I Don’t Speak Spanish-Can I Still Teach English In Nicaragua?

TEFL Graduate, And English Teacher In Leon, Nicaragua – Shelby Seavers.

“I know English… I can teach English!” That was my first thought when exploring the idea of teaching English abroad. Then it hit me,  English is the only language I know! How can I live and teach in a country where I don’t speak the native language? How can I teach in a classroom where I might not be able to verbally communicate with the students?

What I learned in my TEFL class, and what was reinforced in the classroom I was teaching in after I graduated, was that its all about immersing your students in the language they are learning. You want to create an environment that is completely focused on the English language, and if you have the ability to default to their native language, that can create somewhat of a crutch for the students at times. It is a challenge for these students here in Nicaragua because they are EFL learners.  EFL means English as a foreign language, and it is much different than ESL, or English as a Second Language.  Why?  Because when the Nicaraguans leave the classroom, everyone is speaking Spanish.  At the supermarket, coffee shop, and in the streets.  This is much different than say English language learners in the US or England, or Australia.-where English is commonly heard in all of those places.  So in the classroom, it is All English- All of the time.

Examples of flashcards used in classes

Examples of flashcards used in classes

How does this work you might ask? In my TEFL course I learned that there are several methods that can be used to teach, and therefore learn English. Techniques can be used that allow your students to listen, speak, read, and write in English.  Think about it this way, teaching your students actions such as ‘sit down’, ‘stand up’ by modeling and giving verbal direction, or to identify the cat or dog by pointing to the appropriate image. It is also a lot of fun to make games, such as charades, in the classroom to achieve this.  I also use a lot of flashcards and act out actions to teach my lessons. In my TEFL course, I learned how to come up with my own activities for my lessons, and how to effectively use them in the classroom.

Just because you don’t know Spanish doesn’t mean you will not hear it in class either. Students will try to use Spanish in class because it is comfortable for them. I am very far from fluent, but have learned enough to catch a few words. I always respond in English even if I know they want the response in Spanish. If the student can’t find the English to ask the question, we work together to figure it out.

Shelby Watching The World Cup With Friends

Shelby Watching The World Cup With Friends

From the perspective of living in a country where you don’t know the language, you quickly learn the basic phrases such as common greetings, requests phrases, etc. Everyone here in Leon has been understanding and patient, even though I don’t know the Spanish language. Conversely, Nicaraguans who do speak English are eager to practice. As an English teacher, you will more than likely be among fellow English teachers, so you can help each other with strategies to use in the classroom. Teachers in general are greatly respected in Nicaragua, and as such, I haven’t faced a challenge that I have not been able to deal with in the classroom with my limited Spanish. From hailing a cab, to ordering food, I have successfully survived for six months with minimal, but expanding, Spanish skills. I can definitely understand more Spanish now than when I arrived, however I have a long way to go to be fluent. I need to take time to be on the opposite side of the classroom and be immersed in a Spanish language class.

Find out what Clara, ITA Nicaragua grad has to say about her TEFL course experience here!


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