Study Abroad

Teaching English Abroad: What to Expect

Teaching English abroad is certainly one way to fund your life, travels, or studies abroad. If you’ve given the idea of teaching English abroad considerable thought, but feel like you want to know a little more about what to expect, this article will give you some additional insight.

If teaching English overseas is something you’ve only just started looking into, consider first familiarizing yourself with the basics of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification.

TEFL : Renato Ganoza

Are you required to speak the students’ language?

Although language requirements vary by employer, English teachers are not typically required to be fluent in the students’ native language. The only language requirement employers usually have is that all English teachers be native speakers or fluent in English.

In my experience teaching English in Spain, I was asked in an interview whether or not I spoke Spanish. At the time, I could speak some Spanish but I was by no means fluent. When I explained this to the potential employer, she told me that was not a problem. In fact, she explained it’s sometimes better if teachers are not fluent in Spanish because students try to rely on speaking Spanish with their teacher, rather than practicing English. Of course this is just one example of an employer, but it just goes to show that your knowledge of English is typically a potential employer’s primary concern.

How hard is it to find a job?

Luckily the demand for English teachers abroad is relatively high and with the right qualifications, finding work can be relatively easy. However, you should familiarize yourself with the job market and which countries have the highest demand for teachers in order to increase the likelihood of landing work overseas. Here are the top ten countries for teaching English in 2015, according to the International TEFL Academy:

  1. China
  2. Spain
  3. South Korea
  4. Italy
  5. Turkey
  6. Chile
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Colombia
  9. Nicaragua
  10. Thailand

Some TEFL certification programs offer job searching assistance once you have completed their course, which is something to consider when searching for a TEFL program.

In many cases, the best and most effective way of finding a teaching job overseas is to search online. Many countries have websites similar to Craigslist, such as SegundaMano in Spain, where employers post ads looking for English teachers. Other websites like ESL Cafe and TEFL Job Seeker allow you to search for English teaching jobs by country.

Based on my own experience, the best way to increase the likelihood of having a constant stream of work is to try and secure employment through a few English language academies that offer business and private classes in the area. The benefit of working for these academies is that once you are hired on, you won’t have to look for clients yourself. Your employers will assign you classes based on your availability and location. When employed by more than one academy, your options are likely to be much more expansive, and will help you build your ideal schedule.

What does a typical work week look like?

Don’t expect to work 40 hours a week. Your hours will vary based on a number of factors, including travel distance, classes and pay rate. Unless you find a full time job at a school, you can expect to teach several classes and private lessons in various locations around the city you are living in.

Full-time work varies by country and location. For example, according to Oxford TEFL, a full-time teaching schedule is 18 hours in the Czech Republic and 25 hours in Spain. This may not seem like a lot at first glance. However, if you consider the fact that those hours are spread between six or seven classes or lessons on opposite sides of the city, and that you will have to use time outside of class to plan lessons, it ends up reflecting the 40-hour week to which many of us are accustomed. 

Final thoughts

The opportunity to teach a wide range of students, from children in at-home private lessons to adults in business courses can be rewarding. Some positive aspects of my own teaching experience include:

  • The ability to create long-lasting friendships with students (I still keep in contact with some of my students after six years).
  • The opportunity to learn quite a bit about the local culture. Through interacting with students on a daily basis, you will quickly pick up on cultural differences that exist between you and your students. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on your own cultural biases and to become more open-minded.
  • Very reasonable pay per hour, with usually a higher pay rate for classes that are further from the city center. Although pay rates vary by country and city, you can typically expect to live fairly comfortably on an English teacher’s wage.
  • The chance to travel to other countries while working as an English teacher. Many English teachers take advantage of extended holiday seasons during the winter and summer when classes are much less frequent to travel to other countries in the region.

Photo: Young students learning English. Credit: Renato Ganoza / Flickr

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.