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How to teach English abroad

Interested in teaching English abroad? We discuss your options for teaching English as a foreign language and provide you with tips to get started.

Teach English abroad header

Did you know that 20% of our global population are English speakers? This high percentage equates to 1.5 billion people, so it’s not surprising that the demand for English language teachers is huge. It’s estimated that 250,000 native English speakers work as EFL teachers around the globe, dispersed across over 40,000 different schools and language institutions.

Maybe you’ve always known you wanted to teach, or maybe you’re just looking for an opportunity to volunteer your time for a short period of time, and teaching abroad seems like the perfect option. Whatever your reasons, teaching English abroad can be a hugely rewarding experience.  Try our How to Plan and Teach Great English Lessons ExpertTrack with the British Council if you want to get a headstart before you begin teaching.

It’s not without challenges, but teaching English abroad could be a great option for you if you’re thinking about starting a career in teaching or you’re passionate about the English language and learning about new cultures. In this article, we’ll discuss the skills you need to succeed, everything about TEFL qualifications, where you can teach abroad and how to get started.

What skills do you need to succeed as an English language teacher?

As long as you’re passionate about helping students learn English, and you have some training, there is potential for you to be a great EFL teacher. However, there are some skills and qualities that it’s advantageous to have when thinking about teaching English abroad:

  • Great English language skills. This is pretty important, as you need to be able to explain how the language works to people who don’t understand it. You also need to have a fairly wide vocabulary and be able to correct spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Communication & presentation skills. You don’t need to be a confident performer, but you need to be comfortable with presenting in front of a group and communicating with people you don’t know. 
  • Empathy. English is not the easiest language to learn, though you may not realise it. Therefore, it’s essential that you can empathise with your students when they’re struggling.
  • Patience. Learning a language is no quick task, and so you need to be patient both with your students and yourself. Don’t expect results too early and don’t be down on yourself for not having a noticeable impact at the beginning.
  • Flexibility. This is especially important when you’re teaching children, as you will have to amend your lesson plans to suit the class. They might get stuck on something in particular or need an energy boost, so you’ll need to be open to changing things around.
  • Creativity. In most cases, you won’t need to speak the native language of your students, so sometimes you’ll need to be creative in order to teach them things. You might use drawing, miming or games in order to help them learn.

Skills for non-native speakers

Most EFL teachers are native English speakers, coming from countries such as England, the US or Australia. However, you don’t need to be native if your English is very good and you’re passionate about teaching English abroad. You will need to consider a few things though:

  • Fluency. You’ll need to be pretty much fluent in English to become a teacher, in speaking, reading and writing.
  • Accent and comprehensibility. If you’re not native and you have a very strong accent, this might affect your chances of getting hired, because employers want their students to learn the proper pronunciation of English. You’ll need to be able to explain things well in English, in addition to being fluent.

What qualifications do you need to teach English abroad?

Before you get started, you’ll need to know whether you’re qualified to teach in your desired country. It’s one thing to have the relevant skills and passion, but it’s also very important to have the correct training before you teach others. 

Can you teach English abroad without a degree?

One of the first things you need to know is whether you need a degree to teach English abroad. The answer depends on the country, but in most cases, a degree is not necessary. Instead, it is just expected that you have a good grasp of the English language.

This doesn’t mean that you can get a job teaching English abroad with zero experience, however. Most people earn a TEFL qualification or at least gain some experience by volunteering in schools or tutoring. Additionally, teaching English abroad has become more and more popular over the years, creating a competitive job market, so an English or linguistics degree might give you an advantage over others.

There are a few countries in the world where you need a degree to be a TEFL teacher. If you have your mind set on Japan or South Korea, you’ll need to be a graduate in order to qualify for a visa. It doesn’t matter what you studied for your degree.

Everything you need to know about TEFL

Now you know that most employers require a TEFL qualification, you probably want to know more about it, starting with what you’ll learn. The course content will depend on which provider you choose, but you’ll usually be taught:

Can I teach without a TEFL qualification? 

It’s not an absolute necessity in all countries, but you’ll definitely find it a lot easier if you do have a qualification due to the saturated market. You can also expect to be paid much less if you don’t have any qualifications.

Even if you do find a job where you don’t need a TEFL qualification, we’d still advise you to get one. This is because TEFL qualifications teach you all the skills and techniques you need to succeed as a teacher, and you’re more likely to help your students if you’re confident and knowledgeable. The only reason you might not require one is if you have a lot of teaching experience already, or you have a degree in education.

How do I get TEFL certified?

There are several routes to achieving a TEFL certificate. Generally, they require between 100 and 120 hours of coursework and 6 and 20 hours of live teaching practice, so keep that in mind. How long this takes depends on how much dedication and time you have. 

It can be done in a very short space of time, but it’s advisable to give yourself around 6 months to complete it. This way, you have time to take everything in and prepare for your teaching abroad experience.

Below we’ve detailed how you should go about gaining your TEFL qualification:

  • Research your options. Take a look online, research different companies and check reviews. There are so many different TEFL certifications now that you have to watch out for red flags. This includes making sure the course is accredited and meets the minimum requirements for hours of training and teaching practice. You also need to decide whether you want to complete the course in person or online.
  • Apply. Once you’ve found a course you like the look of, it’s time to apply. Often this just means paying for the course online.
  • Study. It’s time to put in those hours! Read everything, explore different teaching techniques and get passionate about the journey ahead.

Is TEFL hard to pass?

Not many people fail TEFL courses, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to. The best thing you can do to ensure you pass is put in all the hours and dedicate yourself to understanding all of the content. If you do that, you shouldn’t find it difficult to pass. However, it’ll be much easier for you if you have a passion for reading and writing.

Certain dodgy TEFL courses might be easier than others, but generally, if a TEFL course is known to be unreliable by employers, this might hurt your chances of getting a good position or better pay. This is why it’s important to do your research before committing to a course.

How much does a TEFL certificate cost?

The cost of a TEFL course depends on the type you choose:

  • Online TEFL course: £100-400
  • Blended TEFL course (with classroom and online teaching): £200-500
  • CELTA course: £1,000-2,000

TEFL vs CELTA

Oftentimes when people want to teach English abroad, they’re looking to teach children. However, there are also plenty of adults wanting to learn English abroad, and you may feel that you’d be more suited to teaching adults. The CELTA course is the best place to start.

CELTA stands for Certificate in Teaching English to Adults, requires 120 hours of study at the minimum and requires you to be over 18, with further education qualifications and good written and spoken English. The course is moderated by the University of Cambridge and is one of the most well-recognised TEFL courses out there.

You may have also heard of TESOL and TESL courses, but these aren’t so relevant for teaching English abroad. TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language, and both certifications are normally used for teaching non-native students English in a native English country. So if you’re looking to teach in a non-English speaking country, you may want to stick to TEFL or CELTA.

How much does it pay to teach English abroad?

Here we discuss the kind of pay you can expect for teaching English abroad, and also the main types of opportunities people seek out. Depending on what you want to get out of this experience, there will be a perfect option for you.

Working as a foreign language teacher

Salaries vary hugely depending on which country you teach in, which is perfectly understandable as you have to consider the wealth of each country. Generally, you should be able to live comfortably on your TEFL salary, as the wage should reflect the cost of living. However, it is well known that teachers don’t earn a lot, so don’t expect to live a life of luxury.

Your salary will also depend on the experience you have. If you’ve taught English abroad before, you can expect to be paid more than if you’re a complete newbie. Additionally, having a degree might mean you can expect more pay from some employers – though this isn’t a given.

Volunteering abroad

Perhaps you’re not interested in teaching abroad for money, and instead, you’re looking to volunteer. In the TEFL job market, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer abroad to support schools in need of English teachers, who don’t have the funds to employ international teachers. By volunteering in schools that lack money and resources, you could help students get better jobs in the future by teaching them English skills.

Often, when you volunteer as a teacher, you’ll be provided with accommodation and sometimes food, so it won’t be a costly experience. It’s also a great chance to gain experience and see whether you might be interested in teaching abroad full time, or if it’s more of a one-time learning experience.

Are English teachers in demand?

English teachers from abroad are most certainly in demand, though the particular demand will depend on the country. Since English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, people from a lot of countries benefit from learning it, and this is unlikely to slow down any time soon.

Which countries need English teachers?

Brazil. There is an extremely high demand for English language teachers in Brazil due to a boom in business and tourism. You won’t need a degree, but generally, you’ll need a TEFL qualification.

China. You may need a degree to obtain a visa, but the demand in China is very high. Approximately 1,000 new English teachers are hired each month and about 300 million people in China are learning English.

Mexico. Mexico is always hiring English teachers, and you’ll just need a TEFL qualification and no degree. You’ll even be eligible for a work visa once you’ve accepted a position.

Cambodia. Tourism in Cambodia has been growing for several years now, and this growth has increased the demand for English teachers from abroad. Neither a degree nor experience is a requirement, but it’s recommended you have a TEFL certificate.

South Korea. One of the most popular places to teach English abroad, working in South Korea can earn you a decent paycheck. Similarly to China, you need a degree to get a visa and they hire about 1,000 new English teachers a month.

Russia. If you want a really unique experience, head to Russia to teach English, where the demand for teachers is growing. A degree won’t be needed but make sure you have a TEFL qualification.

Japan. Many people choose to teach English in Japan, where the pay is good and demand is high. You’ll usually need a bachelor’s degree, and a TEFL qualification is recommended. 

Spain. If you want to teach English in Europe, Spain is the most popular option. Madrid has a huge job market for native English speaking teachers, and you’ll need both a degree and a TEFL certificate.

Should I go on a scheme or look for a job privately?

If you’re not sure where to start, there are some excellent schemes available to help you find work. One example is the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, which is a professional international exchange where native English teachers can become Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and assist Japanese teachers in schools.

However, you can also directly contact schools that have job postings with your resume and credentials. This method is better if you want to choose exactly where you want to teach, and it can be useful to begin building personal relationships with the school you’re going to teach at. Oftentimes, programs will randomly allocate you to a specific city and school.

Is teaching English abroad worth it?

Teaching English abroad can be a big commitment – you have to earn a TEFL qualification, move away from home and dedicate yourself to helping people learn a language. But is it all worth it? We think so. Teaching English abroad creates so many amazing learning opportunities.

You get to learn effective teaching strategies, immerse yourself in a new culture, meet lots of new people and even learn a new language. If you’re seeking personal and professional development, as well as the chance to improve the lives of others, being an EFL teacher could be an excellent choice. 

How difficult is teaching English abroad? 

As with every job, there will be challenges to face while working as an EFL teacher. It can definitely be a struggle at first to communicate with students who can’t speak the same language as you, but you’ll figure out ways to communicate with each other and build on your teaching skills over time.

If you’re working in a country very different from your home, it is common to experience culture shock. This can be described as a feeling of disorientation in your new country and can include feelings of homesickness, heightened excitement, anxiety or constant comparisons to your home country. It can sink in immediately, or even a few months after you’ve lived somewhere.

To help with symptoms of culture shock, there are a few things you can do. You should learn as much as you can about the country before going there, try learning the local language, keep in touch with your friends and family regularly and take opportunities to meet new people. Our  Intercultural Communication course will help you communicate with people from other cultures more easily. 

It is also quite likely that you’ll experience reverse culture shock when you come home if you’ve been living in the country for a year or more. You might regret coming back, feel as though you don’t belong anymore or feel overly critical of your country. Again, time and support from loved ones are the best treatments. 

Are there opportunities to travel?

There will definitely be opportunities to travel while you’re abroad, and this is often one of the greatest appeals of teaching abroad rather than in your home country. Of course, often you’ll be working full-time hours, so you can’t expect that your TEFL experience will only consist of travelling. You need to go into the experience knowing that teaching will be your priority,

However, you’ll have weekends to travel and explore, plus usually a certain amount of holiday you can take off work. Additionally, you’ll get to explore the new place you’re living every day, which will help make your life exciting even when you’re busy at work.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, we’ve provided you with all the information you need to get started preparing for your experience as an English language teacher abroad. If you’re looking to get started as soon as possible, you can even teach English to non-native speakers online. Our Teaching English Online course is the perfect place to start if you’re interested. However, it looks like travel will be back to normal by next year if you want to teach in person. Why not start getting ready now? Your teaching adventure awaits.

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