Caption: Talk about the greatest class ever! Kaplan, January, 2013. 

After only one month of being an ESL teacher at Embassy English in San Francisco, I am reminiscing the days I was in my students’ shoes, when I was an ESL student for 9 months at Kaplan International Colleges. It seems like it was ages ago! An experience I could only call spectacular!

Yes, I was a teacher before in Saudi Arabia. Yes, I learned a lot from that experience. But I have never thought that teaching in an ESL setting would be very different from EFL. It never crossed my mind that being a teacher in SF would be very different from being one in Jeddah! The main two differences are culture; the easiness of dealing with one very familiar culture, and native language; the freedom of using students’ first language in class. Although the same two aspects can be challenging as well. They’re not pluses nor they are disadvantages. They are what you want them to be.

I only taught lower levels in SF or back in Jeddah; beginners and elementary. Therefor, in Jeddah, using their first language was essential in breaking down some grammatical concepts, like comparison of place of subject and verb functions. I liked using L1 when I had to, specially in classroom management instructions. I always blurted in English first, but then would have to translate in Arabic when I had to. I believed in a facilitating an eclectic approach. Also, the mutual understanding of the teacher-student role was never a problem. It was never a hierarchal relationship, more of a horizontal on a teacher-student level. I was their friend but when I blabbed about the lesson I was heard. I also had no problem in reading their facial expressions and body language. We shared the same background. We went though similar conditioning. It is easier to deal with Saudis than anyone else in the world!

In San Francisco, in a multicultural setting with different native languages, I felt lost at the beginning. I am still learning how to deal with different cultures. I do have a background in the stereotype of each group, yet, I can’t just rely on that. I am still struggling with explaining in an only-English classroom. Specially when my students barely speak it!