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“Why aren’t your classes free?” “Can I just chat with you to practise English?” “What free resources do you have?” These are just a few of the typical questions and statements I receive on a daily basis from students around the world. So today I’m going to explain why learning any language, not just English, isn’t free.
I get it, we want to be as economical as possible and when it comes to learning the most spoken language in the world, you kind of expect everything at your fingertips. But as an experienced and qualified professional in this industry it’s painful to hear questions such as “why isn’t this free?”
It’s a baffling situation because I highly doubt that you would walk into a hairdresser’s and ask them to cut your hair for free or ask your accountant to do your accounts for free or for a lawyer to defend you in court for free.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is a huge industry but, in my opinion, a rather damaged industry. There are so many fantastic EFL teachers out there who have spent time and money going through teacher training, learning the English language in detail and getting that all important teaching experience. But there are equally just as many native English speakers on a “gap year” or “a year of self-discovery” who need a bit of extra cash and decide to “teach” English whilst travelling. Naturally, this overloads the industry with unqualified “teachers” and undervalues the work that actual experienced and dedicated EFL teachers do, both morally and financially.
I have a lot of friends who did the latter and think it’s easy to teach English as a foreign language because they already speak it. How wrong can they be? There’s so much about a language that a native speaker simply doesn’t know.
Let’s take this example sentence…
If I had learnt English with a qualified teacher, I would be more advanced now.
If you ask a native-speaking traveller why the sentence is said this way and why such tenses are being used, you’ll probably find them struggling to provide an explanation.
If you ask a qualified English teacher to explain this sentence to you, you’ll learn that the grammatical structure is a mixed conditional (a mixture of the second and third conditionals).
- This particular mixed conditional has two separate parts (normally separated by a comma).
- The first past uses the past perfect tense (if + subject + had + past participle → if I had learnt).
- The second part uses would + infinitive verb → would be.
- The reason we use this structure is because we want to express regret (something we wish we had done in the past) and how this would affect the present time.
You would probably go on to complete exercises using the structure and practise using it in conversation/real-life.
Qualified English teachers know what’s best for their students. As an EFL teacher myself, I analyse the weaknesses and strengths of my students, focus on specific skills or topics and provide encouragement to make my students feel more confident using English. These are services that you will very rarely, if at all, find with “just a native English speaker”.
I’m an avid reader of posts in the “learning English” Facebook groups and the amount of free resources (generally not great quality resources) available to English learners never fails to surprise me. There are so many mistakes in some of these resources and basic grammar mistakes at that. By spending just that little extra money on a course or English classes, you could avoid learning something incorrectly.
Another question I get asked a lot is “can I spend time chatting with you on Facebook or Whatsapp to practise my English?” I politely decline this request but am often faced with abusive and aggressive responses. Again, this is totally understandable but after teaching day and night to students around the world, most EFL teachers (who do have a life) want to spend time with their families or friends or relax in their free time, not continue teaching… and for free!
I have been in a similar situation myself as a learner of Spanish, so I understand the need to look for the most cost-effective (or free) resources available. When I moved to Barcelona back in 2016 I didn’t speak a word of the language so it was absolutely essential for me to learn Spanish. I was completing teacher training and didn’t yet have a job so naturally looked for free language services. I tried a tandem programme, but I didn’t learn anything especially considering the Spaniards I was paired with just wanted to practise their English the whole time.
Then I looked for a cheap academy course, spent a ridiculous amount of money on pointless textbooks and course materials and, again, learnt very little. I looked online for private classes and found an affordable Spanish teacher, but they rarely turned up to my classes, cancelling at the last minute or sat on their phone while I was completing worksheets in class… I think you get the gist. The cheapest option is not always the best. As a result, I wasted around 2 years when I could have paid a little bit extra and actually learnt something in the language.
I understand the economical impact of investing in language education and I try my best to offer as much high-quality material as possible for free.
So, from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all my teaching colleagues in the EFL industry, before you start asking a teacher why their classes and resources aren’t free, please reflect on what I’ve written here today.
Think about your job – would you offer these services and your free time to do this job for free?
Below are 12 key words taken from this post with definitions. Please be aware that there are sometimes many definitions for one word, it will depend on context.
Definition: keen/ very interested
In our blog: I’m an avid reader of posts in the “learning English Facebook” groups.
Definition: confusing/ difficult to understand
In our blog: It’s a baffling situation.
Definition: to move onto the next thing
In our blog: You would probably go on to complete exercises using the structure and practise using it in conversation/real-life.
Definition: the last of something previously mentioned in the sentence before.
In our blog: I have a lot of friends who did the latter and think it’s easy to teach English as a foreign language because they already speak it.
Definition: To put two people together
In our blog: The Spaniards I was paired with just wanted to practise their English the whole time.
Definition: To find something difficult
In our blog: If you ask a native-speaking traveller why the sentence is said this way and why such tenses are being used, you’ll probably find them struggling to provide an explanation.
Definition: available and easy to access
In our blog: …you kind of expect everything at your fingertips.
Definition: to understand something
In our blog: I get it, we want to be as economical as possible.
Definition: to understand the pattern and the point that is being made
In our blog: I think you get the gist.
Definition: This is a phrase used to express your surprise because somebody has said/done something that is wrong.
In our blog: I have a lot of friends who did the latter and think it’s easy to teach English as a foreign language because they already speak it. How wrong can they be?
Definition: not. In this example sentence, you will probably not find these services. This is used to make the negative much stronger in the sentence.
In our blog: These are services that you will very rarely, if at all, find with “just a native English speaker”.
Definition: You are always surprised and shocked by something
In our blog: The amount of free resources (generally not great quality resources) available to English learners never fails to surprise me.
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