This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

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When Should an ESL Teacher Come to CR?

Teaching English in Costa Rica - The reasons a person decides to move abroad to teach English in Costa Rica are many. For some it’s a gap year after university. For others it’s a first step in retirement. Others simply like the idea of escaping the cold winds of winter for a few months. Whatever the motive, the time of year that you decide to take the leap to Costa Rica should ultimately depend on what end you expect for yourself once here. 


Just like there are high and low seasons for tourism, the ESL industry in Costa Rica also has points that are much busier than others. These are the end of January and the beginning of July.

The end of January is when everything has finally settled down after the Christmas/New Years break. In Costa Rica, and all of Latin America for that matter, Christmas can be considered a five month affair. With Independence Day in Costa Rica on September 15th, as soon as the 16th you can see Christmas decorations going up in stores and homes across the country. Without a significant holiday between Independence Day and Christmas, the festive anticipation ramps up very early.

With the entire country essentially shutting down for all of December, the ESL market goes with it. It takes until the end of January for people to settle back in but, once they do, the market takes off. The third week of January means back to business and everyone brings their New Year’s resolutions of learning a new language with them. This peak goes strong until April, when the surge is interrupted by another significant holiday: Semana Santa.

July marks the start of the other peak season, which runs until the end of November. With language schools doing most of their hiring in anticipation of these two peaks, those teachers looking to secure employment with the most hours should apply – or move to Costa Rica – just before January and July.

In comparing the two peaks of the ESL hiring season, January is by far the most saturated in terms of people arriving to Costa Rica. With it being winter in North America, the best weather in Costa Rica, and a fresh calendar it is the logical time to arrive.

Given this, a December arrival – and a November TEFL/TESOL course – is often ideal. A common trend to get a leg up on your competing applicants is to spend the month of November getting certified, using December to get your bearings and apply for jobs with the goal of starting to work when the market picks up steam in January. A late December or January arrival is often too late as many institutes do their hiring for the following year in the month of December.

With this said, securing a teaching job with 20 hours or more isn’t the goal of everyone. For teachers looking to move to Costa Rica to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere – and teaching more for enjoyment rather than dependence on the paycheck – coming in the low seasons may be more beneficial.

Contrary to popular belief, jobs can be had in low season; the hours – and subsequently the earnings – will just not be enough to live off of. However, for many teachers in Costa Rica, money is not the primary objective. For many, this avenue of less is more is the better option. The pay is less, but so is the traffic, cost of living and beach congestion. If the experience of living abroad is what you’re looking for, and using a teaching job to pay the rent, then perhaps coming in a time not often associated as ideal might be a better fit.

January and July are the peak seasons of the ESL market in Costa Rica. If you’re looking to secure a job at those times, you’d be wise to arrive at least a month prior to your preferred start date. Coming in low season allows for more flexibility in terms of arrival date with the trade off of fewer employment benefits. When you decide to buy your ticket simply depends on what you expect from your time in Costa Rica.

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.


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CR Teaching; Students Want to Learn English


Costa Rica Teaching News - It is easy to confuse want with need. Anyone who has taken even the most basic of introductory business classes would have been taught Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to help shed light on the important distinction. Maslow defines needs, of course, as those things such as water and shelter that are necessitated for one’s survival in life. Wants, in turn, are defined as mere luxuries. If Maslow had designed a similar ESL hierarchy, need would have, again, heavily outweighed the want.      

teaching english in costa ricaIn previous columns I have disputed common misconceptions about teaching English in Costa Rica. This is another big one. There is a common conjured image of an ESL classroom that has twenty innocent children smiling and laughing with their teacher while having the time of their life. It’s a really nice picture. What it isn’t, though, is an accurate representation of what most ESL classrooms look like.

This is certainly not to say that a realistic portrayal is found in the opposite projection, either. But when discussing classroom environment in Costa Rica, contextual perspective is a must.

As I’ve written in previous columns, the most common ESL teaching job in Costa Rica is teaching corporate English to adults. In a perfect world a teacher would find a room full of students eager to eat up his or her every word and make the most of the opportunity in front of them. This, though, is hardly ever the case. And if it is, it may not be for the reasons that you would think.

In the corporate ESL world students are placed into an English classroom with one goal in mind: to improve their language skills to be more successful at work. I use the phrase “are placed” because often times this is literally the case. While it is common that students don’t have to pay for the language classes (or at least pay more than a minimal course percentage) it is also common that them taking the class is non-optional. With the many fortune 500 companies from the U.S and Europe that are now present in Costa Rica, speaking English, especially at the echelon  of manager, at a higher than proficient level is becoming more and more a basic expectation.

Companies are willing to invest in their employees through language classes so long as their return is an improved work output. In many cases ESL student lists are created by managers and superiors based on who they need to speak better and not on which of their employees actually have the desire to speak better.

This leads to a mixed bag of students for an ESL instructor to deal with.

In every class there are at least three types of students. The student who can’t believe their company is paying for English classes and is going to take advantage of the opportunity presented for both professional and personal gain. The second type is the student who loves the class because it is during work time and he or she can use it as an excuse to not work for a few hours. The third type of student is the teacher’s nightmare. This student hates everything about the class. They hate that they are being forced to take the class. They hate that they are being obligated to learn a language they do not like. And they hate that they are being forced to learn a language just to be able to speak with clients and colleagues from The United States because people there refuse to speak a language other than English.

If you start working for a company that solely does what are deemed ‘public classes’ – those where students voluntarily enroll with their own money – this will not be an issue to the extent described above. Although you will surely still find one disgruntled student who knows he needs to improve his English skills for work but loathes having to take the classes. For the majority of ESL instructors in Costa Rica however, the sensitive corporate environment is where you’ll earn your bread.

Teaching English is not without its challenges. If this space is worth anything, it can be taken as expectation management. Just like your future students, to be successful in this field it’s essential to consider the needs in the classroom and not the wants.

This article was first published on The Costa Rica Times

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.


Do I Need to Speak Spanish to Teach in CR?

 Costa Rica Teaching News - One of the more intimidating aspects of teaching English abroad is the language barrier. Without basic elements of the local language, things like buying groceries, ordering food in a restaurant and securing a date for Friday night can be tricky. This problem, however, should not translate to the ESL classroom.


The Spanish question is one of the most common I receive. For those that don’t have experience teaching English as a second language, it is a natural thought process. The concept of a student, who doesn’t speak English, learning from a teacher, who doesn’t speak their language, certainly looks challenging on the surface. With a change in perspective, though, we can see why this is actually the ideal situation.

The best method to learn a language is to be totally and completely immersed in that language. This is why many non-Spanish speakers arrive to Costa Rica and are easily able to pick up at least the very basic elements. When you live here, you are forced to interact in Spanish. For Costa Ricans, this full immersion only exists in their ESL classroom.

One of the very first things your TESOL instructor will tell you is that the target language is the only language to be used in the classroom. There are many reasons for this, but the most important being that in order to learn, improve, or perfect a language, one must be able to also think in that language. If the effort is made to take the students’ native tongue out of the equation, the learning ability is increased immensely.

Not being able to translate for students is a constant worry for potential teachers. This is, of course, both a non-issue and a big ESL ‘no-no’. While translation may help a student understand a word or two, it is not a recognized learning technique. While also disrupting the target language focus, translation simply doesn’t work based on the logistics of the language: English does not function the same as Spanish.

This is a common point of perplexity for many. I am routinely asked by English learners and native Spanish speakers how it is I expect them to learn English without translation. My simple answer to this query is: What language was Spanish translated from for you to learn?

We all learn our native language without translation. No native English speaker learned English via translation from another language. Why should learning a second, third or fourth language be any different?

This is the challenge for ESL instructors. Students will ask. They will beg. But the answer needs to be ‘no’. Translation is any easy way out for many awkward moments in the classroom. It’s not easy to stay the course when there are ten confused faces staring at you with no idea what you’ve just said. What separates the good from great ESL instructors, though, are those that can get any message across without translating.

Do you need to speak Spanish to teach English in Costa Rica? You will need to learn at least some to live in Costa Rica. To teach English in Costa Rica not only do you not need to speak Spanish, you shouldn’t even try.

This article was published in The Costa Rican Times 

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

This Week in Costa Rica is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, expressed or implied.  This Week in Costa Rica is produced by Podfly Productions, LLC and broadcast with permission by the Overseas Radio Network.