How to Become an English Teacher Abroad
Teaching English as a Foreign Language – TEFL FAQs
Some of these points we covered in the previous sections, but they are common doubts amongst newcomers to the world of TEFL. If your question isn’t answered then use the comments section at the bottom and we’ll get back to you.
Do I need to know the local language to be an English teacher abroad?
No is the answer to this in the vast majority of cases. Of course it helps if you know a bit, but lessons can and in the opinion of many in the profession should be solely in English. You can use various prompts and materials to explain what you mean and even with weaker students it is relatively easy to get your point across with a bit of persistence.
Is it better to apply for TEFL jobs from abroad or once you’ve arrived at your destination?
It’s much easier once you’ve arrived but that doesn’t mean you can’t start looking before you hit your planned destination. Send out CV’s to schools and you should at least be able to arrange a couple of interviews for when you do arrive. For more on this see the finding jobs section.
I’m not a native English speaker. Can I still teach English?
Yes. Non-native speakers have the advantage of having actually learnt the language from scratch in a school environment so you may be able to relate to your students better than a native speaker. Schools generally prefer native teachers but if you have a high level of proficiency there are still plenty of opportunities for non-native English speakers. There is a quick English test on TEFL247 that will give you an idea if your English is good enough to teach.
What is a typical background for an EFL teacher?
Truth be told EFL teachers come from all sorts of different backgrounds and given that it is very easy to get into and pretty much any English speaker can do it, there is no typical path into it. A typical TEFL course or TEFL workplace will consist of people aged anywhere between 18 and 65 and probably from a variety of different countries. People from the UK, USA, Australia, South Africa and Canada have an obvious advantage but the demand for teachers is very high and there are probably just as many non-native speakers who get into TEFL as there are natives.
I am really bad at English Grammar! How can I be expected to teach anyone?
Even if you think you are good at grammar there is a whole lot that you probably don’t know yet that you need to, in order to be an English teacher. This is one of the main reasons why you need to do a TEFL course and grammar is a big part of it.
Many new teachers feel the same way to begin with and many experienced ones still struggle with it from time to time. In answer to the question, you just have to learn it which can be a daunting prospect as you encounter a whole heap of new jargon. It will change the way you think about your own language!
Non native speakers often make better grammar teachers because they have gone through the process of learning it from the beginning rather than native speakers who pick it up naturally without thinking about it.
How Much Money Can I make teaching English?
You are never going to get rich from teaching English (unless you start your own language school) but it’s generally quite easy to find work. Pay varies from city to city, country to country and continent to continent and ultimately comes down to simple demand and supply. If the demand for English is high, but few teachers want to live/work there then wages will be high (e.g. Korea or Saudi Arabia where business with Western nations and companies is booming so people need English but few teachers want to live in a hot desert where they can’t get drunk at the weekend). Somewhere like Thailand that is a more popular place for foreigners to live, has high demand for English thanks to a huge tourism industry but also has a high number of English teachers so wages aren’t anything amazing but enough to live very comfortably.
In truth, although the job is pretty similar wherever you go, pay varies greatly across the world. In Latin America for example teaching wages are on the face of it extremely low yet will just about cover your living costs. Pay in Europe is much higher but so are living expenses so you’ll do well to save much money while teaching in Europe. The real money is to be made in Asia, where working for 6 months or more in Korea or China for example should leave you with some sizeable savings to go travelling on or take back home. In English speaking countries, jobs are much harder to come by if you don’t have much experience but there is still a market. Summer camps in the UK for example are fairly easy to get into and offer excellent potential to save up some money all be it over a short time period.
In the Where to Teach section we provided a summary of some of the better paying countries.
Will I be teaching mostly adults or children? Which is better?
Depending on your school you could be teaching anything from a group of middle-aged business people to a class of screaming 4 year olds and sometimes both on the same day. Many teachers enjoy the diversity that brings while others have their preferences. Kids and teens can be hard work but have lots of crazy ideas so it’s often more enjoyable and they have lower expectations and are less likely to complain. Adults behave but are more reserved and expect to actually learn rather than have fun! It’s good to experience both sides of the coin and you’ll quickly know which one you prefer.
Can I just quit after a couple of months if I want to visit somewhere else?
Well yes. Like any job you can quit if you don’t want to do it anymore but you will almost certainly be asked how long you intend to stay for during your interview. It’s up to you how honest you want to be and we wouldn’t condone lying but many teachers do. A lot of English Schools around the world do tend to have a very high turnover of staff but as we mentioned in the previous section it’s pretty dishonest behaviour and doesn’t reflect well on you.
If you don’t feel as though the school is treating you well then that is a totally different matter. In an industry where it’s very easy to find work, the ball should be in your court and you should be looked after. Don’t let schools bully you around.
I’m not sure I’m ready to teach but I’ve heard of people working as an English Language Assistant. How do I do this?
There are language assistant programs that you can join and some schools actively hire them. You don’t need a TEFL course for this but will probably need a degree or be in the process of getting it. Most language assistants tend to be in their 20s. If you are a Brit have a look at the British Council’s Language Assistant programme. In some countries (Spain is a good example) you can also pretty easily get on their own governments language assistant programme by turning up in the country and making a few enquiries. There aren’t nearly as many opportunities for assistants as there are teachers but if you can get a language assistant role it’s quite a nice job but not normally that well paid.
How much work is involved in TEFL?
Almost everywhere roughly 20 hours a week of teaching should cover your living expenses. 20-25 hours is generally considered full-time in the TEFL world but some at least basic lesson planning and travel time between classes means it’s not the always the cushy job that it might sound like. It’s generally speaking not difficult work once you’re used to it and can be quite rewarding but it’s not for everyone. Teaching children and unruly teenagers can be tiresome. Adult classes tend to be easier but they will expect to learn and will get annoyed and drop out if they don’t!
What is a typical day or week like as an EFL teacher?
It depends what type of school you work for. Some language schools have all the classes on site. Typically you might work say 4 or 5 days a week with an evening schedule of 4.30pm to 9.30pm. Many classes are scheduled late because the students come after work or school.
Alternatively you could be teaching business or after-school classes in which case you may have to do a lot of travelling between classes to different locations. Your school should pay for your transport if this is the case. A few schools require you to teach Saturday morning classes (usually to kids). Try to find a job with at least two consecutive days off which allows you to get away and travel at the weekend.
A typical day might consist of you getting to school an hour or so before your first class to plan and prepare materials or attend meetings. Then you can be teaching for four or five hours with the odd break in between classes. Classes can last anything from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the school and the type of students.
Can I teach privately?
Yes. You will probably make more money too per class but students can be unreliable. It also takes time to find students and you don’t benefit from the resources that many language schools have. One to one classes can also be pretty hard work but it’s good money if you can build up the contacts and keep your students happy.
This article was published in September 2014.