Teaching English in the Czech Republic
Article and photos by Pearl Harris
|Prague's famous Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square
When my husband and I decided to emigrate to the Czech Republic from South Africa six years ago, we realized that the only way to earn a living in our new country would be by teaching English, due to our lack of knowledge of the Czech language. Being a medical doctor and radiographer respectively, neither of us had any inkling nor experience of what teaching English involved.
Preparation for Teaching English in the Czech Republic
We had been told that there was a huge demand for native speakers to teach in the Czech Republic, where there is an ever-growing realization of the importance of English as an international language, especially since the country’s entrance into the European Union. We had been told that there would be no need to undergo any special courses in order to obtain employment. However, we were advised to complete a TEFL course, which would give us a better chance of finding meaningful employment.
We followed the advice offered us and attended an intensive course run by the TEFL Institute in Cape Town, at the end of which we obtained the International Preliminary Certificate for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Requirements for entrance to the TEFL course were a university (college) degree of any kind and English as one’s home language. With the aid of some highly skilled, experienced, and motivated lecturers, we quickly were thrown into the world of ESL and EFL teaching.
We were shown the difficulties encountered in the acquisition of a foreign language. Educational, psychological, and linguistic theory was reviewed, with an emphasis on the practical aspect throughout. My B.A. degree in English and Linguistics along with a post-graduate Diploma in Translation were an invaluable aid to me, as was my basic knowledge of German and French. However, it is not necessary to have any foreign language knowledge, nor to have a degree in any related field in order to teach EFL.
In the final stages of the course, each student had to prepare a 90-minute demonstration lesson to be presented in front of all the other students. If the lecturers were satisfied with a student’s all-round results, particularly in linguistic competence and communicative performance, the valuable TEFL certificate was awarded.
Another possible track that we did not take is obtaining a TEFL Certificate online. It is not necessary to be a native speaker to enroll in an online TEFL course. Online accredited courses are an excellent option in many cases, the only disadvantage being the lack of personal communication and practical classroom experience, which other courses provide.
Whichever method you choose in order to obtain it, having an accredited TEFL certificate with you when you leave home will open many doors for you in the world of ESL and EFL teaching.
In the Czech Republic there are many jobs advertised daily for native speakers of English to teach either private individuals or in language schools, of which there are literally thousands scattered throughout the country. In order to teach in public or State schools, you do need to be licensed as a qualified teacher. However, in some outlying districts, where schools may be in dire need of English teachers, you could be hired as a native speaker, especially if you have a TEFL certificate.
The more reputable privately-owned language schools, which have been established for several years, use Czech qualified teachers to teach English grammar and native speakers to teach the practical aspects of the language. They prefer the native speaker to have some TEFL qualification or university degree, but the main prerequisite is to have English as your home language. There is still a huge demand for native speakers in language schools throughout the Czech Republic. Many schools will not ask for anything beyond having a school-leaving certificate and that your home language is English.
Shortly after arrival in Ceske Budejovice, capital of South Bohemia, near the Austrian border where we have settled, I heard about a vacancy through a friend who worked at a private language school. I went for an interview and was hired on the spot. The fact that I had a TEFL certificate and university degree in English and Linguistics was a plus but definitely was not essential. The fact that I was a native speaker was like gold.
My classes were shared with a qualified Czech teacher. Students, in groups of no more than 8, attended 90-minute lessons twice weekly. The Czech teacher and I worked through a course book (at that time we used the excellent, teacher-friendly Headway series). She would cover the grammar sections of the lessons and I would handle the conversation and listening sections. A class book was written up after each lesson, so that we would each know exactly which parts had been covered.
Tapes or CDs accompany each lesson. If the school is a good one, it will have a large library with all kinds of resources for the teacher. There is no need to buy any books or other aids, as the teacher will be given whatever she needs for her lessons. Czech-English dictionaries are available in every classroom for use by the teacher and students.
Another route to go, if you prefer not to teach for a language school, is to teach at home. Advertise as a native-speaking English teacher in your local newspaper or on the excellent website www.expats.cz. You can either go to the homes of your students or, if you have a suitable home environment, they will come to you. You can charge the same rates as a school would pay you–between 200–300Kc ($12 - $18) per 60 minutes. The downside of teaching privately is that you do not have access to a school’s textbooks or other resources, nor the companionship and practical advice on hand from colleagues. You will have to supply all your own teaching materials at considerable cost. Of course you will have the advantage of setting your own hours at your convenience and your travel expenses will be zero since you are teaching from your own home.
|A private EFL conversation lesson in the Czech Republic. The teacher (on the left—Ian Harris, my husband) having a conversation lesson with two Czech adult students. The classroom is our home.
A great deal of preparation is required to teach English, as I soon learned. Every 90-minute-period spent in the class entails at least another 90 minutes of preparation. It is a good idea to get on a first-name basis with all your students—who likely will have unpronounceable Czech surnames and will not expect you to use them. Don’t be surprised if you find three Pavels and four Janas all in one class, as I did! The Czech first name system is hard to comprehend, but in my experience there is a limit to the range of first names available to parents.
A great disadvantage of teaching ESL in the Czech Republic is that most adult students can only attend classes either before work (i.e. at 7 a.m. ) or after work (from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.). The time restraints make teaching in a private language school very time-consuming, unless you live near the school itself. As I had to travel 30 kilometers to my language school, getting up at 5 a.m. on a cold winter’s morning became the norm as was getting home in the dark at 9 p.m. I would advise those who wish to teach to live close to your place of work. I have never ceased to admire the Czechs’ keenness to learn English, to actually be willing to attend classes at 7 a.m. on a dark, winter’s morning, when most of us are not fully awake, and then go on to a day at the office–or to attend classes after a full day at work.
Teaching for the uninitiated is a nerve-wracking experience. I spoke not a word of Czech and had to communicate with Czech beginners who spoke not a word of English. Does this sound impossible? I learned that Necessity is the truly the Mother of Invention. One devises creative ways and means—which turn out to be the best way to learn a language! If your teacher is continually translating into your native tongue, or speaking and explaining words to you in your native tongue, your brain is prevented from thinking in the foreign language. Once a student starts to think in the foreign language, an enormous achievement has been accomplished and he or she is well on the way to mastering the language.
Having some knowledge of a second or third language yourself is a great asset—although not a necessity for teaching English. It offers you an insight into the problems and errors made by students of a foreign language and how to try to prevent and overcome them. In this respect, my own experience of learning French in a totally French environment in Paris, and German in the same manner in Zürich, was invaluable to me. In both cases, my respective lecturers spoke only their native tongue and no English at all during the lessons.
You will find yourself teaching students of all ages, who range from total beginners (Elementary level) through Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate and Advanced levels to those preparing for the FCE (First Certificate in English) and CAE (Cambridge Advanced English ) examinations.
Your school will have placed students in classes requiring a similar level of proficiency, but sometimes space and time restraints result in one person not being up to the standard of the rest of the class, making life very problematic for both teacher and students. Teaching more advanced students, I found, is far easier as you can actually converse with them on a variety of subjects at a higher level. Try to find common interests, something you too enjoy, such as photography, children, pets, travel, sport, cinema, and you are away. Get to know your students on a more personal level and converse with them. They will love your overtures and start speaking freely to you.
One thing which has remained with me from my TEFL course is that a good EFL teacher will only speak for 20% of the lesson time. If your students speak for 80% of the time, you are a successful teacher. With beginners, it is extremely difficult to extract this amount of verbal communication from them, especially as the Czechs are by nature reticent with strangers.
On the other hand, teaching advanced students can be rather nerve-wracking if you are the sole teacher (often students at this level do not want to be taught by anyone but a native speaker). You therefore have to deal with—probably for the first time in your life—all the intricacies, vagaries, problems, irregularities and nuances of English Grammar. I have learned more about my own language through teaching than I ever did in school or my university studies–and I continue to learn on a daily basis.
One–on-one teaching is another aspect which you will have to confront. Your school may have special students on “crash courses,” which are often paid for by their companies or employers. These are usually top-level businessmen who are too busy to attend normal classes. One has to travel to their offices at a set time to provide them with intensive lessons. I found these lessons mentally stressful and exhausting, especially those which lasted for four hours at a stretch. Most of these types of students require Business English, something else which I had to learn about in all haste. This entirely new and different Business English vocabulary had previously been totally unknown to me. Fortunately there are some excellent up-to-date ESL business textbooks available, such as the Market Leader series.
Nearly all ESL courses comprise a Student’s Book, a Work Book of exercises (useful to set as Homework), a Teacher’s Book—which takes you through the lessons with practical hints and answers, tests, word lists, grammar, extra resources and ideas–as well as a set of CDs or cassettes with which you co-ordinate the lessons.
Next comes the matter of Homework–if you want to be a good teacher, you have to give the students written work regularly. This involves a lot of extra time in the correction of these often-illegible texts.
Far from “just speaking to the students,” as my kindly first employer described what I would be doing, I think I have learned much more from these past six years than I have ever taught my students.
Rewards for an ESL Teacher in the Czech Republic
An average ESL teacher’s wages in the Czech Republic are 200 Kc. ($12) per teaching period of 45-minutes. This might sound like very little, but keep in mind that the cost of living is very much lower in the Czech Republic than in most other European countries or the USA.
Although teaching was definitely not my career of choice, I have to admit that, through teaching, I met and got to know a wide range of Czech people–from school children to top businessmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers, housewives—in a way that no other job would have allowed. I learned a lot about my new country, the local culture and way of life. In addition, I made some very useful contacts and even some lasting friendships.
In my teaching career, I have not yet learned much of the impossibly difficult Czech language, as all my colleagues and students are only too happy to converse and practice their English with me. I have, however, met teachers from every country: Canada, the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Belgium, and the U.K., and of course the Czech Republic.
In the summer, there is usually a break of at least 2 months—July and August—when most language and other schools are closed. You may wish to offer to teach one of the holiday courses run by some private schools, or even to go to a holiday camp for a week or two, where you will be provided with full board and lodging plus a salary to teach a few classes per day—or you may choose, like me, to take a much-needed break. Of course, it is a case of “no work no pay”—unless you are employed by a State school or university, in which case you will be provided with two months of fully-paid vacation.
|The Tyn Church, Old Town Square, Prague
In the Czech Republic, you can apply for a Zivnostensky List, which is a business license entitling you to work for yourself or for many different employers. In this case, you pay your own Tax, medical insurance and social security. If your school offers you a contract, they will usually pay for all of these—deducting a percentage of it from your salary. If you obtain a contract of employment from your school, they will assist you in obtaining the necessary work permit or visa, depending on your nationality, and help you with the baffling reams of paperwork involved as a foreign worker. If you work for yourself, it is far more complicated, as you will have to brave the Czech bureaucracy by yourself in order to obtain the essential Business License.
Teaching English in the Czech Republic has been one of the most intensive learning experiences of my life! The demands are huge, but so are the rewards.
At midnight on Friday, December 21st, 2007, celebrations were held along the Czech borders for the lifting of checks following Schengen expansion. The Czech Republic joined the passport-free Schengen Area along with eight other new EU member states.
In the past, many non-EU residents came in on visitors' visas to live and work as English teachers, leaving the country just before the 6-month expiry date to renew their visas either in Vienna or Bratislava (the nearest Czech embassies abroad) before returning to continue teaching. However, the situation has changed with the removal of EU borders.
Due to the fact that there is always a great demand for native speakers to teach English, there is still sufficient work available for non-EU residents. However, it is wisest to obtain a teaching position before entering the country and to start the process in motion to apply for a work permit with the help of one's future employer. Private language schools are very keen to have native speakers and will go out of their way to assist.
One must remember that you can't come in and teach on a visitor's visa and I think this is where many people have a problem. It is essential to organize an employer and work permit before arriving in the country.
There is still ample opportunity for new applicants who are willing to get their work visa applications started prior to or immediately from their start date. The Law does change very rapidly, so it is always wise to seek the advice of one's future employer (who will be up-to-date with the latest legal aspects).
The Czech Foreign Police are very strict. It is not recommended for a foreigner to do anything illegal.
For More Info
www.expats.cz: An excellent English website for jobs and all other essential information for expatriates in the Czech Republic—worth researching even before you leave home.
Some TEFL Definitions:
- ESL—English as a Second Language—taught to non-native speakers who live in an English-speaking country.
- EFL—English as a Foreign Language—taught to non-native speakers who live in a non-English-speaking country—such as the Czech Republic.
- CELTA—this is from the University of Cambridge—the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, the most widely internationally recognized teacher qualification.
- TESOL—Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages—a non-standardized course offered through various universities.
- TESL—Teaching English as a Second Language—as for TESOL above.
- TEFL—Teaching English as a Foreign Language—these courses are unfortunately not standardized and are offered by a variety of institutions world-wide. It is thus very important to find a course which is accredited internationally. This information has to be stated on your TEFL certificate. It is advisable to choose a school which has been running for a good length of time. An excellent criterion in the USA is accreditation by ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training), which is a US Department of Education-recognized agency.
- ONLINE TEFL courses—if it is not convenient to attend a course in another town, there are excellent online accredited courses available, such as the CELTA, Bridge TEFL and TEFL Online courses which prepare you for jobs in any country worldwide. Requirements differ. CELTA and Bridge Online require only that you be academically prepared for university, at least 18 years of age and to have a proficiency level of English equivalent to a score of 280 or higher on the computer-based TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language—the most common requirement for university entrance). Editor’s note: See a list of online TEFL courses here.
Harris was born in South Africa where she spent
most of her life before emigrating to the Czech Republic
with her husband, Ian, in 2002. Besides travel, her
passions are writing, photography, reading, and animals.
She has a B.A. in English & Linguistics, post-graduate
Diploma in Translation and TEFL qualification. Formerly
an EFL teacher, Pearl now freelances and you can find more information on her website about her work proofreading & editing.
Pearl has been widely published in magazines
and on the web. Her travel memoirs, From
Africa to Buková, and the sequel Where
is my Home? are available on Amazon.com.