English Speakers: Share Your Power

If you can read this, you have power.

English is the language of power in many contexts around the world. In the US, the UK, and Australia, it’s the common language of society, but it’s also the language of much business and internet activity the world over.

Here’s the thing: language ability is a power that can multiply! As Andy Crouch has argued in his excellent new book, the Christian view of power is not a zero-sum game. Sharing power multiplies power. Crouch gives the example of a banjo lesson: the student’s ability (power) with the banjo is increased, and the teacher’s power is not decreased at all. If anything, his enjoyment of and skill with the banjo are increased as he works with his student.

Likewise with language learning. My years of teaching ESOL have only increased my facility with the English language — and more importantly, that of my students. Through our time together, they are better equipped to navigate and negotiate in an English-dominant society.

So teaching ESOL is a significant way you can share your power, your life, and perhaps even the Gospel! (I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about how English teaching fits into God’s big story.)

But where can you start? The opportunities for teaching English are legion, so I’ve gathered and grouped them into categories. They’re arranged on a spectrum of sorts, from highest commitment to lowest commitment.

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1. English as missions — Like any other missionary, you can get commissioned, raise support, and go to another country to make disciples of Jesus. The difference here is the means: you’ll go as an English teacher. This is one of the main ways that missionaries get into countries that otherwise wouldn’t allow them. The key here is to actually teach English, and to do a good job of it! My wife’s cousin and her husband taught English in East Asia for a few years through a program like this, and they loved it. There are plenty of organizations sending to China, Mexico, and all over the world (both short-term and long-term). Most sending agencies will train you how to teach.

2. International schools — You can get a job teaching kids at an international school. These are all over the map, from top-tier schools for expatriates’ kids to schools for disdvantaged kids from the community. Some are run by Christians; plenty aren’t. A friend of mine has been teaching fifth grade at Academia Los Pinares for two years, and he’s really enjoying it. You can find schools through placement agencies like The International Educator, International Schools Services , and Search Associates (Most of these jobs require some teaching experience and/or education.).

3. EFL for adults — You can teach EFL (English as a Foreign Language) to adults in countries where English isn’t a native language. Some places have courses in Business English, or English for specific fields or purposes. These courses are run by companies and universities the world over. Many of these opportunities will require a TEFL certificate (through Oxford Seminars and others) and possibly specialized certificates.

4. ESOL in US PreK-12 public schools — This is what I do, and I love it. This interactive map will show you the number and percentage of PK-12 English learners in your area as of 2007. Requirements vary by state, but most states will require a teaching degree and a TESOL certification from Praxis.

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5. Community English classes — These not-for-credit classes are often run by community organizations (like this one in my neighborhood) or community colleges (like these near me). Teaching requirements vary widely, so find out what’s offered near you and how they work.

6. Church-based English classes — Chances are that at least one church in your area is holding English classes (like this one in our city). And if you can’t find one, or your church wants to start one, talk to Nancy Booher, who has a lot of experience in helping churches start ESOL programs. The Catholic Charities group in our area also runs classes.

7. English conversation groups — Some colleges and universities organize conversation groups for their non-native English speakers. If you’re near a university, you could check to see if they offer this.

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1. Where Does English Teaching Fit in God’s Big Story?

3. Unexpected Ways to Teach English and Love Your Neighbor

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This piece was originally published on G92.org. I taught ESOL at every level from pre-K to graduate school for 7 years, and these were some of my musings on the theological implications of my work.