Teaching English: Making an impact


It is common for people like us to organize things like English classes in our locations, as a way to meet people and offer a tangible service to the demographic where we serve. There are many advantages — English is a universal need in the developing world, and knowledge of English increases one’s opportunities for employment. But there are also many challenges. This post will detail these advantages and disadvantages and provide some information about the things we currently do in Mostar.

Why teach English?

Meeting people. When you come to a foreign country with the goal of having an eternal impact, it is important to meet as many people as possible. Especially for young families, you may have a decent home in which to host people, but if you are not exposed in some way to large numbers of people, hosting anyone will prove difficult. Providing a service offers an easy way to give people a reason to meet you.

Tangible service. As foreigners living in a developing country, we are often asked why we moved here. If we can provide some kind of service that helps people tangibly, then building relationships is easier, even if people we meet are not in need of our service. They are more likely to see us as a benefit to the community, rather than a drain.

Legitimacy. Providing a service also helps our presence here to be seen as legitimate. If we were not able to easily explain our work to people around us, it would be hard for people to see a reason for us to be here.

Problems still arise

We are not professionals. Unfortunately, I did not study English at college (this may be the first time those words have been written!). While English is my mother tongue, and I believe I do a good job of teaching people the basics of the language, it is sometimes hard to know how to best structure lessons. I have to do a fair amount of reading, as well as listening to my students, to know which direction to take next.

Certifications. The door is open to eventually putting together an certified, legitimate English course, through which we can offer Cambridge or TOEFL certification to students. However, these things are difficult and costly to establish. This is another consideration that affects our work.

What we are doing

Large classes. Last year, we started our first series of traditional classes, and it started off well, but most of our students dropped out halfway through. We gained a lot of good will through organizing the classes, but we always questioned their effectiveness.

English in small groups. This year, we have taken to organizing classes in smaller groups of 4 or 5 students. This allows us much more time in conversation and allows us to get to know people much better, making for more committed students, and more effective class time. We see this as a way forward, while we tackle the bigger questions of official certification and legitimacy.

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