After four years teaching in Japan it would be safe to say that I loved the land of the rising sun, the people, the culture and also the food.
Hell, I’d even become indifferent to ‘Hello Kitty!’ However I knew the time was right to close that chapter of my life and begin a new one in a country that would offer me something completely different.
So I came to Brazil.
Do you know what? As I’m looking back on my decision to relocate here I genuinely don’t recognise this carefree earlier self. You see, at the time I knew very little about Brazil but I’d arrived here with this Disney-like optimism that things would just work out…and luckily for me, they have done.
On reflection, I feel like I’m writing about someone else right now, someone from a straight to DVD film who I’m sat rooting for. But I’d go as far as to say that taking the plunge, throwing caution to the wind and just figuring things out when I got here was the best thing I’ve ever done.
Over the years I’ve learnt a lot about the world of English teaching in São Paulo too. What I’d like to do with this post is to pass on some advice for those of you who’re considering doing the same.
The first valuable lesson I learnt came from an interview I had with an English school out here, before I’d even taught my first class. Let me set the scene:
My First Brazilian Interview
I was half way through this interview and I remember thinking that things were going well. In fact, things seemed to be going so well that I was quietly confident the job was already mine for the taking.
“You must have learnt a lot about teaching English in the years you taught it in Japan Andrew.”
“Oh yes” I affirmed, “a lot!”
“And tell me, how is your grammar?”
“Oh, it’s strong” I smiled confidently.
Do you know what? At the time of saying this I totally believed it. I mean, prior to living in Japan I’d studied English Literature at University, so I knew that I was more than capable of stringing a sentence together.
“Well, let’s imagine a student has asked you to explain the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous. How would you do that?”
In this moment time slowed down, the air became still and I was no longer aware of anything else happening around me. You see, I had absolutely no idea.
Being able to speak English is one thing, but knowing the labels given to the structures used is another. I’ve since heard that it’s pretty common for Brits not to know these as it’s not something we’re all taught at school. But if you’re thinking of coming over to teach in Brazil, you might want to swat up on this beforehand.
I learnt a lot about the world of teaching ESL from my time in Japan, yet this experience didn’t prepare me for the types of grammar questions I was going to be asked by my Brazilian students.
So coming clean during that interview turned out to be my first step in understanding something pretty important; I still had things I needed to learn about English before I could teach it well.
The Brazilian Job Market
I naively assumed that there wouldn’t be such a strong market for English teachers here. There wasn’t a whole lot of space on ESL forums online devoted to teaching in Brazil when compared to say China, Korea or Japan. So I believed this was a reflection on demand for teachers too.
Well it turns out I was wrong, especially in São Paulo. This city is the beating financial heart of Brazil with many multinational companies already established here. Writing emails, conversing with international colleagues, hosting foreign guests and making business trips abroad are a way of life for a large number of white-collar workers in the city. In fact, for many of these guys English isn’t just a necessity but can potentially be a meal ticket to promotion and further job opportunities too. Unsurprisingly then, there are a lot of Brazilians keen to improve their English.
“Why teach English in São Paulo?”
Teaching in the largest city in South America has certainly come with its challenges. My friends who teach English in other cities around Brazil tell me that they couldn’t teach in São Paulo, that the city is just too fast paced and chaotic for them. Well actually, this is EXACTLY what has kept me here for so long.
Sure São Paulo might be incredibly big and unapologetically ugly, but I absolutely love the energy of the city and I couldn’t imagine teaching anywhere else in Brazil right now. So if you’re considering teaching in Brazil, I wouldn’t rule out São Paulo!
The Brazilian Visa
There are no two ways about it; the visa is an absolute bitch to get your hands on! Even if you manage to get a hold of the golden ticket that lets you legally into the chocolate factory (i.e. a school willing to sponsor your work visa to stay in Brazil), in my experience you can still expect a lot of red tape and a lengthy visit back to your home country as it is being processed.
I love Brazilian bureaucracy. Has said nobody. Ever!
Something I’d not fully considered before moving here was that, as someone who is fascinated by Brazilian culture – which I’ve been blogging about for a few years now – the time I’ve spent in the classroom with my students has proved invaluable when it has come to learning more about Brazilians and their way of life.
Each student I’ve taught has been keen to offer their own perspectives on Brazil and its culture filtered through their personal realities.
And what an eclectic bunch of personalities I’ve taught so far!
I’ve had students ranging from housewives to fashion models (Repeat after me; ‘turn to the left and give me sexy!’), university students to journalists, actors to literally hundreds of bankers, one famous film director and even a priest.
If you’re interested in learning more about Brazilian culture, I’m pretty sure that no other job over here will offer you an insight into it like the English teaching world does.
Schools vs Private Students
When I first arrived in São Paulo I was able to secure a job in a school (the same school I mentioned above) that proved to be invaluable in terms of improving my performance in the classroom. Sure, the school had me flying all over the city to teach whilst working for an unenviable salary, but it also offered me a solid support network and the opportunity to teach alongside some very experienced instructors. For someone who thought I had teaching all figured out after my tenure in Japan, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t really got a clue!
There are no two ways about it; I REALLY learnt a lot from these instructors. The money is definitely better when giving private classes, but if you’re here with the intention of being ‘the shit’ in the classroom as opposed to just being ‘shit,’ you could do a lot worse than earning your English teaching stripes by working at a school. Learning from those who’ve been around the English teaching block a few times in Brazil can certainly set you in good stead later on.
If you ARE soon to be fresh off the boat and looking to know a little bit more about what you can expect in the classroom though, I have a little something for you…
The Top 85 Mistakes Brazilians Make In English
Ask any native English teacher working in Brazil and many will be able to tell you of a time they were asked a question in class that they just couldn’t answer. These are the types of questions that seem so easy to explain, until the time comes to have to do so! My ebook The Top 85 Mistakes Brazilians Make In English (available now on Amazon) should prove a useful reference to those who would like to know the types of things they could be asked in class; questions like:
- “Teacher, what’s the difference between ‘to’ and ‘for’?”
- “Why can’t I say ‘I will finish the report until 9pm’?”
- “What is wrong with saying ‘I’d like another days off work’?”
Of course, you will not find a definitive list of all the mistakes made by all Brazilians here (some teachers out there might even disagree with some of the errors I’ve chosen to omit or be surprised by those I’ve included), nor will you find rules on tenses or conditionals. Instead this book should be used as a tool to help with the most common (and sometimes potentially embarrassing!) mistakes Brazilians make in the classroom.
You can find the ebook on Amazon by clicking here.
I hope my experience can help you have an easier time as you make the move to Brazil. It’s definitely not for everybody but it sure is an interesting way of life.