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Who do you turn to if your tooth is trying to make you lose your mind?

If you should have a problem with your heart – you’d go to a heart specialist not a general practitioner, wouldn’t you?
Aren’t you envious of parents with computer freaks for children when you can’t get your computer working to download your e-mails?

The people you turn to are specialists – including the children computer freaks. Are you a specialist? Or are you being too much of an ELT generalist in your work and missing all the advantages connected to specialising?

What is specialising? Why be an ELT specialist?

First, let’s define what is a “specialist”?

This is a person who is devoted to a particular occupation or branch of study or research. For we professional English Language Professionals, this means we are professional advisers or experts, authorities if you prefer, in teaching and training people in the English language. However, have you thought about being a specialist within the English language profession? An ELT specialist?

My husband is one of the lucky people to have found a career which is both his job and his hobby. You could say that his work is his hobby and his hobby is his job. He became a specialist. Similar to my husband, have you considered specialising further within a field – your field – of expertise? Instead of offering your services as a general English trainer and teacher to everyone, how about focusing your services to one area? Such as being a specialist for legal English? Or for medical or for technical English? An English language specialist for Very Young Learners? A specialist for exam courses or a grammar specialist?

Why should you specialise in ELT?

But why should you consider becoming a specialist in any one particular field? Wouldn’t this further reduce your chances of finding new students? No, it would not. In fact, the chances are more likely to be the opposite. You will increase your number of students! Being a specialist by definition already means that you are declaring yourself to have a great amount of expertise and experience in your chosen field. And by focusing on just one area of expertise, the practice will make you become an expert in your own right. Practice makes perfect!

Customers and students are always on the lookout for experienced and qualified professional experts. If you were the customer, who would you hire? Would you go to a native English speaker who had no idea how to teach legal English? A generalist? Or to someone who specialises in legal English? I think we both know the answer. So, why would your customer do differently? If they are going to invest in their education, then they want the best their money can buy to ensure that they become the best value. And this is the first reason, why you should specialise.

The other reasons, for example:

  • You become recognised as an expert, a specialist, in the English language teaching or training you specialise in

Declaring yourself as an expert or authority in your chosen field of expertise (web page, business cards, other business materials), you are going to be perceived as an expert by your customers and students. Word is going to spread quickly in that branch of industry – here is a specialist! Even if they have never needed to use your services, these people will gladly pass on your name to friends or colleagues who are looking for someone with your qualifications.

  • You can demand higher fees as a specialist

Like all specialists, you will have worked hard to become experienced and qualified in your field. Your hard work will pay off because specialists can and do demand higher fees. Just think of the plumber or the electrician bills when you have to call them in… Or the IT specialist (who is almost regarded as a magician waving a magic wand) when your computer can access the Internet again… and charges a fee that makes you gasp. But you happily pay him because you’re online again!

  • You do the work that gives you the most fun or it is the most rewarding for you

You’re happy too because the work will become fun as well. In fact, specialising in a focused field of English will enable you to key in on information and knowledge that will far surpass your colleagues in the English teaching circles because they have a mammoth task – looking everywhere for information. Like my husband, as you gain more knowledge, your interest in the subject will grow at the same pace. And as your interest increases, your fun in your job also increases and with it your personal benefits.

Personal benefits are manifold. Your job will become your hobby. And then you will find (like my husband and I) your hobby is your job and your job is your hobby.

  • Organising your work is easier too because you are focusing one area of expertise

When you focus and specialise, the information may intensify, but the administrative and organisational part of your job simplifies.

Your information and knowledge within your specialised field intensifies – almost dramatically. It becomes concentrated and specialised the narrower its focus. It simplifies because the information files you have to store and organise will reduce in scope and quantity. Your project or lesson aims are easier to develop because you stay within the scope of your specialty. The language vocabulary becomes rich in concentrated, specialised content; the explanations simplified by right of practice and use. And the realia?

You will have more time to develop your lesson realia. They become recyclable and durable and look more professional because you take more time to prepare them. And this will all add to your professional image as a specialist and expert in your field.

This simplified and yet more thoroughly detailed working environment you can adopt and make your own — in comparison to a generalist who has to cover all the English language in all its nuances, such as:

  • all levels of English language students (absolute beginners, from A1 to C2 levels)
  • all student ages (from the young to senior citizens)
  • all sectors of the English language (academic, business, tourist, school, exam, etc.),
  • all parts of the English language in itself (grammar, vocabulary, etc.).

Being a specialist simplifies your life!

How can you decide which ELT area you want to specialise in?

It sounds wonderful, this “simplifying your life business” doesn’t it? But how do you know which ELT area you want to specialise in? If you don’t yet know in which area to specialise, then this is the time to take pen to paper. Write down the traditional pros and cons of your daily life as a freelance English language trainer and teacher. It should cover all the aspects of your life as a freelancer:

  • your students,
  • your place of work,
  • the preference in your English knowledge, and
  • if you have picked up any particular expertise and knowledge during your life (job descriptions or hobbies that you can make use of).


So let’s summarise what we have just covered…

We discussed why it pays in many ways to become a specialist freelancer:

  • You will become a recognised expert in English language teaching or training you specialise in.
  • You can demand higher fees as a specialist.
  • You do the work that gives you the most fun or it is the most rewarding for you.
  • Your work organisation is easier as you are narrowing down into the areas in which you specialise in.

Your next step

Your next step is to sit down and make your list of pros and cons about your life as a specialist freelance ELTer. The rewards are worth your efforts – in your customers’ and students’ immediate perceived perception of your ability in your chosen field of expertise, and in the financial and time-saving rewards. All that remains now is deciding your choice of expertise.

You will be mapping out an incisive change to your working life. Either your job will become your hobby, or your hobby is your job.

Listen to the Audio in full

The 3 audios to “Are You Being Too Much Of A Generalist In ELT?”

Section 1: Are you being too much of a generalist in ELT (1)?
Section 2: What valid reasons are there to specialise in ELT? (2)
Section 3: How can you decide which ELT area you want to specialise in? (3)

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What Do You Think? Are you too much of a generalist? This is a subject that need not be restricted to only ELT! Do you have something you would like to add or say about generalisation in your freelance teaching work? Add your comments and suggestions in Leave A Reply Comment box below…

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