How to Teach English Abroad: A Starter's Guide
If you’re thinking of hitting refresh one of the the most important things to figure out is how to find work to support your new adventure around the world. What’s one of the easiest way to find work? Teaching English! Or so you may think. Teaching can be hard, scary, sometimes thankless, but it’s a wonderful and amazing opportunity for those who want to make a difference and see the world.
While I highly recommend hitting refresh to any woman who is considering a big life change, teaching may not be for everyone. Come find out if teaching is for you, how to get TEFL or TESOL certified, how to find a job, and what it’s really like to teach English abroad!
Is teaching English for you?
I’ve taught English abroad for a total of eight years and while you may be a native English speaker that alone isn’t all it takes to be a great teacher. Becoming an effective English teacher requires hard work and a deep understanding of your mother tongue.
You may be able to speak English, but can you explain English grammar or why we use certain phrases? Can you think on your feet and come up with real life examples? Are you comfortable entertaining a room full of students? Can you make learning interesting? If you’re unsure if teaching is for try to get some experience before investing a lot of time and money into getting a certification. There are a couple of ways to do this.
Check your city for any volunteer opportunities to teach English. Many cities have programs where you can offer your time to teach English to immigrants and refugees, another option is to volunteer with a literacy program.
Teaching online has become a big business and you can work as an independent contractor through sites such as Italki and Verbling. It often takes time to build your student load, but the benefit with these companies is that you can set your own price.
Other online companies such as VipKid hire you as an independent contractor but they will find students and pay a set fee. It takes time to build up your hours to make part-time or even full-time pay from online work. Some aspects to consider are if a college degree is required, if you’ll be teaching adults or children, which country you’ll be teaching to, the time zone, and if teaching material and lesson plans are supplied.
While online teaching may not be accepted as official teaching experience when applying to language schools or academies abroad, the virtual classroom hours are still useful for your own personal experience and confidence.
Ready to teach abroad?
So you’ve decide that teaching is for you, congratulations! Now you’ve got to decide if you want to teach adults or children. Both demographics have their pros and cons.
There are more jobs available for teaching children, which means you’ll have more choice of locations. It might be easier to get started with teaching children as companies are generally not as stringent about having a college degree or teaching experience. Often the work hours are better than teaching adults and perhaps it can be more fun.
However, it’s important to note that in some cases teaching children can feel more like babysitting than a teaching. And while the children may be nice, you might have to deal with their parents who may not be as nice. You may have a co-teacher, so you’ll need to be able to work well with others and open to different personalities and work styles. You’ll need to be comfortable being an entertainer; many of my friends who work with children have been asked to sing, dance and dress up for the children to make it more fun.
If you’re not a fan of children, teaching adults is a great alternative! Generally with adults you don’t have worry discipline and behavior problems, but it doesn’t come without its own challenges.
Adults can and will be more demanding and will complain to you and your boss if they are unhappy. Since most adults work during the day, you’ll have to accommodate their work schedule and commitments. Be ready for split shifts and spread shifts, I’ve very rarely had a block shift. It’s not uncommon to start at 7am and finish at 10pm with some downtime in between. You may have to work Saturdays as well.
Adults will ask challenging even weird or irrelevant language questions such as, what is the difference between neither and either? Or, what’s the difference between watch, see and look at? These seem easy, but understanding and knowing how to explain to the satisfaction of the student can be tough.
Getting certified. What’s the difference between TEFL and TESOL?
TEFL and TESOL are similar but not exactly the same. TEFL is a course and certificate designed for people who want to teach abroad in a non-English speaking country; TESOL is designed for teachers who will teach English in an English-speaking country to speakers of other languages. so if you’re looking to move to a foreign country, TEFL is the better option.
TEFL certification can be done online through a number of sites and courses range from 20 to 150 hours. I recommend doing a 120-hour TEFL course as this is the most common certificate requested by employers. The course involves a combination of online tasks and in person practice. I did mine through TEFL Scotland which is now TEFL UK. Wherever you choose to complete your course always research thoroughly before making the investment.
If you’d rather do an on-site course, you can get your TEFL certification in a foreign country. Often on-site is more expensive than the online course, but you get the benefit of cultural immersion. If you have time and money, it’s a great way to kick off your TEFL! One of the most popular courses that I know of is in Prague. An added benefit of on-site courses is that many companies will set you up with work after you complete your certification. Wherever you choose to study do your due diligence to ensure you’ve selected a reputable program.
In addition to TEFL and TESOL, there is also the CELTA and DELTA. CELTA is a course that is designed for teaching adults and is sponsored by Cambridge University. The DELTA is an advanced teaching qualification and requires CELTA as a prerequisite. CELTA and DELTA can be much more intensive and perhaps more respected than TEFL.
This doesn’t mean that it they are better, but they can have a better reputation and some employers request a CELTA. Training is typically a pricy month-long course that covers theory, grammar, and real classroom teaching experience. You can complete a CELTA in a variety of countries such as the UK and Thailand.
Now I’m certified! How do I find work?
Okay, now you’re ready to find work! There are so many amazing countries to choose from. Where to begin? Well, it can and should be based on your personal preference. Somethings to consider: do you want to be in a hot or cold location, a country where you can earn a lot of money, but the cost of living may be high or somewhere where the cost of living is low but so the pay is low as well, or even the type of school you want to work in.
Countries like South Korea and China often offer flight allowance and housing benefits, however, most companies in Europe and South and Central America do not offer these perks. Review all job offerings in detail and ask in your interview what benefits and assistance are provided. While you may need a contract in hand before going abroad, in some countries, especially in South and Central America, it can be easier to find work upon arrival instead of beforehand.
Keep in mind that there are legal requirements to take into consideration. Companies or schools may only request a TEFL or a CELTA, but immigration law may state that you need a degree, any degree, to get a proper work visa. I currently work in South Korea and a degree is a requirement to get a job here. Check the visa regulations for your country of interest to see if you meet the requirements. Unfortunately, age may be an inhibiting factor in some countries, but don’t let that discourage you! There are still plenty of opportunities to work in countries where there aren’t age limits or where age is respected.
Type of school
There are a variety of schools you can work in. These include schools where you will be an assistant or have a co-teacher. There are also International Schools, which pay well, have convenient work schedules and offer holidays, however landing one of these positions is quite competitive and you may need a teaching degree. Many schools claim to be international schools but not all are, so be sure to do your research before accepting a position.
There are private institutes where you can earn a lot of money but may have an inconvenient schedule and it can be difficult to get time off. Last, there are colleges and universities where you can teach English. Many require a master’s in education, linguistics or English. With so many options, deciding which type of school suits you can help narrow down your job search.
Where to find a job
There are a plethora of websites where you can find work around the world. If you decided to do TEFL through TEFL.org, they may help review your CV and connect you with a job board. I got my job in Korea through the UK TEFL website and they checked my CV over first.
One of the most well-known and used websites is Dave’s ESL cafe. You can search through their international job board, China job board and Korea job board. China and Korea are two of the most popular destinations and China has a huge amount of jobs available.
There are also recruiters that can help you find a job, but again thoroughly check them out in teaching English Facebook groups or online reviews. These Facebook groups are also good sources of information and resources.
You’ve got a job offer! Now what?
Congratulations! Next is deciding whether to take the job or not. While your first instinct may be to say yes, don’t feel like you have to take it if something doesn’t feel right. Another job will come along. However, if it’s the right fit and you decide to take the position make sure you’ve done your due diligence.
Teaching English is a huge market and unfortunately there are some bad apples out there that are looking to scam you. If any job asks for money, then it’s a scam, and you should not accept and definitely do not send them money.
Ask to speak to current or former teachers, if the company refuses, this should raise a red flag. Most companies and schools will provide contact information with permission of the teachers, so you can gain insight into what working there is like. If they are unable to provide any teacher references then you can assume they are hiding something.
Read online reviews and visit the company’s website, Facebook, and Instagram. There are also a number of teaching English Facebook groups that you can join where you can inquire about the school or company that has offered you a job. Check for TEFL groups that are located in the country of your job offer.
Working and living abroad is an experience that I wish everyone could have. I’ve been lucky enough to study and work in Spain and now South Korea, and am currently considering my next refresh. Both have been amazing experiences and I am so grateful that I have been able live abroad. It has helped me immensely with my understanding of myself and the world around me. Every day I learn something new.
As amazing as moving to a new country can be there will be challenges too. There are always pros and cons and you may prefer some things in your new country but find it difficult to adapt to others. You’ll likely experience culture shock or be home sick at some point. The way things work will be totally foreign and you may wonder why people do things that way. It can take a while to overcome your shock and get used to a new way of life.
For example, I love Korea but sometimes I get confused by the differences compared to my own culture. Here, language and culture is geared towards a culture of respect to your elders. In return the people who are older are supposed to take care of the younger people. However I’ve seen older people say and do rude things to a younger person just because they are older. No one says anything to them. I was once hit by an older Korean woman. I don’t know why as I didn’t understand what she said to me. She hit me several times and then walked off. Nobody looked or said anything about it.
You have to open to deal with what to you may seem like strange cultural ways, but you are guest in someone else’s country and this is how things work here. These different ways are also fascinating.
Culture will also affect your classroom teaching and how your students respond to you. Be open to your students’ learning style which may differ from what you experienced. Korean students study very hard and for many hours. They learn by rote so when you ask them why, they can’t always answer. Different countries will have different teaching styles and methods that you will have to adapt to.
The institution you work for will also have rules that you may not agree with. They will expect you to teach their method and it may be difficult for you to adjust to. My previous company would ask the teachers to change their lesson plans with little notice or would ask us to write a lesson plan or report within a few hours, even if we didn’t have a break. Often these lessons were never used but we still had to do it.
Teaching English abroad is an amazing experience where you get to know the people of a country, learn about their culture, and learn so much about yourself. As amazing as it is, it’s not always easy. But if you think that teaching is the job for you, I highly recommend it!
Website with a list of other online companies
TEFL courses and jobs
Information about countries for older TEFL teachers
TEFL Facebook pages
Specific country Facebook pages