Notes from the Field: An Interview with David Kelly, Head Teacher, BridgeEnglish, Chile

Interested in teaching English in South America? I spoke to David Kelly, Head English Teacher at BridgeEnglish in Santiago, where the focus is on teaching business English to professionals. Read on to learn what those who sign up for our IDELT certification course in Santiago, or take part in our Teach in Chile Internship, can expect.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself first, David? What led you to teach in Chile?

When I left university – many years ago – my first real employment was teaching physics and math at the high school level. My career then diverged into the new and exciting field of computer sciences and I was employed in that field, in various countries, for about 25 years. During the latter part of that period I moved to Chile on a permanent basis (in 1988) and so have an in-depth appreciation of the social and business culture here. I returned to teaching about 15 years ago, and then subsequently began to teach English to adult business students.

I joined BridgeChile in 2009 and came onto the administrative staff a year later. I have been Head Teacher since the end of 2010 and really enjoy the daily interaction with our 60 or so teaching staff, as well as with our business clients.

Why would you recommend teaching in Chile?

I think there are two major benefits that teachers can take away from Chile:

1) A rich cultural experience and understanding of differences in both social and business interactions. The Chilean people that our teachers will meet are generally charming, educated, motivated learners and genuinely interesting and welcoming people. Most of our teachers will learn about these differences as they teach the English language – part of a cultural experience that is particularly rewarding.

2) Teaching English in the BridgeChile environment also provides a graduated professional experience, using our focused methodologies, program structures and technical guidance. In Santiago, we are one of the larger language institutes, and we have developed very clear professional guidelines that serve our teachers throughout their careers, in locations worldwide, and help them to build a professional approach to ESL.

I think it is also fair to mention that our teachers don’t take away much money! In Latin America, teachers are not paid generously – the rewards are more in the experience itself, and in the resulting professional and personal development I’ve mentioned!

What is the profile of a typical student in a Bridge English class?

Virtually all our students are motivated business professionals, frequently working for a multinational or export-oriented company. They have university degrees and, frequently, post-graduate studies in their chosen field. The average age would be in the thirties, but there are a significant number of older students that now need English to continue their career advancement.

The majority of our students can understand written English, as they have been using English texts in both the university and professional environment. More than half, however, will have little oral comprehension or expression, so our communicative approach, based on giving students the chance to practice using what they’ve learned in a real context, is critical to their advancement.

Why do teachers need a special course to teach business English?

When teachers join our staff at Bridge, we provide a 20-hour orientation and training so that all staff are on the “same page” when they teach our business clients.

From a commercial point of view, this consistency is one of the keys to the business relationship with a client company. We need to be sure that our teachers can put the language into an appropriate “context” for the student, so that he or she can feel that the class is relevant to their work environment needs.

At Bridge, we add materials to the text curriculum to emphasize real business language needs, such as telephone practice, formal and informal presentations, and so on. We also make ample use of case studies that introduce real business problem-solving techniques.

What does Bridge expect from teachers (i.e. certification, hours, professionalism)?

Incoming teachers to Bridge need to bring several things to the table to be successful. We look for university graduates, as this is a primary indicator of initiative and autonomy – attributes that are needed to teach effectively. We also require that our teachers have been certified in ESL techniques – with a TEFL, IDELT, CELTA or equivalent certification. Previous teaching experience is not essential, but of course it usually helps! We need native English speakers – both the accent and the practical knowledge are keys to success here.

We expect our teachers to give us flexible time availability, as most of our business classes are before work, at lunchtime, or after work. A class will typically run at the rate of three hours per week, and be spread over several months. Our teachers need to commit to the program for the class duration.

Professionalism, in my view, is more an attitude than the piece of paper! The most successful teachers at BridgeChile are those that will commit to their students with a passion, that will see it through to the end of the course, will go the “extra mile” to find additional materials that supplement their classes, will strive to be dynamic and interesting, etc. These are the qualities that we try to foment with our staff.

What would a typical day be like for a Bridge teacher in Chile?

Most of our classes are concentrated in the first four days of the week, so our teachers will often have four long days and then perhaps lower activity on Friday. The normal weekly pattern for a group is to take two classes for 90 minutes each.

A teacher at Bridge in Chile can expect to see a load of five or six groups (imparting about 12 classes, or 18 hours or so) each week. The class size varies between one and six students – the average group size is three or four – whilst roughly half our classes are individual lessons (“private” or “one-on-one”). Our teachers need to be flexible in their approach to the class, as the dynamic for a group is very different from the dynamic in the individual case.

About 75% of our classes are in the client’s office, so there is quite a bit of traveling involved for our teachers. The subway and the bus system are fairly extensive in Santiago, so that public transport is the way to get around. Most of the clients’ offices are concentrated fairly close to the Bridge location (within 30 minutes).

The schedule leaves free time during the day (mid mornings and mid afternoons) so that there is time to relax and do other things!

Thank you, David, for telling us about what it’s like to teach English in Chile.

Learn more about teaching in Chile from Emma, a graduate of Bridge’s programs in Chile who went on to teach in the country. Also, find out more about our Teach in Chile Internship program.