relaxed attitude gets even better when it comes to your qualifications for the job. You may not need any. There are Tefl qualifications, but not all language schools bother to ask for them, and if you choose to ask about a CRB check the enquiry is likely to be met by a polite "Que?" from most foreign-run language schools.

Needing a bit of extra cash this summer, I decided to try a spell teaching in one of them on the south coast.

There are dozens of these schools, and thousands of students pouring into town centres along the south coast daily, providing more than a nice little earner for the nation's shopkeepers – though not for the staff who run the courses. By teaching standards the pay is poor. You'll be lucky to get £15 an hour.

But that is pretty good compared to the host families who, in return for providing a student with bed, breakfast, packed lunch, evening meal and convivial conversation, receive £11 a day.

Little surprise then that it is often only really cash-strapped families who do it, cramming in as many kids as they can and not always providing decent grub. And no wonder that the students then complain about English food. And English grammar.

"Sir, is it correct to say, 'You was', 'we was', and 'they was', as our host family does?'' How do you go about answering that?

"Easy," a more experienced colleague told me. "Just tell them it's a dialect."

The teaching was easy. More than that, in fact – it was an absolute joy. We had a textbook – a good one. But these kids could read textbooks in their own countries. As native speakers we could serve two really useful functions for them: improving their pronunciation – so that they could be better understood; and, by carefully mixing nationalities for group work, ensuring that they were speaking as much English as possible.

They did TV adverts, balloon debates, role plays. We kept them busy and, in spite of our lack of certification (none of the teachers had a Tefl qualification), we gave those teenagers good value, thinking of all sorts of exercises and games to push more English into them, and get more out.

Classes were roughly arranged into advanced and intermediate, but the lines were blurred, and all of us soon learnt that you could actually grade your students fairly accurately by nationality alone. The Scandinavians would have the best English and best accent; the Spanish and Italians weren't far behind. The French would be the worst (though the girls were often the best-dressed): less confident to speak, less vocabulary when they did, and by far the worst accent. Not the attractive, sexy English you may be thinking of, but something inarticulate and incoherent mumbled through a closed mouth.

Not really their fault of course. The English accent seems difficult for the French. But you also felt they may have been on the receiving end of that French attitude that considers it an appalling accident of history that English now dominates global communication when God really intended French for the world's lingua franca.

So, apart from the accommodation, the food and the weather (principally a Spanish complaint), great fun, and some English improvement, were had by all.

Not without exception though. Two weeks into the course, three of our students suffered a nasty beating late one evening down at the pier. Foreign-student bashing is a popular pasttime for some Brits, as tellingly revealed in this newspaper in July, and attacks are now nudging one every day.

It raises the question of course: does such an incident give a told-you-so winning hand to the health and safety gang? No. Those students chose to disobey some very clear and sensible instructions: don't go near the pier after 10pm. They did, and paid a rather heavy price. Sod's law that they were from our French group, too.

The writer is a former teacher at a comprehensive school

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