Joko MacKenna

Have you ever taught an intensive English course?

I'm teaching the same group of students six hours a day.

Teaching outside your regular home base for a while can be quite interesting. It gets one out of the humdrum of everyday life, and can fulfill a desire that I think has driven many of us ESL teachers to Asia: the love of travel.

At the moment, I'm away from Yangon on a two and a half week assignment in a medium-sized city in the heart of the Irrawaddy Delta, some 160 km from home. The contract is with a UN agency, and the students are civil servants in the ministry of welfare and resettlement. Essentially, I'm teaching social workers.

I've really enjoyed this quirky little town and surrounding countryside. The students have been great, and whereas I was hoping to have been lodged in a better hotel room, there's not a lot to choose from in this town of 200,000.

Along with the novelty of the location and its temporary nature, another new thing for me on this gig is its intensiveness. Six hours a day to the same group of students. I'm covering in 72 hours, material which we would normally teach in 120. It's a speaking-listening class, so I'm able to cut out all the reading and writing bits, but sometimes readings are necessary to set context, so there's got to be a little.

Six hours teaching per day isn't terrible. I've done it before over several terms. Point being, that amount of time as a single class to the same group of students, now that's been a challenge.

Non-teachers reading this might scoff at the idea that six hours of work per day is a hardship. Teachers would remind them that six hours of teaching is somewhere between eight to ten hours of actual work when you consider lesson planning, marking time and record keeping. This isn't a nine-to-five job.

There are certain advantages to this class length. First of all, the text I'm using integrates elements presented earlier in the unit to the latter parts of the unit. Usually, when teaching a unit, that earlier material could have taught two weeks ago, and it's not so fresh in the students' minds. Now, I can say things like "Remember this morning when we talked about modal verbs?", and most of the time, they do.  That said, pedagogically speaking, I don't think it's the ideal way to learn a foreign language. If I had the time, I'd do more drilling and review than I'm doing because there's so much they need to learn each day, it's more difficult to retain.

English grammar is hard enough without having to absorb modal verbs, -ing forms and the present perfect in a single session. Lexically, I think the human brain is only capable of learning a certain number of new words each day. Let's call it ten. I'm giving them 30 to 40 per day. They're obviously getting something out of being here, if not all that they could if it were spread out over more time. See, these workers have come here to this small town because their ministry has a training facility here. They come from all over Myanmar and are away from their regular jobs and duties. Their only job now is to learn English, and it's my job to teach it to them, whatever cards we've been dealt. 

Feedback in the comments, please. Have you ever taught a truly intensive English class? Any tips for me and others regarding how to best handle this type of situation?

I also have a YouTube page with lots more stuff about the teaching lifestyle in Myanmar


Hats off!! Everything that you do is commendable and I would like to advice you that keep up the good work. You are making the future of those students and nothing is great than this !

By swati kulkarni, India (7th December 2016)

Hi There,
I read your blogs here.
I'm a teacher in Vietnam and thinking of relocating.
Have you any advice as I've taught in eight countries so
relocating isn't a problem.
I'm travelling on an Irish passport.

John M Bligh

By John Bligh, Vietnam (14th November 2016)

Unless you are trying to turn your students into grammar technicians, I'd stay away from 'modals,' whatever those are, and put on some good English movies so your students can hear English and see English words in (hopefully) accurate subtitles. I couldn't imagine cramming 120 hours of instruction into 72 hours ... how is that possible?

By Guy, Bkk (13th November 2016)

Soooo Jealous,

What you are doing is very hard but often very rewarding. I have been teaching now for 12 years. last semester ,due to not having enough teachers, i was teaching EP to 2 classes. Yep, 32 periods a week for 4 months. Some of the classes combined in a big room (The extra pay was very handy). I found it took about 3 weeks to get into a routine. i would go home tired everyday.

Although I would do it again I hope I never have to. I found the challenge so rewarding. i am so jealous of you as i have never done such an intensive course to so few students.

I am currently looking into online teaching and creating multimedia lessons. The Art and psychology of teaching is so hard to understand. Much for fun than going shopping.

Have fun,

By Mark, Chantaburi (7th November 2016)

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