Should you teach English abroad?

Why would you want to teach English abroad?

Do you think you have any of these qualities? Do you...

  • Possess a good knowledge of the English language, including grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation?
  • Have good communication skills in written and oral English?
  • Like interacting with people from very different backgrounds, ages, professions, etc.?
  • Know how to present knowledge, information and ideas while also being a capable listener?
  • Have the ability to adapt, create and use any available resources to teach your lessons in a motivating manner?

If you think the answer to any of these questions could be 'yes', then you may find a career in teaching English to be a very attractive and rewarding choice for you. Why? Because Teaching English as a Second Language offers those with the motivation, ability and background a great way to travel the world, learn about great cultures and languages, meet wonderful new people, and make a great salary - all at the same time. How? Simply by teaching English abroad.

Making Choices: Country, Age Group and Experience

There are some difficult choices ahead, though so you will need to choose carefully from the following list of questions:

  • What particular experience can you bring to bear as a teacher? Do you have a first degree? Is it a specialized degree? Is there further education, teaching certification or training as well? If not, what other experience do you have in the world of business, education, or science?
  • Do you know which country or culture you are more interested in? Perhaps it is something you studied at University or in evening class. Perhaps you know people from the target culture already. However, you came into contact with your choice of culture, you will need to know if you are comfortable in that culture.

Depending on your choices in the first two questions, you will find that some choices are more difficult and others much easier. For example, without particular training in ESL, in some countries a teaching position in a school might be very difficult to obtain. With relevant industrial or business experience, you may find it easier to teach within your industrial competence area.

Categories of ESL Students (by age)

Students typically fall into one of four general groups: Pre-school learners; school learners, university learners, adult learners. While each category covers a huge range of ability, backgrounds, etc, you may find yourself leaning to one or other based on your experience, talents and interests. Note, however, your role with each group of students will likely be vastly different.

  • If you choose to work with younger students, you will be teaching them how to learn about the world around them, their roles in that world, and how to communicate with others.
  • School learners will be covering the basics of language learning, social skills development, and much more. Within this context, you will be helping to provide them with a suitable context to develop their personalities, academic abilities, as well as their English skills.
  • With university learners, you will be improving all skills, especially reading and speaking skills. Reading skills are essential for students from many departments who must handle textbooks in their field written in English. Speaking for presentation, reports, tutorials, etc. is also essential as they seek to master fluency in English.
  • With older learners, such as business students, you will find them very focused on attaining specific goals or for specific purposes: passing an exam, getting a promotion, gaining entrance to a college or company, or doing an interview.

Not every teacher will excel at every level. In fact, most teachers have preferences for the groups of students they teach. Personally speaking, I prefer K2-K9 and students from University level and up. That reflects my interests, experience and ability range. Whatever group you choose when you decide to teach English abroad, you are sure to find people interested, motivated and willing to pay for a good teacher.

Basic Duties of an ESL Teacher

Whatever level or age you teach though, you will find yourself providing instruction in grammar, reading, sentence construction and all manner of grammar problems, developing writing skills, to name but a few items. Developing conversation skills will also be a priority as you teach students to speak quickly, accurately and clearly. Writing provides similar challenges, too.

For that, you may find that you need specific Teaching English Qualifications. Unfortunately, there is no global standard for qualifications in the ESL industry. They largely depend on where you are from and where you are going to be teaching. For example, ...

UK trainee ESL teachers

There are several certificates and diplomas issued by UK institutions that will help you get started if you are considering teaching in the UK or Europe. These TEFL courses provide training in all aspects of teaching English and provide sufficient classroom experience actually teaching the subject, unlike many Masters degrees. Similar courses can be found in Australia, New Zealand and Canada; and the qualifications are well-regarded within Commonwealth countries.

US trainee ESL teachers

Different states provide varying requirements for teaching English in the US. But if you wish to teach in community colleges or universities in the US, you will need an MA in TESOL before you even get to the interview. US qualifications are generally well regarded in Asia, and state certified ESL teachers are particularly welcome in many countries.

Other trainee ESL teachers

If you live in other English speaking countries, you may find that different qualifications are required from these. Do your research thoroughly wherever you are. Also, if you are a non-native English speaker seeking employment in ESL in another country, you will certainly face additional questions on your competence. Be prepared to prove your ability with as many pieces of paper as you can muster.

Be aware, though, some countries make it very difficult to hire you if your passport isn't from a country where English is recognised as a first or national language. Taiwan certainly has rules about this, and it prevented me from hiring a very competent teacher from Eastern Europe. I wasn't legally able to offer her any kind of contract because of her nationality and it didn't matter what her qualifications were.

Finding Employment

Check this site's resources page for more information on sites for teaching English as a second language (ESL). Spend time researching the top ESL sites for your target country, and check out job postings in the relevant newspapers, too. Even Craigslist now has ESL positions in the Education section of their job listings.

Checking Employment Laws

You will be arriving in a foreign country, and (perhaps for the first time) you will be a foreigner living in a foreign country. Things that you took for granted where you come from may be illegal, impossible or dangerous in your new home country - and vice versa.

Research your target country's employment laws carefully before you sign any contract with any employer. And do not pay any deposit on your contract: in many countries, paying to get a job is illegal. It happened to me in Korea; and it happens occasionally in Taiwan. In some countries, having one job is all your allowed to do; in others, you can hold down several jobs legally. Laws vary. Find out the local ESL teachers and read what they are saying.

That's what the Internet's for!

The Internet is perhaps the most effective resource for ESL and EFL teachers who love to travel. You can research your destination, check local prices, find employment opportunities, chat with people on the ground, and eliminate much of the risk of not knowing what is going on.

So start there! And remember, becoming a teacher and starting your career to teach English abroad is a great way to make money, learn about different cultures, and travel. Make the most of it!


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