Ben Tollington talks to Connecting Worlds about his Teaching English Experience in Argentina

By Tracey Chandler

Find out what teaching English in Argentina has been like for English-born Ben Tollington. You might find that his experience encourages you to dive in and sign-up for a teaching abroad program in Argentina too.


1. Where are you from and why did you decide to begin looking for a teaching English abroad program?

I am from a small town called Highworth in the countryside in the South of England, and ever since I went to an international college I have had an interest in finding out about other cultures.

I travelled a little after college in Europe and then I had the opportunity to travel with friends to South East Asia and Australasia after University. I loved the experience of exploring new places and living a different lifestyle, and I became interested in the idea of living abroad for a longer time to really get to know a foreign culture.

I had heard that teaching English abroad was an exciting and worthwhile experience for those who liked to travel, but I was anxious about whether I would enjoy teaching or living abroad at first, so I prioritised looking for a graduate job. However, after the third year without success I decided I would take the plunge, and I don’t regret it.

2. How did you go about finding your teaching English abroad program and what made you choose the teaching program organised by Connecting Worlds in Argentina?

I had no teaching experience so I searched the internet for taster programs in teaching English. I first applied for a teaching placement in Vietnam through the TEFL website which I presumed to be the most reliable company to use, however in my first phone call with the company I was not given as much information as I wanted, and I was pressured into making a decision by the following week to pay the large initial deposit for the course.

I decided this course wasn’t for me and continued asking around and looking on the internet for other options, and I found out about ESLStarter, the agency which coordinated my program with Connecting Worlds, through a recommendation on a travel forum. I was impressed with the website and I found my first phone call helpful and personal. I think the main thing that appealed to me about the program was being able to live with a host family, and the intensity of the program seemed suited to my needs.

I chose Argentina because I had learnt Spanish for two years and I wanted to perfect it, I love the Spanish culture and thought it would be great to experience the Latin American flavour, and I was also keen to travel in South America.

3. Can you tell us a little bit about the school / institution you are teaching in and the teaching you have been involved in?

I have been teaching for four months in a private English Institute called CEM English, which has an excellent reputation for its level of English and good facilities and teachers. There are classes for students of all ages and for a range of subjects including English teaching and translating, travel, and private conversation classes.

My main role has been to give as many students as possible a chance to hear and learn from an English native speaker and to share our customs and culture. I completed two tours of all the classes in the Institute to introduce myself and teach about the use of slang in England, and in the last month I have been helping the students prepare for their final oral exams by focusing on pronunciation.

I also took part in various activities such as a visit to a local public school, and a teachers vs students football tournament, which was of course very popular.

4. What have you enjoyed about the teaching experience?

I enjoyed being able to visit a range of classes which each had a different ambience, with the majority of students being curious and enthusiastic to hear about life in England. Speaking in front of hundreds of groups and having conversations about my culture and interests is a very enjoyable way to spend the day if a little tiring, and certainly makes a refreshing change from my previous desk job.

Also it felt rewarding to be giving the students a unique chance to listen to an English accent and encourage their interest in other cultures, which made the value of the reciprocity of the program very apparent.

5. What have you found difficult or what have you had to adjust to in terms of the teaching experience itself?

The main difficulty of my role having not taught in a class before was knowing how to conduct myself and connect with the students so as to make the class as beneficial and enjoyable as possible. With each class being different in terms of ability and interest I struggled to consistently deliver the content that I had prepared, so of course it was very important to adapt to the needs of each group.

Furthermore the classes are more informal here than in England; the greeting of kissing on the cheek is often shared between teachers and students, and discipline is not as strictly applied and schedules can change quickly, so it took a while to get accustomed to this more relaxed class atmosphere. It was also difficult to know what was expected of me as a foreign volunteer in a big institute, but the coordinators and teachers all made me feel very welcome and I soon felt comfortable in my role.

6. How do you believe this particular teaching English abroad program will benefit you in the future?

I am confident I have gained from this program both skills and perspectives that have opened up new options for my future career. I was keen to improve my Spanish to an advanced level and this program has given me the perfect platform to achieve that by providing regular lessons and a place in a family home.

The teaching experience has improved my confidence in my presentation skills and has been a useful first insight into the teaching career, which I may choose to take up in the future. However, I have also had insights into the daily family and working life in Argentina through this program which does differ from England significantly in its routine and approach, and I think by experiencing this I have developed new values which has opened my mind to new ideas about my future plans.

7. Do you plan to travel around Argentina at some point?

Yes I always planned to do some travelling while I was here, I was originally only going to visit the North of Argentina while travelling across the middle of the continent, but after being told about how beautiful the South is I decided to travel there as well! It is a very big country with an amazing variety of landscapes, I already visited the Iguazu Falls which is incredible, and I am now most looking forward to exploring the Lake District in Patagonia to see if it compares to the Lakes in England!

8. In addition to the teaching experience, is there anything else about being in Argentina that you have enjoyed?

It is really exciting to live in another country but I think the Argentine culture suits me particularly well, as they share my passions for sport, music and food! I feel very lucky to have lived with a really kind family who have spoiled me with all the traditional Argentine meals, principally of course the incomparable asado, and have treated me as one of the family.

I have found all the people to be very warmhearted and always keen to talk to me so I have always felt very welcome during my time here, and they are very passionate with strong opinions about their country which makes for very interesting conversations.

I love practicing my Spanish so it has been really fun engaging with different people and constantly increasing my vocabulary, particularly with slang which is a good way to impress. Adapting to the different eating routine and the less modernised infrastructure has been an interesting challenge, but I have found the lifestyle very enjoyable and the people are positive despite the economical and social problems that exist which I admire.

9. What advice would you give to someone wanting to teach English abroad in Argentina? How might he or she prepare?

I think the most important thing to know is that the more you put into the program the more you will get out of it, because there is a lot to learn and experience if you make the most of it. It is quite rare for schools here to have native English teachers, so your competency with the language is extremely valuable and the students are very enthusiastic to learn from you.

It is not necessary to have teaching experience as just speaking helps students get used to the accent, however I think the more experience you have the more you will be able to contribute as I felt I could have taken more classes and explained some aspects of grammar more clearly if I had had more experience. I would recommend preparing presentations about less well-known aspects of English culture and language such as slang, as these are very interesting to the students.

The teaching schedule can be quite informal and as I said discipline is more relaxed which can take time to get used to, but it is not difficult as long as you are positive and enthusiastic. With regards to the way of life, you will obviously need to prepare for some cultural differences such as different television shows and eating dinner at 10pm, but it isn’t drastically different from Europe, and its exciting and commendable to try out the national customs such as tango dancing and drinking mate.

Prepare for some differences in the Spanish accent and vocabulary compared to Spain, though I prefer the accent and idiom here and don’t find it too difficult, and a lot of people do speak English. Also remember to bring a traditional present from the UK for your host family who I’m sure will delight you with their hospitality! And buy the book ‘Che Boludo’ as soon as you can.

10. Is there anything else about the experience that you would like to share with us?

I would like to thank Connecting Worlds for organising this program because I think it is fascinating and invaluable to learn about other cultures and I feel I have been given the best opportunity to do that. A special thanks to Cristina Acuña who organised regular multi-cultural meetings with other foreigners and foreign language speakers which helped me make lots of new friends and build a social life in Mar del Plata.

As I am coming to the end of my program I wish I could have stayed a bit longer, but at the same time I think four months has been a perfect amount of time to get to know the culture and also to understand what it is like to teach English, without feeling like it has been stretched out. For anyone who wants an exciting and authentic cultural experience, don’t let the doubts hold you back because it is worth it!

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