An Interview with Paula de Nagy - Director of Teacher Training in Lisbon
"The fascinating thing is that the CELTA attracts people from all walks of life with very different personalities and life experiences, and almost always, they get a lot out of it."
Paula de Nagy is the Director of Teacher Training in Lisbon. She has been an English Language Teacher since 1983 and has since progressed to become a CELTA and a Delta tutor for centres in Portugal, Russia and Argentina. Paula has quite an influence in the EFL industry, having contributed to writing many ELT courses and has also spoken at many conferences. Paula has an impressive array of qualifications, in including a CTEFLA (now CELTA) and DTEFLA (now Delta) as well as a Master of Education in ELT. We speak to her about her experiences as teacher, life in Lisbon, and ask for her advice on how to develop in the ESL industry.
Have you always known you wanted to be a teacher?
No, I initially wanted to be a psychologist. But after finishing my BA, a friend was training to be a secondary school teacher in South Africa and it sounded like it was interesting so I did a year’s diploma to train to be a teacher of English as a first language. Part of my teaching practice was in Soweto with extraordinarily talented learners and I was hooked.
Where has TEFL teaching taken you?
"Those of us who travel around the world are really lucky to get to have so much contact with other teachers and professionals and to learn how English Language Teaching is both similar and different."
I’ve been very lucky to have had a career in Portugal and to have worked in two beautiful cities: Lisbon and Coimbra. I have also trained in Buenos Aires and Moscow – two fantastic cities which never fail to amaze me whenever I re-visit. Other than that, I have visited many countries as a CELTA, DELTA and YL assessor, both for Conferences and as an Inspector. To give you some idea, last year my work trips included visits to Spain, Belgium, the UK, Thailand, Poland and Romania. Those of us who travel around the world are really lucky to get to have so much contact with other teachers and professionals and to learn how English Language Teaching is both similar and different.
What do you think your proudest moment has been in ELT so far?
Each time a CELTA trainee finishes a course, sends an email to say they’ve got a job and that they think our trainers really helped them is a moment of great pride.
How do you think CELTA course sets itself apart from similar TESOL qualifications?
"Personally, I like the rigour with which Cambridge monitors the CELTA courses."
There are many excellent courses out there but I feel that the CELTA stands out in many ways. The 6 hours of observed teaching practice is a real feature of the course as are the many opportunities that trainees get to find out about the world of English Language Teaching. Personally, I like the rigour with which Cambridge monitors the CELTA courses. I see this in my role as Joint Chief Assessor and when I assess courses myself: No matter how experienced the tutors are, you can see that they take great care in following the guidelines and ensuring that the course has the same standard wherever you take it.
What kind of personal profiles suit the Cambridge CELTA course?
"I would say it’s someone who really likes people, who is interested in language and learning and who is not afraid to say they don’t know."
The fascinating thing is that the CELTA attracts people from all walks of life with very different personalities and life experiences, and almost always, they get a lot out of it. However, if I had to identify the ideal candidate, I would say it’s someone who really likes people, who is interested in language and learning and who is not afraid to say they don’t know. Trainees who like people will try to be learner-centred; if they like language and learning, they will work hard to learn about teaching; and if they know they don’t know yet, they will be willing to learn more.
Do you have a lot of students coming from across the world or are most of them local?
I would say it’s 50/50. We have a lot of trainees who have some connection with Portugal but equally, many come from abroad and have heard Lisbon is a fantastic city to live in and have chosen us because of the location. Lisbon is a very happening city at the moment: the weather is fantastic, there are beaches within 30 minutes; it’s got world-class museums, art galleries and concerts; the food is great (who hasn’t heard of our famous ‘pasteis de nata’) and the people are very friendly. What else could you want from a place to do your CELTA in?
For non-native English speakers applying for the CELTA course, what advice or encouragement would you offer them?
Some of the best English language teachers in the world don’t have English as their first language, so apply! The minimum level of English is CEFR C1-C2 so if someone feels that they would like to teach and/or travel, they should contact us. The CELTA could be their passport to a new career.
How would you suggest people prepare for the CELTA?
The best way is to follow the advice that the CELTA centre gives you. We recommend that our candidates read a methodology book such as Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener (Macmillan) and that they work through the Cambridge pre-course task we send them. We also send them an information pack with more advice and suggestions. Most trainees say that the preparation documents were invaluable.
You can see our full list of CELTA books here.
How do you suggest that candidates manage the intensity of the CELTA course?
"Take time off at the weekend to enjoy the city."
Lots of sleep, eating well, enjoying the coffee breaks with their fellow trainees and following tutors’ advice as to the work load. In my experience, most trainees put in very long hours because they have, wisely, decided that they only want to do this course once and that they want to learn as much as possible from this experience. Some of the most successful candidates I have worked with, though, have made sure that they also take time off at the weekend to enjoy the city.
As a Delta tutor, how do you feel the Delta improves candidates teaching methods and style?
Most experienced teachers have very good teaching skills but the DELTA gives you an opportunity to consider your practice and think of the theoretical principles behind what you do in class. It is not necessarily that your teaching method and style is going to change but that you will be much more aware of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Like many people, I felt that taking the Diploma really made a difference to my understanding of what it was to be an English Language teacher.
You can see our Delta calendar here.
You have contributed to writing Young Learners courses. What do you think the biggest differences are when teaching children compared to adults?
"They keep you on your toes and you, as the teacher, are learning just as much as they are."
Their delight in learning is an endless source of joy! Kids and teens are experts in teaching as they spend most of their day in classrooms. They often know what makes a good teacher: someone who is friendly, firm and engaging. Unlike adults, they tend to show their emotions much more so if something is going wrong, they will let you know. I love that about teaching children – they keep you on your toes and you, as the teacher, are learning just as much as they are.
Interested in teaching Young Learners? You can see our online course here.
Can you give us some local insights into Lisbon? What are the best things to see and do? Where’s the best spot to try some local dishes?
One of my favourite places in Lisbon is the Gulbenkian foundation: it’s quite central and has two world-class museums, a wonderful concert hall, restaurants and a great park in which to just hang out and enjoy the Lisbon sunshine. I would also recommend catching the ferry in Cais do Sodré and crossing the river – there are great fish restaurants when you get off and the view of Lisbon is unique.
LX Factory is very popular as both a venue for interesting food (try Malaca) and for entertainment although if you go to the Baixa-Chiado area, you can’t go wrong – there is so much to do. As for restaurants, I have never had a bad meal at Sinal Vermelho in Bairro Alto.
What do you do in your spare time in Lisbon?
I spend a lot of time at the Gulbenkian – I love classical music although I don’t really know much about it. I go to a lot of concerts in the hope that at some stage, it will all start making sense. Lisbon is a great city for walking if you don’t mind all the hills so when I have free time, I like to meet up with friends and go for a long walk.
What is the TEFL job market like in Portugal?
"There are some very good language schools around the country and almost every small town will have one or two language schools."
Most of the trainees who stay in Portugal report that they get a job fairly soon. It’s easier to get full time work if you’re applying from May onwards – that’s when most schools start recruiting for the October start. If applying at a different time, it’s more likely that teachers will be working for a couple of institutes at the same time to build up their hours.
There are some very good language schools around the country and almost every small town will have one or two language schools. But those who like big city living tend to settle in Lisbon and Porto and either work for one of the many language schools or to set up as private teachers.
For worldwide TEFL jobs, please click here.
What does the Teacher Training Centre in Lisbon do to help their CELTA graduates find work after their course?
We have a very good relationship with other language schools in the country so as soon as we are sent job vacancies, we let our current trainees know and post them on one of our Edmodo groups so that past candidates can see what is on offer. During the course, we talk about jobs on offer in Portugal and the world, we give advice on how to spot a good school, what the interviewer might ask, etc. Our candidates can join the Alumni list for more ideas on jobs and further development.
You seem to be constantly striving to improve and develop areas in the EFL field, what’s next for you professionally?
My current interest is to explore how I can integrate more technology into my practice. I’ve worked on many online courses as a tutor but my every day teaching and training is still not particularly influenced by digital tools. So, I’m gradually trying to see what works for me and what doesn’t.