A retiree's tips on teaching English abroad

WITH ONLY 10 MINUTES to go till my four o'clock class, I found myself dashing through the streets of downtown Guadalajara, looking for a place to copy my handout materials. There were copy shops all over, but the only machine in the first shop was out of order. The second had a working printer, but it died after turning out one copy.

I remembered there was a third shop just across the street from the language institute where I was teaching. But as I raced around the corner, I found the place shuttered down.

Closed for siesta.

Learning to make do with two handouts in a class of 10 students was only one of the lessons I took away from my month-long course in Guadalajara to learn to teach English as a foreign language.

English-teaching certification courses are offered in many sites; I considered one that was not far from my home in Denver, and there's even a program on the Internet. But for action and adventure, there's nothing like learning to teach a language in a foreign country. Especially for someone like me - a 65-year-old in search of a new career in retirement.

The experience I had in Guadalajara last March was so stimulating that my wife and I have come back to spend the year here. We both are studying Spanish each morning, and I am teaching English part-time at a local university.

Teaching English is an exceptional way to meet people from another culture - much more interactive than popping in as a tourist. And it seems well suited to retirees who don't take to the idea of full-time leisure on the golf links. A recent survey by the AARP found that 80 percent of baby boomers planned to work at least part time during "retirement."

My own interest in teaching English stemmed from studying Spanish. As have many Americans, I've felt a mounting need to become bilingual. But learning a second language is an arduous process, and gradually I became interested in what it would be like to teach English, using techniques that had proved effective with me as a student of Spanish.

In Denver, I found a couple of interesting assignments with immigrants from Latin America - one as a volunteer in a church basement program, and another as a paid instructor at an international language institute. I went through a one-week training program at the institute, and the one-month program in Guadalajara where I earned a certificate in "teaching English as a foreign language" - TEFL.

Now I'm an instructor in "Business English," at la Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, teaching a curriculum based on the global marketplace to students who are wrestling with careers in multinational corporations.

I've been able to incorporate material from courses I've taught career counseling, in the US in an effort to help my students in Mexico gain more control over their working lives.

Along the way, I've learned a few lessons about teaching English in retirement:

• It's a good idea to choose training programs carefully. Two friends and I narrowly escaped the clutches of a Boston-based company with an impressive website. I was prepared to fork over some $1,400 in tuition for their three-week course in Guadalajara. Two days before it was to begin, I received an e-mail that the program had been cancelled. It took weeks to unravel the sordid story of the "PhD" who ran the operation - a Catholic priest under investigation for child abuse whose doctorate turned out to be bogus. Fortunately, we were admitted to another program by a company that was above board and effective.

• It makes sense to look for a training program in an area where one might want to teach. The main reason I'm in Guadalajara is that I made some connections while studying here. My contact with the university came through the director of my training program. I've found that professional networking through the institute where one is trained is infinitely more effective than scanning the Internet, where those seeking jobs may outnumber the available jobs by several hundred to one - about the same ratio as the Sunday classified ads.

• Finally, I've found that teaching English is not a good venue for learning to speak a new language. Many schools actually prefer to hire those who don't speak the language of their students, to ensure that all the instruction will be carried on in English.

While I've found it helpful to translate English into Spanish as a last resource, generally my students are more apt to remember words they've had to puzzle out in English.

Teaching English in retirement is still a new concept. Although I've met a few teachers in their 50s and 60s here in Guadalajara, the vast majority of people in this field are in their mid-20s.

Still, I've not found my age to be a problem. I remember the night I came back to the language institute in Denver after an absence.

"How'd it go?" I asked my class of foreign students. "Did you like your teacher?" One of my students lowered her head.

"Oh, it was somebody young," she said.

• William Charland is the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Changing Careers" (Macmillan). For more information about programs that train people to teach English, he suggests www.whichcourse.com.

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