Teaching English to adults in Santiago de Chile
[Updated April 2018]
Teaching English in Santiago de Chile was a very rewarding experience. I was fortunate to be taken on by two small, but great, Language Institutes – Vitacura English and Native Teachers. From a slow start, my number of students steadily increased alongside my love for the job.
‘What do you do?’ is an often asked question when meeting new people. For the majority of my adult life, my answer has been, ‘I’m a high school maths teacher’. Until we left Australia in 2013, I had been teaching mathematics to teenagers since I was 21. To clarify though, I haven’t had a permanent, full-time job since 1987, and I have often taken time out to travel. In between, I worked as a temporary, substitute teacher – sometimes on-call, and at others on contracts ranging from a few weeks to a full year in length. But times changed; I got older, as we do; and I found I was no longer interested in spending my time teaching maths to a classroom full of teenagers. So, I set about reinventing myself by taking an online graduate course in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – TESOL. Whilst doing that, I continued teaching mathematics as a private tutor.
My first foray into teaching English to adults as a foreign language was with asylum seekers on Manus Island – an interesting experience, which encouraged me. I found it so rewarding, despite the environment.
My second was in Santiago. It now gives me great pleasure to label myself as Profesora de Inglés.
What I love about teaching English to adults
Although it took me many years to acknowledge it, I am a good teacher and I love teaching. The transition from teaching maths to teenagers to teaching English to adults, has been quite smooth. Sometimes it amazes me just how similar the two are.
My English classes in Santiago were mostly one-to-one situations. I really enjoyed the opportunity of getting to know a wide variety of adults as individuals. Their ages ranged from mid-twenties to mid-fifties, and their jobs were just as diverse – academic researcher at a University, software developers and testers, manager of a prestigious beauty clinic, the next Chilean Consul General in Melbourne, mining engineer, pilot in training. The students shared significant hopes and dreams, because speaking English is often a requirement for the fulfillment of them. There is something very personal about teaching English, because it usually means that you are helping someone pursue important goals. And I love the way they all greeted me with the traditional cheek kiss.
During general conversation classes, I gathered some very interesting information about Santiago, the city the students live in, and Chile, the country they love. I learnt about the origin of many of the street names in Santiago; the Architecture of Ritoque ; the existence of the ‘Crystal Lagoons’ ; famous writers and artists of Chile (e.g. Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Marta Montt); the amazing journey to be had with a Shaman guide and ‘Ayahuasca’; where to get the best ice cream, pasta and even English fish & chips, just to name a few. Teaching English naturally involves a lot of talking; we talked about families, friends, food, fantasies, books, movies, and television series. I also received lots of tips about places to see, in and around Santiago .
Daily life teaching English in Santiago
Classes were held either in the students’ homes, at their place of work, or in the classrooms of the English language schools. Moving from class to class could be anywhere from wonderful, to tedious and very uncomfortable. I experienced the public transport system’s best and worst aspects, but I’ve also had wonderful opportunities to walk. At home in Australia, I would sometimes have to force myself out the front door in the morning to take a walk. Now I sometimes walk 5 km per day just getting to and from my classes. I walk through parks, or down tree-lined streets, where I watch the seasons change. The city is almost surrounded by mountains, so I had beautiful views of the Andes on a daily basis – if they were visible.
Unfortunately, Santiago is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Depending where you look, it ranks anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the world. We spent the winter months constantly coughing, and going from one infection to the next. With the arrival of spring, our health improved. Moving out of the city centre also had some effect on this. Some days you can actually see the mountains clearly instead of through the pollution haze! One of my students referred to it as ‘seeing them in HD’.
Getting a job teaching English in Chile
Before leaving Germany, I had searched the internet for information on teaching English in Chile. I chose Chile because there seemed to be a lot of government support in that country for learning English.
First, I discovered the agencies that charge well over $US1000 to find you a job. I wasn’t keen on that idea for more than a moment. Then, some of the blogs I read suggested that there wasn’t any point in contacting English language schools until I actually arrived in Chile, and that if I emailed I wouldn’t get any replies. That wasn’t true!!!
I wrote a lot of emails, and I received at least an acknowledgement of about a third of them. I had two preliminary chats via Skype, which led to interview appointments for when I arrived in Santiago. I arranged several other interviews via email. I discovered that most Chileans take summer holidays in January and/or February, so the best chance to get work was to arrive before the beginning of March. When I arrived in Chile on Saturday February 23, I had 5 interviews arranged for the following week, AND I was offered work by all of them. My only problem was to decide which language schools I wanted to work with.
My choices were made on the basis of the size of the English school, the rapport with the person interviewing me, and whether or not they required a demonstration lesson. I was determined to be accepted on my merits – my qualifications, and my many years’ experience as a teacher. Native Teachers and Vitacura English are reasonably small and personable language institutes; I had an immediate rapport with the persons who interviewed me; and they did not ask me to perform a demonstration lesson or take on a training course. To further confirm my choices, they were offering better hourly payments than the others. I got paid between 8000 and 11000 Pesos per hour (somewhere around $20) and some of the others were offering as little as 6000! My first classes began on March 10, just 2 weeks after arriving in Santiago. My choices worked out to be very good decisions for me.
Native Teachers also supported me in the process of acquiring the right to work as a teacher in Chile, and a temporary resident’s visa. Although there were an unusual amount of glitches in this process, I think it was the fault of the bureaucratic process and my limited Spanish, rather than any fault in the advice given me by the language school.
Teaching English beyond Santiago de Chile
At the end of 2014, I finished my time teaching English in Santiago. I will always be grateful for the experience gathered, and I was sad to leave students and colleagues. But the road beckoned , and I was keen to take it with my husband, in our self-built camper-truck, Berta .
There seems to be quite a demand for English teachers in Santiago. At times it was actually to my advantage, being Australian. The vast majority of English language teachers in Santiago are North Americans. Students often have a preference for the type of English they want to learn, depending on their reason for learning it. The US has a lot of business interests in South America in general, and many Chileans travel to North America on vacation, so they like to learn ‘American English’. But Australia has a close economic relationship, in the area of trade and investment, with Chile. The mining industry is an example that comes immediately to mind. For this reason, I was sometimes employed to teach English to someone who specifically asked for an Australian. Of course, the Consul General, heading to a post in Melbourne, was also keen to learn as much Australian idiom and culture as possible, to prepare himself for that position.