Teaching English As A Foreign Language: A test to boost your confidence

Now in its second year, the Teaching Knowledge Test is a nifty passport to working abroad.
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The Independent Online

Teaching English as a foreign language, or Tefl (get ready for an orgy of acronyms) has always appealed to idealistic students tempted by the opportunity to work, travel and have a buffer against the "real world".

And doing so may have just got a lot easier, thanks to the Cambridge University English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) examinations. Their Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), now in its second year, aims to give would-be teachers a swift, inexpensive and flexible qualification that will develop classroom basics and allow them to reach a certain standard without the need for formal teaching practice.

The award was developed to meet a rise in global demand for Tefl-qualified teachers after numerous countries began pushing English on to the primary curriculum. This is reflected in the international make-up of the TKT network: 201 testing centres in 52 countries, from Bahrain to Brazil, all linked to the Cambridge Optical Mark Reader.

"The initial idea," says Juliet Wilson, Cambridge ESOL subject manager for teaching awards, "was to help teachers who are in need of a piece of paper to prove their qualifications but who aren't able to make the investment in Celta [Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults] or Icelt [In Service Certificate in English Language Teaching]."

But the test is increasingly being seen as a good opportunity for UK graduates who are keen to experience life in another culture. One such graduate, Cara Richardson, 23, from Wolverhampton, took the TKT this January and is soon to take up a teaching position in Hungary. She hopes to use the placement to test-run a possible career.

"I have wanted to be a teacher for a while, and to experience life in a different country," she says. "I'm going to see how I get on in Hungary."

The test itself is broken down into three 80-minute modules, which can be taken individually or in one sitting. The first looks at grammar and the background to language teaching; the second at planning lessons and appropriating resources; and the third tests how candidates can manage the process of teaching and learning.

The TKT is clearly very much focused on the skill of teaching. But is it enough? "It's one thing knowing the theory," says Kate Barton, who did Celta after graduating from Southampton University, "but it's quite another putting it into practice with real students. It always depends on the individual class as to how you can implement your ideas."

Indeed, Celta, which gives candidates practical teaching experience, remains the entry-level standard, but the TKT is gaining credibility as a useful qualification for teachers of all levels, and Barton herself plans to take the test this October in Paraguay, where she is now based.

The TKT is being seen as a confidence-builder for teachers. But some question whether this multiple-choice written test, taken in isolation, and that can be prepared for via the internet or using Cambridge ESOL's own textbook, can truly prepare teachers for the challenge of facing a large group of pupils in the classroom. "I think it does give you confidence," Richardson says, "because it highlights what you know and what you can do. You are presented with a set of scenarios and you say what you would do in this or that situation. If you answer it correctly, you can be confident and say 'I would react like that'. It reinforces your teaching knowledge."

Clearly, the test should not be seen as a short cut, and most would stress the need to supplement the qualification. "It's just one in a suite of teaching awards that we offer," says Wilson, back at Cambridge ESOL. "If you were an employer, you would be impressed by the TKT qualification but you might also want to see how much previous training and teaching experience the person has."

Cara Richardson, who is really looking forward to living and working in Hungary, adds: "You are encouraged to do an ESOL or a TESOL [Tefl certificates] as well as the TKT, but I do think it's a good thing to do after doing a degree.

It doesn't require too much extra work, but it gives you an extra qualification and certainly helps you to get work."