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Find resources and tips for managing your time, money, career, and network to help achieve your personal and professional goals.

A Freelancer’s Challenges: Stuck in the Middle Doing It Yourself

in Professional Development
Photo: kaleidico, unsplash

I envy owners of Berlin Spätkaufs (Spätis): They buy low and sell high. For €.50 per unit price (or less), they get Fisherman’s Friend mints and turn around and sell them for €1.50 or €1.70. They have a very clear and up-to-the-minute accounting of profit and loss, of what is valuable and what is not, of what sells and what stays. The markup on low-priced products is unbelievably high and unbelievably unnoticed. Volume is key, and products are undifferentiated and invariable. Value is perceived and gained in the instant or a short time after purchase. Cash changes hands and products last a week or much less. Very little surprise, wonder, or thought is provoked by a purchase of mints.

I don’t sell products. In the knowledge industry, as most of us are in, the math is not so simple. How do you price your time and knowledge, measure the value you impart to people, and get your clients to pay for it? Mints are easily countable and quantifiable; knowledge and experience, much less so.

The knowledge and service industries deal in intangibles: feelings, experience, perspectives, counseling, group and individual psychology, understanding, growth, and information. Time horizons are long and value in this context varies substantially from person to person.

From Teacher to Solopreneur

Since becoming a teacher in 2010, I have relabeled, repositioned, and reskilled myself as a trainer, consultant, lecturer, editor, writer, and moderator. I no longer call the people I work with students, but clients. Time is measured in quarters and calendar years. I am accountant, marketing and sales director, business development executive, director of studies, key accounts manager, web and social media VP, copywriter, CFO, and office assistant, all while carrying out direct client-interfacing functions, roles, and tasks.

For most of us working in this field, we are self-employed business people or freelancers. And my choice to work in Germany as a freelancer has meant constant adaptation. I was little prepared after leaving the Berlin School of English to be my own business. Learning and adapting my approach to work has been promising, unclear, exhilarating, down, up, changing, and scary. I’ve headed in one encouraging direction, backtracked, changed course, and sometimes gone even further down a previously tread path. I have been steadily searching since 2010 for ways to make work better and to make it work for me. Where to begin has been a regular question.

Professional development to me is the marriage of ideas from management professor, author, and researcher Michael Porter with those of career counselor and self-work author Richard Nelson Bolles. One phrase from Porter has stayed with me: “stuck in the middle,” a phrase to describe businesses competing on price only, without a strategy, unfocused and undifferentiated. From Bolles, the sentence, “No one is going to care of or rescue you or your career. You have to do it yourself.” I don’t want to be stuck in the middle and I don’t expect or want anyone else to shape my career.

Career Tips and Friendly Words for Freelance Teachers: Paul Says Hello from Ireland

in Professional Development


Long-time Eltabber Paul recently moved from busy Berlin to quaint rural Ireland. There, he took a little time to sit back and ponder over freelance English teachers’ major challenges and possible solutions. He’s happy to share his thoughts and experiences with you.

The perennial problem for English teachers is that there is simply not enough work available from private language schools. I have tried to assemble some good and original suggestions to mitigate this issue. The bad news is that the good suggestions may not be original and the original suggestions may not be good (well, let’s see about that).

It may be a bit late for this year but there could be vacancies for teachers at summer schools. Cancellations mean that these might only be available at short notice. Given that most of this work is likely to be available in the UK, it may give some teachers a chance to meet up with friends and relatives. However, many firms give preference to applicants who are willing to participate in social events in the evening and on weekends.

At the ‘cheap’ end of the market class sizes can reach 15, although 6 would be closer to the average. Groups will often comprise several nationalities, which offers both challenges and opportunities. Having a repertoire of tried and trusted games is a great advantage. Make sure your travelling and accommodation costs are clearly defined in the contract.

Be open-minded about what you offer

Another strategy is to seek out clients in a particular profession e.g. law, medicine, IT, insurance… It helps if you have experience in one or more of these specialities but there are masses of books which will supply enough material to put together a marketable course. To illustrate the point, I recently gave a fifteen week course in ‘Fashion and Design’. Those who know me will be aware that a fashion guru is something I am definitely not.

My next suggestion necessitates good IT skills. Many clients have a fairly good level of English but panic when they have to produce some written material where accuracy is absolutely paramount.

Often they want someone to proof-read letters, reports, dissertations, job applications or press releases. A colleague of mine started doing this in Germany to supplement his teaching earnings and within five weeks it had become his principal source of income. The key to success in this field is a really top quality website. Note: you are not translating; a knowledge of the customer’s language can help but is not essential.

Finally, over the past ten years teaching foreign languages in schools in the UK has suffered a steep decline. Once, English teachers working abroad were neither required nor expected to speak the language of the country in which they were employed. Now attitudes of schools have changed and it is a distinct advantage to have some competency in foreign languages.

Apart from anything else, learning your students’ language helps you to anticipate the problems they may have in learning English.

Have a good summer!


Back from the Bootcamp: Mike’s Delta Experience at the Berlin School of English

in Professional Development
Mike brought his adventurous spirit to the Delta training course, too.

Mike shares his thoughts and describes his experience doing the Delta training course at the Berlin School of English.

Is the Delta really worth the time and money?

The Delta is a big commitment. It isn’t cheap, and it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to complete the coursework. It also means you’ll have to reduce your workload, thus reducing your income. So is it actually worth it?

In terms of developing professionally, Delta is one of the best practical teaching qualifications. That means it isn’t just your ability to describe or discuss teaching that improves, you get to really focus on what you actually do in the classroom. There are plenty of workshops, webinars, journals and books out there to draw inspiration on, but it is in the Delta course that teachers really get the chance to research classroom methodology in detail and then critically analyse, get feedback on and develop their classroom practices.

A colleague once described doing the Delta as ‘completely dismantling your teacher self and putting the pieces back together.’ From my experience I’d say she was spot on.

How does the Delta benefit your career?

While many masters programs tend to be quite theoretical, Delta is one of the leading practical English teaching qualifications and respected as such. In addition to getting more recognition, (in the UK, it is a level seven qualification alongside master’s degrees), you’ll be poised to move into other areas such as management, teacher training or materials writing. But above all, the Delta leads to a significant difference in your teaching knowledge and capabilities. Many well known names in the industry started out by getting that famed Delta feather in their caps.

What motivated you to do it?

I guess it all started after I got my CELTA in January 2014, and had then been teaching for a number of years, when I felt I needed to expand my knowledge and gain more experience extending beyond just teaching intuitively and incidentally getting better. It was great to get positive feedback from my students and employers, but I lacked a sense of discipline and confidence within the field.

Additionally, I was feeling really lost with my planning and found it excruciatingly difficult to visualise what was going to happen in the classroom. It didn’t seem to make a difference if I put 20 minutes or 4 hours into a lesson.

I started reading books on psychology and learning, and then took part in study groups in preparation for the LCCI-FTBE certificate led by Mandy Welfare and Evan Frendo. Those groups gave me a taste of more formal education, but then I realised it was the Delta I really wanted.

Can you give us a brief rundown of the Delta?

To get the full Delta you have to complete three independent modules, which can be taken in any order, with no time limit. You get a certificate upon successful completion of each module and can claim to be a full Delta graduate when you complete all three. You don’t have to do all three modules if you don’t want to.

Here’s a brief overview:

  • Module 1 – a 3-hour written exam
  • Module 2 – a portfolio of classroom assignments including observed lessons to develop your teaching practices
  • Module 3 – an extended written assignment on an ELT specialism such as business English, ESP, EAP, young learners, one-to-one, monolingual classes etc; or you can choose ELT management.

How was the course structured at the Berlin School of English?

It was a one year, integrated course for modules 1 and 2, where we attended 4-hour weekly sessions going through numerous ELT topics, including lots of discussion with fellow participants and the trainers. We covered an exhaustive list of different areas of ELT including methodology, phonology, systems, skills, grammar, history of ELT, lesson structure, giving feedback, ELF and more. We seemed to leave no ELT stone left unturned.

The observations for Module 2 are generally carried out in your regular classes, but other arrangements can be made if necessary.

How was your experience at the Berlin School of English?

It was great. The trainers are so experienced, passionate, helpful, understanding, full of personality and open. They really become working partners for you during the course. You can organise private meetings with them to discuss your assignments or course progress.

While they encourage you to stick to agreed deadlines for internal organisation purposes, they are flexible and will do everything they can to fit lesson observations or deadlines around your teaching schedule. They are very understanding when it comes to the teaching environment and the challenges facing freelance teachers in Berlin. Not all of us managed to finish Module 2 by the end of the year, but submitting the coursework to a later deadline isn’t a problem as Cambridge sets no time limits.

Although I have bought a number of books for assignments, this is not entirely necessary as there are plenty of books and articles available for access in the Resource Library at the BSoE.

What do you think you gained most from doing the Delta?

Perhaps most outstanding is a deeper understanding of gap between what ‘I’ve taught’ and what the students subsequently ‘have learned’. The Delta syllabus stipulates that you utilise objective techniques to analyse your students’ uptake. In my case, this process definitely led to the message being driven home that teaching does not necessarily result in learning.

Here is a by no means complete list of areas in which I’ve grown through the Delta.

Area of ELT My personal gain
Classroom management Confidence in shifting students around in class, making new pairings.
Lexis A much deeper understanding of how lexis is ‘learned’, including collocations and lexical primings.
Learning principles A deeper understanding of the learning process and the speed at which people learn. I now push my students harder but exercise more patience.
Phonology Ability to spontaneously use the phonemic script and describe how different sounds in English are made.
Analysing connected speech Awareness of elision, assimilation, linking and other hurdles slowing down our learners’ listening comprehension.
Learning/teaching grammar ‘Guided noticing’ is a key principle and students need lots of it.


Skepticism of sentence-level grammar and increased focus on text-level grammar.

Awareness of vast differences between spoken and written grammar.

Discourse Deep understanding of cohesion and coherence in spoken or written discourse.


Much better ability to grade and provide feedback for student writing.

Teaching speaking Confidence in teaching features of conversation including intonation, backchanneling, pausefillers
Understanding coursebooks Ability to analyse a coursebook lesson sequence and identify the teaching principles behind each stage.
History of and different approaches/theories to ELT Knowledge of grammar translation, audiolingualisim, the Direct Method, the Lexical Approach, Krashen’s comprehensible input hypothesis, dogme and others
Lesson planning Loss of planning phobia and gained effectivity and enjoyment.

Standout books I’ve used in the Delta that have had a profound impact on my teaching:

Title Author and publisher information
About Language Scott Thornbury, 2017, Cambridge University Press
Beyond the Sentence – Introducing Discourse Analysis Scott Thornbury, 2005, Macmillan Education
Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy Scott Thornbury and Diana Slade, 2006, Cambridge University Press
Grammar Dictation Ruth Wajnryb, 1990, OUP
How Languages are Learned Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada, 2006, OUP
Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language Michael Hoey, 2005, Routledge
Listening in the Language Classroom John Field, 2009, Cambridge University Press
Practical English Use Michael Swan, 2005, Oxford University Press
Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical Approach Ed. Michael Lewis, 2000, Language Teaching Publications
Uncovering Grammar Scott Thornbury, 2014, Macmillan Education
Teaching Lexically Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, 2016, Delta Publishing


What would you say to those fearful of doing the Delta?

“I don’t think I’m good enough for it.”
“I’m anxious about being observed and getting negative feedback”
“I can’t write academic texts.”

The tutors at the Berlin School of English carry out three of four of your assessed observations but they’re there to give you supportive feedback at the end of the day. The whole point of the Delta is professional development, so progress is partly by you moving forward, not by first being at a specific standard before you begin. If you’re still worried, look at the application requirements and get in contact with the training centre and they’ll help you.

I admit that before it began I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to write at an academic level, but this came with time. The longer your drafts, the more feedback you will get. So you could in theory submit a draft which is 1000 words over the final limit, and you’ll get valuable feedback from which you’ll be able to make adjustments.

In the assessed lessons, I had a strong mental picture of the lesson after working on the plan for a long time and received feedback on it that just felt like going through the ropes. But don’t worry; if things aren’t going quite to plan (as was the case for me once!), you’re allowed to deviate from your lesson plan if you can provide reason for it in your post-lesson reflections.

What tips would you give to someone who has decided to take the Delta?

Embrace the opportunity to read a lot.Try and put aside at least one full weekday each week to devote to the Delta assignments or you won’t make any progress. It will be intense, but  the feeling of relief and satisfaction after completing an assignment successfully is worth it.

Mike Budden has been an ELTABB member since 2015 and on the Events Team since 2017. He teaches at a training centre for airport ground staff and at the Volkshochschule in Berlin.

Is it worth taking the Delta course?

Want More Fun Getting Things Done? 5 Great Coworking Spaces for Freelancers in Berlin

in Berlin/Professional Development
Photo: Sandra Roggenkamp

Coworking spaces have sprung up like mushrooms in Berlin over the last 10 years. Here’s why and in what ways you can benefit from them as a teacher.

A lot of English trainers are freelancers, and there are plenty of reasons to love being one. It’s awesome managing your time and schedule the way you want to. Being able to work from home in your pyjamas with your favourite beverage in front of you. Or treating yourself to that lovely extended weekend getaway because you don’t have to show up somewhere at 9 am the next morning. Plus, when you are your own boss, the only one who can boss you around is, that’s right, your own humble self (and you can always file a complaint without dreading the consequences).

But before this turns into an ode to quitting your day job to join the freelance tribe, let’s not forget what most members of that tribe already know: sweet freedom has its downsides, too. One of them being the amount of focus and discipline it takes to follow through with your plans in the face of ever-increasing worldly distractions. Be it your smartphone buzzing with notifications every two minutes or that deli piece of Donauwelle whispering, “You know you want me now” from the depths of your fridge. Maybe it’s your partner and kids asking for your attention. Or simply the all-too-familiar surroundings that just won’t prompt you to sit down and get things done.

Join the inofficial alliance

Professional procrastinators have known this for a long time – it’s way easier to motivate yourself when there are others around working on their projects as well. Even if what they do is completely unrelated to what you do. Their simply being there and being busy can make all the difference in terms of motivation and productivity.

That’s why I call those folks the Secret Society of Temporary Colleagues and I’m happy to be a member of the club. For example, they helped me write the first part of this article. I’d been meaning to start off at home for quite a while, but something always seemed to get in the way and only the wind knows for how long that would have continued.

So seriously, here’s to you, SSTC workforce!

Getting yourself out there

You can meet those magical, obliviously helpful people in public places such as cafés, libraries, and, most importantly, coworking spaces. While all of these are beneficial, the latter have a number of advantages you won’t find elsewhere. Coworking spaces usually not only offer cheap or free trial days, but many also organise networking events and meetups. Some even allow you to use them as your business address.

But the best part is, you are meeting like-minded individuals who are there to work and move foreward just like you. The networking aspect can actually help you land jobs! One Eltabber reported that she finds a lot of work simply by eavesdropping and engaging in conversation with the people sitting next to her.

Think of it as the lonesome mountaineer’s shelter on the way to the summit. You escaped the grim weather just before dark to unexpectedly meet fellow travellers with similar destinations…who might become companions on the way. Now if that’s not a reason to celebrate!

My Top 5 Spaces in Berlin

So here’s my list of personal favourites. We designed the ELTABB journal in two of them (yep, they inspired us).

1) KleinMein

This little hidden gem near Frankfurter Allee has everything you need for a fruitful day. A pleasant, peaceful atmosphere, a tasty mediterranean menu and friendly international staff. It’s a café with a coworking space nicely tucked away in the back, so you can enjoy some privacy with your freshly-brewed Greek mountain tea. Membership isn’t required. You can buy tickets for one or three hours (5 and 10 euros) or a day pass (15 euros). If you buy a ten-day-pass, you’ll get an extra day for free. Tickets include a drink of your choice and water’s on the house.

2) Unicorn

This is definitely one of the bigger players! Yet they appear friendly and customer-oriented with very flexible, transparent pricing. Unicorn offers spaces in Mitte, Wedding, Potsdam and Lisbon. You can get daily access for 69 euros per month, a day pass (16,50), or just a half-day pass for 10 euros. Free water and hot beverages are included, members get discounts on food as well. Reservations are not necessary, so why not pick the cheapest option, drop by for a couple of hours and check it out?

3) Wonder Women

Wonder Coworking on Prenzlauer Allee is just for women (and their kids). Super-friendly owner Shari offers fixed and flexible desks, free hot drinks, filtered water and fresh fruit. There is a playroom for your toddler (she has a little baby daughter herself) and also a small library with books covering business topics and feminism. They offer regular events, workshops and after-work hangouts as well. Book a trial day for 5 euros and feel the wonder!

4) Tuesday Coworking

Hygge is the word to describe Tuesday Coworking. This is a cosy place in a quiet part of Schöneberg. They offer different rates for fixed, flexible and part time desks, starting from 85 euros per month. There are additional goodies such as free use of meeting rooms, free printing, hot drinks and 24/7 access. The owners are very community-oriented and regularly organise events covering a wide range of topics from social media to gardening. So if you’re looking for an extended living room, this is for you! You can book a free tour and trial day on their website.

5) Happy Pigeons

The pigeonry is located in Prenzlauer Berg and probably comes as close to the ‘mountain shelter’ metaphor as it gets – you can actually live there! Since a lot of people who are new to the city have difficulty finding a place to stay, this might be a real option (short- or even long-term). If you feel you are not enough of a hippie to live in a community with raw vegans and yogis, just stick with the coworking space. Their prices are reasonable (42 euros per month for a part-time flex desk, 75 for a fixed one, 10 euros for a day pass) and you can show up for a trial day anytime during opening hours.

For more spaces in your kiez, best search on the internet. You should be able to find something in your area, usually with reviews.

What’s going on online?

For those who want to connect on the web, there is a virtual space for freelancers called Coworkies. This international community dedicates itself to networking across countries and has its own job and events database. For the best of both worlds, Meetup is a great starting point as well. Moreover, there are local groups offering coworking sessions in different places several times per week. Signing up for an event automatically enables you to join discussions and contact other group members, making it a whole lot easier to stay in touch with new friends.

So enjoy getting out there and immersing yourself in the world of collaboration and networking!

Here, you can read more about teaching English as a freelancer in Berlin.

Woman sitting at a table reading a book
Photo: Darren Foster

Getting into Teaching Business English Together: Preparing for the FTBE with ELTABB

in ELTABB/Professional Development

In this article, Annie Heringer shares her story about preparing for the FTBE certificate alongside other daring ELTABB members, the challenges that came with it and the benefits she reaped.


It took me almost a year to get these four letters right. The “First Certificate for Teachers of Business English” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This professional qualification, offered by Pearson and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is awarded to English teachers who have proven competence in a Business English specialization by passing a two and a half-hour written examination.

Sound intimidating? I thought so, too. But luckily, I had two friendly faces to usher me into the world of functional syllabi and the client approach. Just two of the topics we tackled in our ELTABB FTBE study group led by Evan Frendo and Mandy Welfare.

They would provide the structure, guidance and feedback, while the participants would research and present the curriculum topics which cover a range of teaching strategies and learning approaches specific to Business English. The FTBE isn’t the only professional certification of Business English teaching. The Cert IBET is also available but costs a pretty-penny more.

Starting off slow…

I had seen many of the faces at ELTABB events and knew a couple names. It was illuminating to hear everyone’s backstory and learn about their individual working situations. I wasn’t the only CELTA certified teacher who had drifted into Business English without any real training. Evan and Mandy reminded us of how valuable any professional experience can be when teaching Business English.

Over the next months, we met at each other’s houses and took turns presenting the topics from the exam curriculum: the lexical approach, feedback & evaluation, authentic materials, etc. At each meeting, one to two topics would be presented with Mandy and Evan there to fill in the gaps as well as offer specific tips on how to use the information on the exam.

Because we had to present the topics ourselves, each presentation was different. Sometimes we’d be using Powerpoint, other times taping pieces of paper to the wall. Often we organized activities and tasks for the rest of the group to take part in. The various presentation styles offered a valuable lesson themselves as they were a unique opportunity to observe our colleagues employing their own teaching methods. There was lots of lively discussion, with snacks and then more exchange following.

Preparing for the big day

Not surprisingly, the material that we were covering also made its way into my teaching practice. My students unwittingly became guinea pigs for the new concepts I had picked up and was anxious to try. To their benefit of course! We arrived at the critical point when Mandy and Evan promptly pushed us out of the nest – we had an exam date! Friday, June 13th, 2018.

For me it was the moment of truth: would I actually take the exam? I had already gotten so much out of the course, did I need a certificate to prove it? After much consideration, I decided I had come too far to give up. Even if it meant taking a two and a half-hour exam. The likes of which I had not seen since my undergraduate days some (gulp!) twenty-years previous.

The last weeks leading up to the exam were intense. Four of us had registered and continued to meet, this time focusing on taking practice-exams under exam-like conditions. Then meeting again to go over all of the answers together. The experience brought us even closer – Galina, Sherri, Sarah and I were a team by this point.

We divided up the remaining basic business concepts we needed to learn and crammed over brunch, e-mail, WhatsApp and even on the S-Bahn as we hurtled towards the examination location on June 13th, the morning of the exam.

Was it worth the effort?

A long summer came and went while we awaited the results. Our group dissolved and I missed our meetings very much. As the days passed, I became more resolved that whatever the exam result was, the experience of being part of the study group alone was worth it all.

I was a better teacher of Business English, well-versed in its terms and practices. And felt I could approach potential employers and clients with a new confidence. None of this would change whether I passed the exam or not.

Then one day, we all received our results in the mail: four embossed FTBE certificates for each of us. We had all passed with flying colors!

I was surprised at how deeply proud I felt and immediately updated my resume, typing the words with a new found fluency – First Certificate for Teachers of Business English – pass with distinction

That single line of print represents a huge growth in my professional development and it felt great to make it official. I know a little about how to teach Business English, and I have the certificate to prove it.


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