Mark Twain wrote that if you find the job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. A sweeping generalisation indeed, but I understand what he meant. If you truly love your job, then it becomes a labour of love.
I found the job I love as an EFL teacher many years ago and I continue to love what I do, although my job has certainly evolved. However, it must be said that I certainly did not choose this profession and I never had a dream of one day becoming a teacher. Like so many teachers and particularly native speakers, I fell into it through fortunate circumstances.
After completing my university studies in linguistics and majoring in German, I had really no idea what I wanted to do afterwards. You could say I lacked ambition and I really did. I also lacked confidence. Fortunately, my path was decided for me when I fell in love and married a construction engineer who did have the ambition to travel.
And so, just newly married I arrived in the Arabian Gulf State of Bahrain where my husband had a contract to build a new port and I found myself with absolutely nothing to do!
I find a job
I made friends quite quickly and found out that the British Council in Bahrain was looking for local English teachers.
Could I call myself a teacher? Hardly, but I was able to call myself a linguist which at least gave me some credibility. Within ten days, the British Council gave me the most romantic job; I was to teach English to a Bahraini Princess who was pregnant and therefore not allowed to go out of the palace. Things have fortunately changed since then for Arabian Princesses.
It was romantic because three times a week a beautiful Cadillac belonging to the royal family picked me up from my house and took me to a huge palace where I taught in ultimate luxury. I was young and very impressionable and simply loved this first step into the world of teaching. But, if I were completely honest with all those dedicated and highly trained teachers out there, I would have to admit that I had very little idea of what I was supposed to do.
What’s a Phrasal Verb?
I had no idea about the grammar terminology of my own language as it isn’t taught in schools in England and I had studied German grammar. The words “past and present simple” were new to me and as for phrasal verbs, well, I was clueless. Fortunately, my linguistics background was a great help and I learnt on the job and got a TEFL qualification as soon as I could.
Since then, I have had a long and varied career to the point where I am now thinking of working less. However, I feel I can now claim to be “experienced” and with this in mind, I wanted to share something which I have learnt over the years and which has kept me financially comfortable.
“Financially comfortable”, now there’s an interesting phrase. Why did I not simply say: “which has helped me to make money?” What is it about the word money which we don’t like? After all, unless you are mega-rich, you, like me, will have worked to earn money; money to put food on the table, to educate our children, to improve our quality of life and to cushion the blows when tragedy strikes.
Don’t mention money
I have been a contributor and reader of thousands of EFL and ELT posts on Facebook over the years, I have seen numerous mentions of grammar, vocabulary, even some obscure ones such as the relevance of the Oxford comma, and yet, discussions about money and entrepreneurship have rarely been seen. Of course, I am not discounting job satisfaction but there is no doubt that money is a driving force when it comes to our jobs, so why is it so rarely discussed?
So with “money” in mind, and years of experience behind me, please permit me to offer the following piece of advice. In the already crowded and talented world of EFL and ELT, I would advise any young or not so young teachers to try and gain as many new skills as they can, even if they don’t need them at the moment, because, by adding value to yourself, you can then add value to others at the same time improve your “economic situation”.
Survival in Challenging Times
Learning new skills, when there is no urgency to acquire them, rather than responding to a demand which was almost always my case, helps you survive in challenging times. In these horrid days of lockdown, I am busier than I have ever been in my life and the reason for that is because I have several strings to my old and well used bow.
So let’s not talk about money as such but let’s talk about enhancing our skills which can give us a better lifestyle. How’s that for euphemistic paraphrasing?
Very early in my career, I realized that being an English teacher was also about responding to the needs of people at the time. In 1992, Britain entered the European market (we left this year!) and suddenly there became a need for company employees in England to learn foreign languages.
Having returned to England after many years of traveling and teaching, I immediately revived my German and French and started teaching both languages in industry. Later the companies where I was teaching brought over European and Asian executives for intensive English courses and so my business as an English teacher thrived alongside my other languages.
At the same time, my children were growing up. By now I had four boys who needed to pass entrance exams for private schools. This was the expensive educational route which I had chosen for them and this was most definitely the driver which kept me working. To enter these private schools my boys had to excel in mathematics and so I developed my skills quickly in order to tutor them.
As they all got places at these good schools, I found myself being asked by other parents to tutor their children in maths as well. This is something which I still do to this day and which gives me great pleasure. I have always been honest with parents and told them I was not a maths teacher but that through my languages I had developed some strategies and methods which worked very well for children who struggled with maths.
A Phenomenon Emerges
As time went by and as English became more of a Lingua Franca, there was less call for my German and French training in industry but something very strange was emerging. As native English speakers entered the international arenas of trade, commerce and even politics to speak English to other nationalities, they discovered that they were the people who were understood the least. A strange but understandable phenomenon. Native speakers speak fast with regional accents often using all the subtleties and nuances they use when speaking to other native speakers and very often they are simply too difficult to understand.
This was made very clear to me one day by a certain Mr Ashida who was a Japanese executive learning English with me. He and I had been working together for two years when one day in exasperation, he declared: “I understand everything you say. “ I took the compliment graciously, “but when I went into the office (where the engineers and admin staff spoke with a regional Northern Accent, “I understand nothing!”
I was dismayed and so disappointed that my teaching hadn’t helped him in these situations. He had learnt BBC English in Japan, I was continuing to teach him BBC English because that is what I speak but outside of the classroom very few people spoke this way.
I discover a need in a market with no competition
I discovered a need which up to that point I had not been greatly aware of. It seemed that native British business people needed to know how to adapt and modify their speech to enable non-native speakers to fully understand them. There may not have been such an urgent need in the South of England but in my area of Northern England it was very necessary for many people. Therefore to meet this need, I developed a course in Communication and Speaking for native British business people to help them speak more clearly and therefore be understood better. I did this by modifying their regional accents and by demonstrating to them how to use more targeted and less abstract vocabulary. For this line of work, I had the market almost to myself and my lifestyle improved again. Through lots of research and practice, I became a voice and communications coach training people in public speaking and today, I do teacher training as well. That bow now has yet more strings.
Shy bairns get no sweets
We have a saying in my area: “Shy bairns (kids) get no sweets.” I am not a religious person but the bible also says “do not hide your light under a bushel”. I have never found out what a bushel is exactly but I understand the meaning; people rarely find you, you have to let them know of your existence. In other words, having skills is an excellent thing but you have to let people know you have them.
I have done this by using Linkedin, Facebook and to a smaller extent Twitter. I also give voluntary talks at conferences, do webinars and podcasts. It sounds a lot but I only do a few of each.
Having started to market myself, I was contacted by an EFL magazine owner whose editor had simply disappeared. He asked me if I would help him to edit the magazine and I stayed on a part-time basis for almost two very happy years. Now I was an editor too.
A Jack of All Trades
I would definitely call myself multi-skilled but not multi-talented. I am not a great believer in natural talent and prefer to believe that most things can be achieved through a great willingness and hard work, much of which is practice and research. There are now so many ways of gaining knowledge in the world today. Although I have a degree in linguistics, I have never done a Masters of a PHD. I admire and respect both qualifications but for me there was never time and my finances were always required in other places, but through hard work and experience I have become a specialist in more than one field of expertise. I have even been called “A Jack of All trades”, which I take as a compliment.
So thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope sincerely that it has prompted you to choose to acquire yet another skill if you haven’t already. (Apologies if I am preaching to the converted.) Having skills helps you stand out from the crowd and makes, what’s that word again? Oh yes “money!”