Teaching English in a foreign country is an eye opening and possibly life changing experience. As we all know, each country is different and as language teachers we must be ready to take on cultural differences and adapt to them as best as we can. If you are thinking about travelling to Argentina to teach English, there are a number of things you should consider in order to understand your students and their culture a bit better.
There is definitely a demand for English language learning in Argentina which is mostly supplied by Argentine English teachers who generally have a good level and fluency.
With that said, what can you expect before heading down to Argentina for the first time?
Most of the younger generations of Argentines will have studied some English at school and will have some knowledge of the language. This is generally reinforced in middle class families by sending their children to private institutes where they can develop their language fluency by attending extra classes two or three times a week after school. Adults who need English for work or travel will also attend these institutes on and off throughout their lives as the need dictates. Many larger towns will boast a private bilingual school or two where the children have the Argentine curriculum in Spanish in the morning and English lessons in the afternoon.
In Buenos Aires, there are some well-established bilingual schools with the curriculum taught both in Spanish and English. These schools were originally established by the British community, which arrived in Argentina to build the railways at the beginning of the 2Oth century and this is why ‘British English’ is more common than ‘American English’ in Argentina (rather than the other way round as in the other Latin America countries). This is also why many Argentine English teachers graduate from teacher training with a more ‘British’ pronunciation.
Obstacles You May Observe and Encounter:
Lack of opportunity for speaking and listening practice
The main problem with English language learning in Argentina is a lack of interaction, both with people who speak English as their mother tongue and with those who use it as a means for communication in international business or tourism. This means that although many people may have taken English lessons for years, they find themselves feeling very shy or nervous when it comes to speaking, and will say they can’t speak English when in fact they have a good grounding but have never had much chance to hold a conversation.
Few students can take advantage of going to the States or Britain to do a summer course because of the price and the inverted seasons; this lack of interaction, believe it or not, does affect confidence and fluency. Generally speaking, Argentines do not have a heavy accent when speaking English like many other Spanish speakers, as the Argentine version of Spanish has a much softer pronunciation.
Making a Living can be Challenging
Most language teachers will work for institutes or schools that will assign them students to teach on a freelance basis. Teachers can expect to travel to their students’ homes or offices to give private or small group lessons and they can give anywhere between four to six classes per day. Although a decent amount of teaching time can be fit into a teacher’s schedule, one can also expect to put in quite a bit of travelling time. Many times a teacher can have two classes in the downtown area of their city and then one class on the opposite side of town. This can be a great opportunity to get to know your city, but it can become a bit tiring as time goes by.
Since many teaching jobs are offered on a freelance basis, working hours can fluctuate depending on the time of year or even the time of the month. Many teachers also find themselves giving classes for two language schools at the same time in order to have a more secure amount of hours each month. During the summer months (December to early March) most students take a break from their studies and many of the cities like Buenos Aires, Rosario, or Cordoba become ghost towns as their inhabitants flock to the coast.
Taking this into consideration, teachers should come to Argentina with a good amount of savings or even think about working in jobs related to tourism, customer service, or consider taking on freelance projects during the low seasons.
Neighbouring countries speak Spanish or Portuguese
The other factor to be taken into consideration is Spanish-or Portuguese-speaking countries surround Argentina, so travel does not mean taking on board another language. The Argentine middle class, in times when the Argentine peso had a favourable exchange rate with the dollar and the euro, are the ones who travel abroad and find themselves using English for international communication. Necessity is one of the basic ingredients for learning to speak another language otherwise it is just easier to speak your mother tongue!
Few students can take advantage of going to the States or Britain to do a summer course because of the price and the inverted seasons; this lack of interaction, believe it or not, does affect confidence and fluency.
With some middle-aged Argentines (and even younger) you may find a resistance to learning English as it is the language of Anglo-Saxon ‘imperialism’. There is a deep suspicion and dislike of US foreign policies, and the alleged CIA interference that went on during the military governments in Latin America is a sore point. The subject of the Falklands/Malvinas is best given a wide berth. Prejudice is a very difficult one to overcome as it is both a political and emotional bias. The best thing is to encourage the learning of English for international communication as the way to establish contact and friendships with people all over the world and that it is probably easier than learning Chinese!
The big business in most towns is teaching children and teenagers. This means that you may have some reluctant students who are not that interested in learning English but are obliged to attend class. The students who manage to have good attendance and show an interest in the language will most likely end up taking the Cambridge 1st Certificate exam.
Adults often start off with good intentions but the obligations of work and family lead to many people abandoning a course. It is difficult to maintain attendance over a long period and perhaps it is better to organise short term modules rather than longer course syllabuses for these students.
There is definitely a demand for English language learning in Argentina which is mostly supplied by Argentine English teachers who generally have a good level and fluency. In theory, as a native speaker you should find that you are in demand. The biggest need is to improve confidence in listening and speaking skills. The Argentines are generally very friendly and pleasant and they love talking which is a great asset when learning another language!
Have you ever taught in Argentina? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments section below!