Shauna’s TEFL adventure in Brazil
Having worked as a chef for just under ten years, I had experience working with people worldwide. Through this, I developed a passion for helping people learn English. I had met so many people who found it difficult, worked bad jobs, went to low-level English schools and could barely tell me their names. I always tried to help and get them to speak even a bit; seeing the progress was and still is the best part. There are people who have lived and worked in Ireland for more than two years and cannot speak English, and this does not reflect a person’s educational level or capabilities, and I always wanted to change this. To help people.
We native English speakers can be ignorant; we always expect people to speak our language wherever we go. And usually, this is the case. Once I arrived in Brazil, I was thrown into the deep end; as soon as we went outside the airport, nobody besides my partner spoke English. People tried and usually shouted some funny things they had heard in famous movies. It was hard, but without any other option, I learnt. I lived in Sao Paulo for eighteen months and now speak Portuguese fluently, although I need improvement. Learning a new language and living abroad changed my view on tongues and how they can open our world. Once I perfect my Portuguese, I want to start Spanish.
When I moved to Brazil, I was still undertaking my TEFL course and did not plan on working, but when people here you are a native English speaker, they immediately want to talk, to practise, to learn.
I started doing private conversational classes with people I knew; I found it enjoyable from the outset. Once I finished my TEFL course, I started working for several online companies. Teaching English online is not easy; ESL teachers are not given as much respect as we should be, and the students can be challenging, but I loved it. I mean, I LOVED it. Having worked in kitchens under much more complex conditions for so long, ESL was a breeze and much more rewarding. I was way out of my comfort zone. Before, I was managing a busy kitchen, hitting targets, writing recipes and doing my personal Gordon Ramsey impression, but this was different. I mainly was working one to one. I had to spend a lot of time upskilling and ensuring I could answer any questions regarding grammar etc. The 10-hour Virtual TEFL course helped so much in my preparation. Having experienced an online classroom and also had the chance to do some practical training was a huge benefit and confidence booster. Like anything new, the first few weeks were a challenge, I had never worried or doubted my spelling skills before, but now I did, but I also knew I had my qualification and referred back to my course notes when I was unsure. After a few months, I settled and felt confident in my abilities.
I taught students of all levels, from A0 to IELTS. Each brought a new challenge, a new type of person, a type of learner. I had to adapt to different cultures and languages. Speaking Portuguese helped a lot; I had a shared experience with many of my students. I was in the middle of learning a new language in another country and a culture far from my own. The range of students varied so much. I taught housewives, business people, a famous Brazilian actress and an ex-special force officer with exciting stories. The most memorable was an 11-year-old boy who spoke better English than me! I could not believe it. He had never taken classes but loved to watch movies and games in English. Seeing how people learn differently is incredible, and that kid blew me away.
My Brazilian students always loved to hear what I thought of their country, and I think it was nice for them to see me struggling with language just as they were. Learning a country’s culture is just as important as knowing the language. I found people were extremely interested in Irish culture and how it differed from that of the U.S. or other countries around the world. Students were of such a wide variety, but a large number were foreigners living and working in the U.S., and I usually gave these people tips and what was and was not acceptable to say in particular situations. As I said, a country’s culture is equally crucial to its language.
Connecting with the student on a personal level while maintaining professionalism was a huge challenge. I found students enjoyed chatting and often requested conversation classes to practise. I would go as far as to say that I believe this to be one of the biggest issues with language learning, students being unable to practise. We have all been there, studying a language throughout our schooling and unable to form a sentence unless we have learned it by heart. I learned Portuguese without taking classes; I lived in Brazil and had no choice. My main focus is always on getting the students to talk as much as possible. Confidence is key!
Before living in Brazi, I lived in Dublin, working 60 – 70 hours per week in one of the city’s top restaurants. I never imagined anything different, but I realised I needed a change because of the pandemic and having more time to breathe. TEFL and teaching ESL have changed my view of life, as crazy as it sounds. Meeting and talking with people from all over the world is a privilege, and I am so pleased I got to experience it. Although I have moved back to Ireland, I am glad of the time I spend abroad. I think everybody should travel. For people who don’t have the option, I think they should learn a second language because through speaking with people you can travel. Hearing stories, traditions, and songs in another language, we travel. We can travel anywhere as long as we are willing to learn.