O'Connell Advanced Training Solutions

flexibles und individuelles Englischtraining in Sachsen

5 Top Tips for Surviving as an ESL Trainer in Germany

Hi Trainers.

I've been a self-employed language trainer in Germany since April 2006 and after fumbling my way through the first year am now in the comfortable position of having fabulous clients, a multi-streamed income and a thorough understanding of what it takes to succeed as an ESL trainer in this market.

It's not always easy, and if you don't know the German language or business culture (or winter!) your first steps may be a little faltering - but don't give up. This is a beautiful country and there is so much to do and see... and so much work for dedicated, competent, flexible trainers. It's personally and professionally rewarding working in Germany; I highly recommend it.

And so to smooth the path for you, I've compiled these 5 Top Tips for Surviving as an ESL Trainer in Germany! Looking forward to your comments.

You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile
Life is serious enough as it is, and your clients are likely business people who deal with stress, worry, deadlines, competing priorities, errors and problems throughout the day. You are their ray of sunshine, their "time out" from the regular working day, a small release from the stresses and worries. So smile! Be the sunshine!

I cannot emphasise enough the power of a simple smile. Don't forget - your students are experts in their fields, competent in the workplace. But when they walk into your classroom that competence, expertise and self-assurance can quickly slip away. The environment is knew, the terrain unknown.

Your job is not only to teach English but also to ensure your students feel comfortable and supported in the learning environment. And the first step is a smile.

I often receive the feedback: "we already feel comfortable working with you", "you are like sunshine when you come into the company", "I'm not scared to make mistakes in your lessons". Further, I've won contracts and received the specific feedback that my warmth and friendliness was the winning factor.

Now go on - show us your pearly whites!

You Will Earn Peanuts... But That Doesn't Make You A Monkey
Starting out ESL teaching, be realistic with your expectations: you're not going to make the big bucks. And your income is going to vary widely depending on where you're located. Berlin? Peanuts in comparison to smaller cities. And if you start off working for a language school be prepared to earn ca. 30% of what your student pays. It is what it is.

But just because you're on peanuts, doesn't mean you're a monkey. Teach to the 100%, aim high, provide consistent, targeted lessons and your reputation will build. And even if ESL training is just a holiday or gap-year job for you, learning English isn't a gap-year project for your students. So give them an amazing experience.

After I went freelance, clients approached me saying they only wanted me as their trainer - they were choosing me, not the school... and they then waited the long months until after my son was born and I started work again.

When you teach to the 100% and build your reputation as a solid, consistent, reliable trainer, you're setting yourself up for freelance success.


You Never Know Who Knows Who in the Zoo
One thing Germans value highly is confidentiality, and one issue which is particularly prickly here is privacy. Never underestimate a German's value of privacy. And don't forget - this is the country which fought hard against Google's Street View. And won. So my advice is to make "loose lips sink ships" your adage as a trainer.

Students will talk to you about all manner of things. For example, one student revealed her pregnancy... and then that it wasn't her husband's. Another related the story of a fellow soldier's suicide while on mission, and its devastating effect on him and his comrades. One student showed me a technological innovation he'd developed which had not yet been patented... which is now available globally; he's rather happy with the success. And a translation job I was involved with involved suspected funding of terrorists. Now I can tell you this but you don't know the who, the what, the where or the when. And that's the way it should be.

When you're training, your students will share so much with you - the language exchange easily morphs into more, and you're privilege to insights you'd never otherwise have. It can be tempting to share, but what if your next student is a friend of the husband whose wife's pregnant? Or a competitor for your student's innovation? What if something your student revealed in your lesson, from something as innocuous as a grammar lesson, is commercial-in-confidence? Loose lips sink ships, so if you're tempted to relate a story you've heard from a student, consider this: is there any skerrick of identifiable information in what you're about to tell? If so, zip your lips.

Your students will thank you for it, and you'll maintain the trust you've worked hard to build up.


Be Consistent, Be Honest, Be Punctual
No-one wants to work with a trainer who's often late, who regularly cancels or who doesn't know what they're doing. You won't find freelance work nor build partnerships, and your reputation in the relatively closed market will be pretty poor (yes, we training providers do tend to talk to one another and refer trainers as needed, plus we reference check).

If you can't do something, say so. Not sure how to teach something? Say so. Your parter will appreciate it, as will your client.

Partner Up
You're in a new country working in a new field and the language and culture are new. Where do you start? How do you ensure a regular income, something to cover rent and bills while you seek private clients?

Partnering up with a local Volkshochschule (adult education provider) will see you through the lean months. But more than that - VHS students are motivated, friendly, warm and happy to see you, to talk, to try their English. And VHS work is regular, steady and safe - you can rely on prompt payment, a comfortable teaching environment, a pool of fellow VHS trainers (across a broad range of disciplines) upon whom you can rely for help or a chat over a cuppa tea.

In addition to partnering up with your local VHS (and they are in all major cities across Germany), you can also form partnerships with local registered training organisations (search for: Weiterbildungsakademie). These RTOs provide accredited training to apprentices across a range of fields, and English is often a requirement.

A final tip for partnering up is to contact your local IHK (Industrie- und Handelskammer = Chamber of Commerce), who are often contracted by businesses needing training in English.

Ready to take the leap and come to Germany? Fantastic. Pack your passport, visa, qualifications and eagerness - and you're good to go.


Are you already training in Germany? Then I'm keen to hear from you and your experiences training here!