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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ESL Teachers in CR Learning Another Language

The Costa Rica Times - A common question that is asked by aspiring ESL teachers in Latin America is if not knowing the Spanish language will hinder their abilities in the classroom. The answer to that question is both yes and no.

Let’s start with the obvious. In recent times the teaching methodology that has proven most effective in terms of languages is that of using the target language only. If the context is ESL classrooms, then that language is English. With this in mind, not knowing Spanish – or the native language of your students – does not present a problem. In fact, in many cases it can actually be seen as a positive.

In sticking with the target language only goal, students will not be able to ask the teacher questions in their own language. Rather, they will be forced to communicate in English, which will only improve their communication abilities. In addition, you as the teacher won’t be able to recognize perceived cognate or translation errors that your students are making.

One of the biggest factors in providing the best learning environment possible for your students is to have them not only speaking in English but also thinking in English. Translation errors can also occur as a result of students thinking in their own language and then saying those same words in English. Any experienced ESL teacher will tell you that having this dynamic in class is a must. Not knowing the native language of your students makes establishing this a lot simpler.

With this said, knowing the native language of your students does have a lot of benefits. The most obvious being that you are living in their country. In addition to personal skill building, knowing at least the basics of the language that you encounter on a day-to-day basis will make your life a lot easier. In terms of classroom effectiveness, every aspiring ESL teacher should, at least at one time, be a language learner.

The final assignment in Global TESOL College’s certification course is to have each trainee conduct a thirty minute language lesson to the rest of the class. The trick is that the lesson cannot be in English. The idea is to reiterate the most basic, but most forgotten, aspect of ESL teaching: that your students don’t speak English.

Listen to expats living in Costa Rica on the weekly podcast!

Listen to expats living in Costa Rica on the weekly podcast!

Whether teaching a basic or advanced level, there will be aspects of the language, and the way that you as the teacher present and speak it, that students simply will not understand. Putting our TESOL students in the shoes of having to teach people who have no idea what you’re saying –and also receiving a class in a language they do not speak – is a great lesson in perspective.

By far the most common question leading up to the start of each TESOL course is about how to teach English if Spanish is not known. As you can see, the necessity to speak Spanish, or any other language, does not exist. The necessity that does exist, however, is that of being a student of another language.

This is the most important thing any aspiring ESL teaching can do. You will learn how hard it is to learn another language, what it feels like to be a student and not understand, what makes an effective teacher from the perspective of a language learner, and how to only use the target language. With this experience, you will be a much more effective ESL instructor.

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 ESL Teaching; Anxiety in Your First Class

Teaching English in Costa Rica - The first day of a new job is always filled with anxiety. You want to make a good first impression. You want things to go smoothly. You don’t know exactly how everything will play out and are terrified of making a mistake for fear of repercussions. Most of the anxiety comes from not knowing what is going to happen. 

Let me take the opportunity to defuse all of that anxiety for you. In the ESL world, there is absolutely no need to worry about your first class. Your superiors, colleagues and students all know exactly how it’s going to go: badly.

This doesn’t mean anything. Almost every teacher’s first ESL class is a regrettable one. No one is judged, loses a job, or is placed in a certain category after their first class; having it go poorly is what is supposed to happen. It is what you take from your first ESL class experience and how you apply it going forward that will make or break your fate in the business.

This doesn’t only apply to those without prior teaching experience. A common thought among former high school or elementary school teachers is that their experience will automatically translate into instant success in a foreign ESL classroom. This is not normally the case. Teaching ESL is a different animal than teaching other disciplines and there is a steep learning curve just like in any other platform.

I’ve had many conversations with very experienced teachers about their shock at how inept they felt in the ESL classroom. While there is something to be said for having the experience of standing in front of a group of people and instructing them on a topic, the experience of having that group of people not understand the words you are saying cannot be paralleled.

Teaching English as a foreign language involves a much different skill-set than teaching any other discipline. The ability to convey meaning without the use of words requires practice and a lot of patience. In this light, those with previous teaching experience and those without are in the same boat in terms of ESL teaching.

In some cases, those without any teaching experience are actually better off. It is natural to take what you have learned in a career and apply it to another position, but in many cases that doesn’t correlate well in the context of ESL. Experienced teachers who try to force-feed tested approaches from other platforms often don’t find a lot of success. Teachers who are completely new to the field and are starting from square one can find an advantage in that they have nothing to compare ESL teaching to.

Where should I sit in comparison to my students? Should I sit at all? Will this activity be effective? Will they all understand it? What’s the present perfect structure again?

There is so much to remember in the beginning. Most of the focus in the early going is on these essential aspects of the class – and those with a TESOL or TESFL certification will know that everything from eliminating physical barriers to where students physically sit is as big a part of the class as any. This is why it takes some time to acclimate and to create your ideology as a foreign language teacher.

Once this happens, you can go on perfecting your craft and delivering even more dynamic classes. Just don’t be nervous about being bad at the beginning. Everyone knows that already.

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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Teaching English in CR: A Teacher’s View

The Costa Rican Times - Proving yourself at a new job is a two-way street. While there is an obvious onus on a new employee to impress their direct superior, onus is also on that superior to prove that the new work environment is in fact desirable. It goes without saying that in order to get the most out of any employee, a positive and respectful work environment must be established from the outset of any professional relationship.


In my time as an academic manager I would always take this a step further. It was one thing for trainees, new hires or potential hires to listen to me speak about how great the company was; that’s what I was supposed to do. It was another thing to hear it from those who were in the trenches and doing the work.

I would always invite new hires to speak with any incumbent teacher on staff, privately, to get a sense of what it was really like to work both for me and for the institute. I found this tactic invaluable in giving the school credibility and in creating an open relationship with all employees.

That same principle extends here. It is one thing to read my columns. It is quite another to hear from a teacher who is actually doing it in the field. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit-down with a good friend of mine recently to discuss the life of an ESL teacher in Costa Rica.

Rebecca Michalski, 23, is from Pittsburgh where she worked as a Spanish teacher before moving abroad. Having worked for two major private language institutes – in addition to teaching high school classes and private classes to children – in over two years teaching English in Costa Rica, Rebecca provides great insight into the life of an ESL teacher and what teaching here really entails.

Many thanks, Rebecca, for your time. Our interview is here:

What went into your decision to teach in Costa Rica?

I first came to Costa Rica in 2009 to study for four months. I was out of my comfort zone for the first time, but I somehow fell in love with this place. After spending four months here, I went back to the States, finished school, and started looking for teaching jobs in the San José area.

It may be cliché, but my high school Spanish teacher truly changed me and to be honest, she changed my life. If I hadn’t had her as a teacher, I would have never continued studying the language, and would have never ended up in Costa Rica. I thought about how much that one teacher changed my life, and it really made me want to do the same for English learners here.

How did you find your first job?

When I started job searching, I was still in the States. I began searching through site after site of ESL job positions. I was contacting private elementary and public schools, as well as language schools that worked in the business sector. After a few job interviews via Skype, I was finally offered a job.

You’re an exception in this case because, as you know, being hired from outside of Costa Rica is rare. What would you say to people that have trouble finding employment from home?

To the people job searching while outside of Costa Rica, I would say that it will probably be a long process, so brace yourselves. I would suggest searching schools, institutes, etc. And start e-mailing your resume to as many places as possible. It can be frustrating because the majority of employers won’t even look at your resume if you’re not already in Costa Rica, but there are a select few companies that are willing to do so.

Can you briefly describe your very first class?

My very first class was a bit overwhelming. At my first job, I went through of one week of training. However as all teachers know, nothing can compare to real, hands-on teaching experience. Luckily I had experience as a Spanish teacher, but I remember walking into my first class as nervous as could be. My lesson plan was way too long, and my students were a lot more basic than I had prepared for!

Did you feel, after starting to work in Costa Rica, that you were adequately prepared?

I do feel that I was adequately prepared by the first company I worked for. They put us through a week of training, and provided us with almost every material I could possibly need.

If you could describe your life as an ESL teacher briefly, how would you describe it?

My life as an ESL teacher….I truly love the life I lead here, and a huge part of that is due to my job. I teach every day, Monday through Friday. Although our schedules change every few months, I have almost always worked a split schedule- class from around 8 or 9 to 12pm, go home for a lunch break and some free time, and then back to class around 4 or 5pm.

What was a good surprise for you after arriving?

In regards to teaching, a good surprise to me was how united my company was. They frequently had teacher “get-togethers” and events. We also had two yearly retreats, which was a great way to socialize with the other teachers as well as get to know various places throughout the country.

What’s the best and worst part of being an ESL teacher here?

The best: teaching my high school students and knowing that knowing English would actually make a huge difference in their lives. That made it worth waking up at 6:30am every Saturday morning for class for a year straight.

The worst: that there are very few schools and companies who are willing to help workers out with the visa process, meaning that teachers have to leave the country every 90 days.

If you could give one piece of advice for an aspiring teaching in Costa Rica, what would it be?

Go for it! It’s a beautiful country full of unique and welcoming people. Yes, San José and surrounding areas are not the prettiest places, but every place has its flaws. Between my job and my personal life here, I can truly say that Costa Rica has changed me. Just be sure that if you do come, that you come with an open mind…and of course, financially prepared. Teachers here aren’t making the big bucks, so be sure you are financially stable and have some money saved up.

And finally, if you do come here, make sure you stick it out long enough to see what the place and the job has to offer. The first months are the most difficult, and most people don’t suck it up long enough to stay, but no matter how hard it is at first, I promise that it will always get better!

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.


CR ESL Teaching; Fake It ‘Till You Make ItFake It ‘Till You Make It


Costa Rica Teaching News - It was my first day of training for my first ever ESL teaching position. I was listening to the academic manager describe the school’s methodology, the student demographic and why the materials they used were the best in town. After concluding the generic pitch to sell the seven of us on why we should want to work for this school, the instructor said something – when describing what we needed to do in the classroom – that I will never forget: fake it ‘till you make it.

As is the theme when discussing teaching English in Costa Rica, the teachers subject to the majority of the focus are teachers new to the ESL world. The focus of my last column ( was on just this. The reason the Costa Rican ESL market is saturated with either inexperienced teachers or older teachers simply looking to enjoy life abroad – and using teaching as a means to pay the rent – is because the job prospects are not enticing for those with superior qualifications.

As a result, academic managers and TEFL and TESOL trainers accentuate the most basic of teaching skills in their trainings in order to best prepare their pupils before entrusting them with a live classroom.

Fake it ‘till you make it.

I thought he was joking when he said it; he was not.

While the words used in the message seem strange to new employees wanting desperately to make a great first impression in a hypercompetitive market, the idea is dead on.

Image prevails in Latin America. What occurs behind the curtain of a language school is best left as a secret. If an academic manager tells you “you don’t want to know” – believe him. Even the best teacher can be spit out and requested to not be assigned to a particular group again based on wardrobe alone.

Often times the best advice for any teacher in Latin America is to talk the talk – even if you can’t walk the walk.

In many cases looking and acting the part is as important – sometimes more so – as one’s skill as an educator. There is a certain appearance associated with an ESL teacher in Costa Rica and students can be quite fickle if you don’t appear to fit that preconceived image. Numerous teachers I used to work with – who were excellent, fully capable and qualified – did not find the kind of success teaching here as you would have expected.

It may be cliché, but the one chance you get at a first impression is even more prevalent in Latin America.

With this notion we find the inherent irony that is entrenched in the ESL teaching market in Costa Rica. In order to make it in this market you need to look, act and conduct professional classes as if you were a teacher stout on experience. This would be the expectation from the same language school that is paying you an hourly rate that would, under normal circumstances, not represent that type of return.

‘Making it’ in the Costa Rican teaching market means gaining student acceptance. Language institutes are client based and if a group or a client is keen on a certain teacher, you will be married to that group. Similarly if the opposite proves to be true, there will be no hesitation in reassigning you elsewhere.

If you are an inexperienced ESL teacher in Costa Rica, the best advice is: don’t let anyone find out.

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.


Are You Overqualified to Teach English in CR?

Teaching English in Costa Rica is not for everyone. Many have trouble adapting to the culture. Some find the language barrier insurmountable. Others find the heat and seemingly endless amount of precipitation during the rainy season are reasons for sooner than anticipated departures. For some, however, the reason teaching English in Costa Rica is not a fit is because they are overqualified.


Being familiar with the nature of the beast is great – and basic – advice for anyone thinking about embarking on a new venture. Costa Rica, for obvious reasons, is constantly near the top of destination lists to teach English. It is a great fit for many demographics of teachers: the beginner, the retiree, the traveler and the non-committed, to name a few.

The common denominator is that no teachers in those demographics view teaching ESL in Costa Rica as a career.
I have received many emails lately from people looking for advice on teaching in Costa Rica. They send resumes, qualifications, names of prestigious language institutes where they have taught and their titles of seniority within those institutions. While certainly impressive, my canned response to all of these adventure seeking individuals is to know your market.

If you studied advanced linguistics, have a Master’s in TEFL, a PHD in ESL instruction or years of teaching experience at the College or University level, the reality is that you are overqualified for the majority of ESL positions in Costa Rica.
This of course doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come; it simply means that you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before doing so.

If you’re looking at a University position in Costa Rica, the answer is different. However, I’ll narrow the scope of this to what ninety-percent of ESL jobs in Costa Rica are: working in private language institutes.

Language schools treat their employees exactly the same regardless of background. If you are a linguistic PHD graduate or a college dropout with zero hours of classroom experience, you will be sitting next to each other on the bus on the way to your 6am class.

The teaching industry in Costa Rica doesn’t work in the same way as other places. It is not (entirely) experience based. This isn’t to say that an inexperienced teacher will be hired over a more experienced one. However, once hired, the job the expectations – and the employee management – are exactly the same.

This is where a lot of very qualified teachers run into some confusion. Language schools in Costa Rica do not have bank accounts filled with money they are not using. While advanced and prestigious qualifications may land you a primer position in the North American, European and Asian teaching markets, Costa Rica doesn’t work like that. The pay grade, starting hours, and employee management is uniform across the board.

The dirty little secret of teaching in Costa Rica is that language schools actually prefer hiring less qualified individuals. These are the teachers they can mold into the style of employee that fits their methodology. With more experienced instructors they run the risk of having the “That’s not how we used to do it at my University” discussion – a constant annoyance for academic managers.

The idea circles back to expectation management ( If you are a highly qualified teacher, but are simply seeking an opportunity to live abroad, hone your Spanish skills and do a little bit of teaching, then Costa Rica will treat you wonderfully. If you are an individual of similar educational prestige, but think that your qualifications will earn you a similar position of seniority here, then you will be disappointed.

This article originally appeared 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.


Teaching English in CR: A Student Perspective

Costa Rica Teaching News - Living abroad for an indeterminate amount of time is a common inclusion on many bucket lists. Teaching English in Costa Rica provides great outlet to put a checkmark beside that bullet point for many reasons. Learning a new language, experiencing new cultures, trying new foods, new customs and challenging yourself to do new things are normal self-actualizing inclusions. With this said, there is one point that often gets lost when discussing teaching abroad: teaching.

What is often forgotten in the ‘finding myself’ discussions of life overseas are the individuals who are the recipients of the service being provided. In this context, these are the students.

In order to provide some perspective, I was lucky enough to sit down recently with an English student here in Costa Rica. I asked her many questions on the reasons for taking English classes, the process of learning the English language and its importance for Costa Ricans. Her answers are great insight for teachers into what ESL students go through and why they are in class at all.

Carolina, 32, is an Associate Collector for Western Union in Costa Rica. For the last five years she has worked at their Lindora branch, located just west of San José. Like all Ticos, she studied English throughout elementary school and, unlike a lot of Ticos, was lucky enough to have English classes provided by Western Union through language institute Idiomas Mundiales.

 Her common points of frustration – which are not dissimilar to many other English students – are working in English but living in Spanish, the pressure and expectation to speak perfectly with English speaking clients, the low quality of public education and the expense of private education.

Here is our interview:

 Is speaking English important for Ticos?

Yes, of course. As a requirement for a better job opportunity it’s very important. It should extend until you have the basic stuff to ‘survive’ – general grammar and certainly fluent speaking level.

What is your experience with the English language?

At the beginning [English] was interesting but I learned in a difficult way, almost by myself. I have difficulties with my basics cause I learned wrongly, without a strong education. I learned like a baby but nobody corrected me, so I’ve several speaking errors and grammar also and now is so difficult to correct them. [It] is like a bad habit…almost impossible to remove. For those who had the chance to learn English in a private school [it] is easier.

Do you like English as a language?

Mmmmm that is difficult to answer. I don’t hate it but I started feeling uncomfortable and annoyed especially when I want to express myself but I just can’t and [I] get confused, don’t have the words. Nobody understands [and] I get seriously frustrated and I feel like Gloria from Modern Family.

Can you briefly describe English instruction in the public school system?

I’m 32 and studied in the public school system. My teacher was terrible. She just repeated and repeated things and made us pray the Catholic [most] popular prayer. We followed a book with grammar…and usually the test was to learn verbs in past and present. Terrible!

Can you describe what you want in an English teacher?

To be creative, proactive, patient and to correct me.

Does your Western Union provide you with English classes?

Yes, they did. But, as I mentioned the problem is me. Cause I learned without guidance. Like an emigrant but here…listening and speaking Spanish all day long.

 You said they did. Are you not taking classes anymore?

That’s correct. I started with formal classes when my job asked me to do it and gave me the opportunity for free. I stopped [taking classes] because I finished the course.  [It] is too expensive to learn English [otherwise].

How often do you speak English?

Every day. I’m sure my customers don’t understand 100% what I’m saying. I do my best to pronounce the language. I know there are worse accents here but I get in problems when I’m trying to explain something[in depth]. I do speak Spanish very fast so I automatically try to do it in English and I can’t…cause I lose the attention I’m giving to the accent.

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.


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.


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