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Teachers Talking Shop: Make the Most of Being a Freelancer in Germany with these Insider Tips

in Professional Development

Being a freelance English teacher or trainer in Germany has its ups and downs. Shaun Trezise shares his tips on how to navigate and circumvent some of these. He also explains how you can have the best of both worlds – freelancing and permanent employment at the same time.

Teaching is – or should be – fun. New people, new conversations, new classes and even long-running ones that have stood the test of time…all of these lend a lot of variety to our day to day work lives. When it comes to the actual teaching I think most people reading this blog are pretty happy with their lot.

It’s a good job. But is it really a “job”? How many of us are employed by someone other than ourselves? I have to admit this is deeply unscientific but anecdotally it seems that in Berlin today, most English as a Foreign Language teachers are self-employed. Now is this through choice?

The Dreaded Red Tape

In some countries, working for yourself can mean lower tax bills and lower health insurance costs but I think most would agree that Germany is an outlier here. The German Pension Insurance office has hit too many English teachers here with large bills of two, three or four years of backdated payments to catch up on.

No holiday pay, no sick pay and limited government support in general if you end up with no clients for whatever reason. Not to mention the difficulty in tracking down a reliable tax advisor, which took me personally over two years.

Naturally, as educated, professional and informed workers, most of you know the pitfalls and costs and price your worth accordingly, but I’ll be honest and say I learned most of it the hard way. The three things that helped me the most, as a worker were:

  1. Getting a reliable tax advisor, who knows how to use email
  2. Joining a union, in my case GEW, for support, info and some specific employment insurances
  3. Signing up to a workers’ cooperative for invoicing, payment guarantees and no more letters from the myriad German state insurances

The third point is the most recent, but I wish I had done it so much earlier. Last year was eventful to put it mildly, and my monthly income varied wildly. Trying to pay the correct amount to each office took time, effort and multiple phone calls, not to mention written correspondence. I did not particularly enjoy this period…

Becoming a Freelance Employee: Joining a Cooperative

…Then I remembered a talk given at an earlier ELTABB event from SmartDE, a workers’ cooperative. I booked an appointment and headed off to a seminar, before deciding that I thought it would be a good fit for me. Essentially, the cooperative employ you, and pay you based on your invoices.

In this case, you get a regular monthly salary, minus all your deductions for health, pension, social security etc. It means that the money that shows up in your bank account is yours to keep, and you don’t have to worry about who needs paying and when. They even manage your income tax.

Clearly there must be a catch. In this case that is a 7% fee to the non-profit organisation which essentially goes to keeping the lights on and everything running. It also funds your salary, in the case of late payment of invoices. They invoice your clients for you, and pay you at the end of the month regardless of whether the client has come through in time.

So what do you think? I’d like to hear about your experiences as a worker in ELT. Are you employed or self employed? Is that your choice? Would you change if you had the choice? Do you have any other suggestions for dealing with red tape and general work life as a teacher? Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have anything to add!

Also, you can find some more Berlin-specific tips for English teachers here.


If you like Shaun’s writing, be sure to check out his website!

Learn Business English

Authentic Branding for ESL Professionals – Tips from a Seasoned Solopreneur

in Professional Development

Many ESL professionals are passionate about the work they do – much less so about marketing themselves. At the last Inter ELTA Day, experienced solopreneur Christin Jönsson spilled the tea about effective and authentic personal branding. The good news: it’s not rocket science and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

In her talk, Christin started off by pointing out the obvious: you’re a passionate ESL teacher or trainer, but selling yourself isn’t something you care about in a big way. Because all you want is do a great job and make your clients happy.

Still, as a freelancer, you’re most likely a small fish in a big sea. What you do isn’t monumentally different from what your colleagues do – and that’s OK, of course. Nobody is expected to re-invent the ELT wheel.

However, this means that how you package your offer could be important if you want to be noticed and find work in a consistent manner.

How branding can help both you and your clients

As a solopreneur, having your own brand can go a long way towards attracting and building fruitful relationships with your clients. Here’s why:

A good brand will stand out and convey a message of professionalism and trust.

Authentic branding shows that you care and put in the hard work to make your business presentable. So in the mind of the customer, your offer will naturally look more attractive and, indeed, valuable. Just like beautiful wrapping paper makes a nice gift look even more precious.

In short, a good brand will stand out and convey a message of professionalism and trust. This will help your clients feel that they are making a good choice working with you. As a result, the collaboration will be more pleasant and successful.

Before building your brand, there are some things to consider: if your offer doesn’t speak to your target audience, your service may be overlooked. Also, if you are too vague about your values, you may attract the wrong clients.

Therefore, Christin recommended asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What exactly do I offer?
  • What are the values that I’d like to represent?

As an example: your target audience could be international NGO representatives, your offer could be intercultural communication for the not-for-profit sector and your values could be building trust to foster cooperation and facilitate win-win-solutions.

To sum up, your brand reflects what you offer to whom and in what spirit.

So once you are clear about these key factors, what else do you need to build a brand that shines?

Little tweaks, BIG difference

Here are some tips from Christin that you can start implementing right away to increase professional credibility:

  1. Having a professional email address (a no-brainer, really. For business purposes, your email address should contain your name or the name of your brand and have a recognizable ending, such as .com or .org). To  make the most of it, add more information about your business (links, logos…) to your email signature.
  2. The name of your business. You don’t have to cook up something fancy, but it should feel authentic to you and relate to what you do.
  3. Create something that represents your business visually. Most of us are visual beings, so having a visual anchor, such as a logo, will make a more memorable impression. You can put it on everything you use, so your clients will spot your brand at a glance.
  4. Having your own website. OK, this is more than just a little tweak. But actually, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. With all the inexpensive options and services out there, you can easily have your own landing page set up.
  5. Little giveaways. Apart from promo materials such as brochures or business cards, think about everyday items, such as notepads, pens, calendars…just see to it that they are of good quality, because they represent your brand.

A closer look at the visuals: Logos, fonts and colors

A picture is worth a 1000 words… so while not manadatory, a logo is definitely nice to have. Potential clients will remember your brand and connect the dots of who you are and what you do at a glance.

A logo works best if it meets the following criteria:

  1. it’s recognizable (simple and clear)
  2. it has personality
  3. it stands out from competitors

You can either buy a logo or use one of the free logo design makers out there (just beware of hidden charges). This can be a fun and creative DIY project – try out different icons, colors, fonts and shapes. Alternatively, just get the logo and pick your own colors and fonts with the help of Powerpoint and Microsoft Office. Fonts and colors matter, because they add aesthetics and meaning.

The font you pick must be free for commercial use, such as the Steiner font, which is also specifically designed for logos. You can just download and preview fonts at

As your brand develops, tweak your logo from time to time to make sure it still represents you.
If you want, modifiy your logo and use different variants of it for different purposes.

Using images

Images are something you might want to use for your promo materials, such as flyers or brochures. To be on the safe side legally, you can buy stock photos from sites such as or Shutterstock. If you have them done by a photographer, make sure you have the commercial rights. Of course, you can also use your own images.

For best quality, always make sure to get a big photo and adjust the size if necessary (if you try to enlarge a small image, it can easily become blurry).

authentic branding for teachers and trainers
Brochures, business cards, writing pads, shirts – once you have your logo set up, these are easy to make and effective branding tools.

Having your own website

Having your own landing page is a slightly bigger project than building a logo. However, with platforms like Squarespace or Wix you can set up your own page without coding skills – it’s basically copy and paste. Alternatively, you can pay a freelancer on Upwork to take care of your website.

If you live and work in Germany, please note that your website has to come with a legal notice and privacy statement (a well-versed freelancer should be able to get this done for you). Also, you will need to register as a small entrepreneur (“Kleinunternehmer”) at the chamber of commerce because your website serves a commercial purpose.

If this sounds overwhelming and you don’t want your own website (yet), a telling LinkedIn-profile and a digital business card are a solid alternative.

Last but not least: Tell a story

The last tip Christin had in store was the one about storytelling.

If you want to be remembered by the people you meet at events and conferences, witty banter and stories are the way to go. The reason for this is, again, that there are lots of people out there doing what you do.

That’s why telling a little story works so much better than just stating the facts.

To give you an example, here are two answers to the frequently asked question “What do you do?”

A: “I’m a business English trainer.”
B: “I help people make themselves heard in international business settings.”

Which of the two sounds more intriguing to you, and who would you rather chat to and have (virtual) lunch with?

While both replies are valid, the second one evokes much stronger images – you can almost see the clients at a fancy dinner table, discussing business matters.

Moreover, the second answer isn’t about a generic service (boring), but about solving a specific problem (interesting).

So the next time somebody asks you about your job, instead of giving a predictable answer try to describe what you do in one or two sentences (alternatively, try adding a sassy little tagline to your online profile and business card).

Final thoughts on authentic branding

While setting up your own personal brand may seem like a mammoth project, the info that Christin shared at the Inter ELTA day can help you get started in an easy way,  and at (almost) no cost.

Do you actually need your own brand if you already have a good network, social media profile and references? Of course not – if it works, it works.

But if you feel that you’d like to try personal branding, you can implement some of the tips from the article. Whether it’s creating your own digital business card, designing a logo or thinking of a little story to tell about yourself.

Data Protection in the Digital Classroom: Is MDM Software Becoming as Relevant as Zoom?

in Professional Development

In the world of education, nobody wants to risk compromising the privacy of their students – whether in a public or private language school. Often, the teacher is held accountable by both parents and the school. This is where Mobile Device Management software shines by providing a user-friendly way to handle data protection in the digital classroom.

What do Google, Microsoft, SAP, Samsung and IBM have in common? Except for being tech and software giants, they, and many more, all use Mobile Device Management software (MDM).
MDM means securing, monitoring, managing and supporting mobile devices – smartphones, tablets and laptops – through software.

The whole industry has steady financial growth and growing importance in all parts of the world. In 2020, the MDM software industry was valued at about 3.5 billion dollars on a global level.

What’s the secret sauce here?

The answer is probably not too exciting – demand. That’s right, good old market demand for the type of software that could make the difference between a successful company and a scandal-ridden one. Millions or even billions could be lost if security is breached and clients’ data stolen or leaked.

What if…?

Let’s consider the following example: a medium-sized and family-owned marketing agency has around 100 employees. They are a reliable company with an impressive portfolio and some global players as their clients. One of the graphic designers, David, likes bowling and is a member of the local bowling club.

Great news! David’s team has made it to the regional bowling cup’s final tournament. The team takes a mini bus and goes on a weekend getaway to have fun and win the tournament.

You win some, you lose some. This time, they won. Super!

Fast forward: David comes to the office on Monday morning, wearing a freshly-printed T-shirt saying “Bowling Champion”. Everyone in his team is excited for him. After sharing a few stories, hard-working David returns to his desk.

Around 2 pm on the same day, the emails start pouring in. The majority of their customers from the last six months are emailing them to check their IT security system. Someone has hacked clients’ accounts using data the marketing company had access to. The company is rapidly bleeding client data. At that stage, it’s impossible to keep it a secret or to be discreet about it.

Their reputation as a reliable company is out the window for the most part.

Innocent actions – calamitous side effects

How did we get from bowling to a security breach? Relatively simple. When David was at the bowling center at the tournament, he logged onto a public Wi-Fi and that’s when things went sour.

A not-so-nice IT professional used the public Wi-Fi network to infect David’s laptop with a new type of malware. New is the key word here. All types of malware (viruses, trojan horses, spyware etc.) develop and transform very quickly. Thus, even with the best security software, it’s not possible to keep up with all the modifications and new versions out there.

These days, information is everything.

The bottom line is: every time someone logs onto a network, whether a free Wi-Fi Hotspot, home or office network, both sides are exposed to potential security issues or breaches. Perhaps even by no fault of their own. They could simply be a carrier for the malware – just like David was.

The example illustrates why numerous companies now use MDM software in order to protect themselves and their data. Because these days, information is everything. A company’s reputation can thus be damaged beyond repair in a matter of days.

Data Protection in Education

Similarly, in the world of education, nobody wants to risk compromising the privacy of their students; whether in a public or private language school. This is especially important when thinking about safeguarding the privacy of data when you have 25 minors in the classroom.

Therefore, MDM software plays an increasingly vital role in the classroom of the 21st century. Many US school districts already use it. A few obvious examples of schools’ uses are: preventing students from visiting distracting websites and content, serving as an additional layer of security and simultaneous management of multiple logged in users (students).

There is an extensive list of pros for using MDM software in education, whereas the cons list is getting shorter and shorter.
Using MDM software solutions typically has these advantages:

  • Enhanced security
  • Remote management
  • Improved efficiency
  • Achieving policy compliance

This kind of software is very much in use in the global market, so most big MDM names are already GDPR compliant or CCPA compliant and their product is readily available. In that sense, data protection is completely taken care of.

Good news: the teacher doesn’t need to do anything special.

So if we start thinking about what this means for the teacher, there is good news: the teacher doesn’t need to do anything special. Using MDM software means that the added layer of security is in place and teaching activities can get more time and attention.

MDM software brings many benefits. Anything from managing two devices to 100, the uniformity of using MDM software saves time while ensuring equal conditions for students.

What does all of this mean for your teaching?

The variety of situations in which MDM software may become the norm include, but are by no means limited to:

  • public/private schools
  • language schools
  • universities
  • companies
  • one-on-one training/tutoring situations

We as teachers may not even be the ones using or administrating it, but we could find ourselves on the receiving end of it. For example, doing in-company training, you may need to connect to the company’s internal network for resource sharing. They will add your laptop or phone to their MDM software’s trusted device list and only then will you have access to their network.

MDM software is here to stay. In two years from now, we may not have a choice any more.

My best recommendation about this type of software is to try it. Take advantage of the fact that there are more and more companies making great MDM platforms. Most of them have the option of having a free account, a trial period or product demo. That is exactly what you want to do – register a free account and try using it now or at least this year because in two years from now, we may not have a choice any more.

Mobile Guardian is a company which focuses on education and covers schools in North America, Europe, the Middle East and the UK. You can find out more about it in this short video demo and this Mobile Guardian tutorial.

In summary, MDM software is definitely here to stay. Doing lessons on Zoom and similar platforms in a relatively loose manner has been fine as an emergency measure in a time of unprecedented global crisis. However, it is quite likely that next time we do lessons fully online, we will use MDM software to comply with data protection requirements.

Magazine Review: ‘Spotlight’ under the Spotlight

in Professional Development

Every few months ELTABB — in its boundless generosity — offers scholarship opportunities to members. And ELTABB members — in their equally boundless humility —  refuse to apply for said scholarships. Except that this time, I applied and found myself the lucky recipient of a Spotlight Magazine subscription.

Normally ELTABB directs this funding towards workshops, conference attendance, and other jet-setting pursuits…but 2020 is no normal year. With travel verboten, conferences are out of the question. In their stead, the scholarship can now be used toward teaching materials and magazine subscriptions (bid for champagne and cigars rejected).

(**Seriously ELTABB folks, apply for the scholarship! The money is there for your benefit!’**)

Shedding Light on Spotlight

Spotlight is a magazine aimed at Germans learning English and is published monthly alongside two supplements: Spotlight Plus and an Audio Trainer supplement. It’s a general-interest magazine with a variety of light reading, featuring articles ranging from cake baking to fighting knife crime. Alongside the articles are language pages (courtroom vocabulary; uses of the word ‘about’), episodic stories, reviews, word puzzles, jokes, etc.

Each section is graded from Beginner to Advanced, with a short German introduction and vocabulary offered in translation. Certain sections also have companion audio, with the full audio supplement available at extra cost.

For my subscription, I purchased the base magazine and Spotlight Plus. This is a book full of extra exercises related to the articles in Spotlight itself — reading comprehension tests on the articles, extra practice exercises for the language sections, and so on. I also purchased access to the online back catalogue of both. Thanks to The Virus, online teaching is now de rigueur, and the ability to read the magazine on a computer is pretty much essential.

Placing Spotlight under the Spotlight

Of course, this wealth of material means nothing if it’s no good. So, does Spotlight actually hold up when placed under the spotlight itself?

One important thing to consider — and a shortcoming for us teachers — is that this magazine is for learners, not teachers. As such, it is written with a certain assumed interest on the part of the reader. Whereas a student might buy the magazine simply to enjoy it, a teacher will need to tailor the material to a lesson. In this respect Spotlight Plus is fairly essential: its exercises give the student a reason to read.

However, some of the articles are too lengthy and lacking enough follow-up questions for classroom use without extra preparation. I have found myself reading an interesting article, but without enough time to build a lesson from it. That said, the same is true for any magazine article — compared to selecting an article from a website, at least Spotlight grades the articles by difficulty.

Activities to light up your learning
Spotlight Plus offers activities based on the main magazine’s articles.

The majority of the magazine is general reading with only a few specific grammar topics, so it’s the luck-of-the-draw whether these will fit into your lesson. If you’re following a syllabus, you might find it hard to incorporate them. If you have creative freedom, however, they can cover useful lexis you might otherwise neglect.

The articles themselves are interesting and engaging. I have found myself reading them simply out of curiosity, and students have expressed interest in buying the magazine themselves. If you can’t find anything directly relevant to your lesson, there will still be something interesting to work from, provided you put in some effort.

Shiny but not all Bright Side

So far, many of these downsides aren’t really the magazine’s fault. I’m a teacher using a students’ magazine — I’m not its target audience. Therefore, I can’t really criticise the magazine for being general interest or not classroom ready.

A much more valid criticism is that, aside from the online magazines themselves, the company’s digital presence is challenging. After opening a digital copy of the magazine, everything works smoothly…but the process to do so is painful.

When I first tried to place my subscription, I found that it simply wasn’t listed in the online shop. I could order a print or online subscription, but not both. Also, there was no Spotlight Plus subscription available. Even the shop was hard to find. Eventually, I gave up and ordered by email.

Now that I’m a subscriber, I get the magazine in the post, but finding the online library isn’t easy. Logging in, I can see only a very barebones library — a list of months, with no clue as to the content. I can download PDFs, but not read articles online.

To find the fully-featured library I have to return to the link in my email order confirmation each time. Even then, when I close the magazine it deposits me back into a third online archive, somewhere between the other two, with no clue as to content, but readable online.

Which bright spark designed their online catalogue?
The three different online libraries Spotlight uses.

Bright when Burning, Hard to Light

This sums up my overall experience with Spotlight: when it shines, it shines bright. It has engaging articles with targeted exercises, covering a range of topics with variety in its supplementary materials. However, like lighting a campfire in the rain, one must put in a lot of work to extract value.

Subscribing and accessing the online catalogue is difficult, and once the magazine is in front of you, you still have to figure out how to adapt it. You can’t choose an article and throw it into a lesson as a matter of convenience. Be prepared to make full, re-usable plans. This much effort is only worth it if the results will last years.

Shadowy Legal Territory

The teacher also needs to remember they are dealing with copyrighted material, so no direct photocopying and sending to students! If you work from the magazine and develop it for teaching, you’re in a bit of a shadowy legal area regarding fair use. If you copy articles verbatim and distribute them to your students, you’d better hope they’re not lawyers.

Conclusion: Prometheus Didn’t Have it Easy

For my part, I enjoy reading the articles, and having each one graded and with supplementary exercises from Spotlight Plus is fantastic!

It still takes an effort, though. The supplementary materials are a starting point, but not comprehensive. The articles are interesting but rarely targeted towards lexis. The grammar pages are useful but scattershot. The online library is huge, but the interface leaves a lot ot be desired.

In short, Spotlight can help when you would normally scour the internet for material to base your lesson on. If you’re lucky, the article will be relevant or even brilliant. Mostly, however, it can only provide the kindling for your own lesson plan.

Roleplays and Simulations: Engaging Tools for the Business English Classroom

in Professional Development

When I joined ELTABB sometime last year, one of my incentives was the chance to improve my skills as an English teacher. Therefore, when Evan Frendo formed an FTBE (First Certificate for Teachers of Business English) study group, I eagerly polished off my post-it notes and ring-binder and got ready to swot up.

At the last meeting, it was my turn to give a presentation on ‘Roleplays and Simulations’. Read on to get an overview of what exactly roleplays and simulations are (sadly without the aid of my trusty Zoom laser pointer).

Wait, they’re different things?

As the title suggests, simulations and roleplays are related, but not identical, tools in the arsenal of the business English teacher. Indeed, a roleplay may stand alone or it may form part of a larger simulation. As almost all of our readers here are English teachers (bar one or two exceptions…hi Dad!), I’m sure I can skim quickly over the broader points of a roleplay:

When you get students to make-believe that they are somebody else, they are performing a roleplay. Perhaps one is a hotel receptionist and the other is planning a holiday, or one is a flatmate at home and the other is on the phone, doing the weekly shop.

Roleplays: focusing on needs and linguistic expression

Roleplays are “Problem-solving activities in which the participants take a role to resolve a conflict” (Waylink, 2020). In business English of course, these must be targeted towards the client’s needs. You don’t want clients to feel alienated by the lack of relevance in the setting!

It is up to a business English teacher to try and find a suitable activity (from a lexical point of view) and a suitable conflict and roles, from a business-relevance point of view.

Roleplays tend to be adversarial by nature – they are ‘information-gap activities’. Thus, each participant is lacking information that the other needs (what the flatmates needs vs what is available at the shops, to continue the example).

This doesn’t mean that there is a winner or loser. Rather, each participant poses some difficulty that the other must overcome through the medium of the English language.

This challenge will also be chosen in order to elicit a particular piece of language. For instance, a business English roleplay might have two students debating a purchasing decision. This will centre on persuasive language in a ‘focussed situation’; an isolated decision with no further consequences.

There is no need for agreement and the exercise monitors language, not business results.

Simulations: focusing on roles and context

In contrast to roleplays, simulations are a broader, more diverse tool. They might engage multiple students representing multiple departments within a business, working together to achieve positive results such as a successful product launch or make a profit.

Here, the focus isn’t on language in isolation, but rather in context – such as how it is used for inter-departmental communication. This breadth of context also applies to the period of time a simulation can encompass.

Rather than a short encounter such as a phone call, a product launch example could last from first concept to release or even after-sale support.

Designing simulations, blending in roleplays

A roleplay might be part of a simulation, such as interaction between researcher and focus group. But that will only be one activity of multiple; a simulation is “a set of activities that will gradually lead the learner to perform a business operation” (Orlando, 2020).

Each activity has a fixed role but no fixed outcome – the result is up to the students, not the teacher.  For example, the supermarket roleplay phone-call might be part of a larger, longer household-management simulation. The shopper successfully buying milk isn’t guaranteed and the outcome will affect the results of the simulation as a whole.

While in a roleplay students play a role other than their own, in a simulation students explore their own reactions to a given situation (Allison, 2017, cited in Frendo, 2020, personal communication, 6 November).

Setting goals and adapting on the go

In designing simulations, you must establish not just linguistic, but also learning and social goals. You must then find a possible and relevant problem-solving scenario. Finally, create a setting to illustrate and develop this scenario.

A string of activities that guide students to the result must then be incorporated and, once the students have been let loose on your simulation, a follow-up and assessment completed. The students will want to know what they have accomplished, and how they can improve.

For best results, flexibility is key.

Keep in mind that, like any simulation, once tested in use it may well ‘break’. Evan told us of a simulation he had made in which engineers had to install machinery on a remote hilltop. The students decided they would rent a helicopter and completed the week-long simulation within a day! 

This illustrates that you must be prepared to adapt and alter your simulation as it progresses. Rather than artificial restrictions, offer plausible adaptations to avoid breaking suspension of disbelief (“No helicopters! That’s cheating!”). Evan, thinking quickly, announced that a helicopter crash had cancelled all flights for a week.

And if all goes to plan…

Used correctly, a simulation (and within it, roleplays) can provide realistic and engaging opportunities for your students. They will not only practice and improve their English, but also get a feel for it in a real-world situation. This will then further demonstrate how you are improving their outcomes at work.

In applying their English skills to a relevant and interesting scenario, your students should also feel that they are conquering an enjoyable challenge rather than simply studying a language because their boss told them to.

A successful simulation is also an opportunity to demonstrate to your client (for example the aforementioned boss) how your work has practical results that will ultimately benefit their bottom line…

And what is good for the business is good for the business English teacher!


Orlando, M (ND). The role of business simulations in the business English syllabus: some considerations. International House Journal of Education and Development. Available at The Role of Business Simulations in the Business English Syllabus: Some Considerations « IH Journal (accessed on 06.11.20).

Waylink English (ND). Simulation games with business English. Waylink English. Available at (accessed on 06.11.20).

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