Teaching English Overseas

GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE: Teaching English Overseas

By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter

The day I taught my first two English classes in Prague, I brought a couple of boxes of candy with me for an opening exercise. I figured that if I bombed completely, at least my students

Marisol teaching about birds and in English.
Marisol teaching about birds and in English.

would like the chocolate.

If you’ve ever thought about working abroad and you’re a native speaker of English, you’ve probably been told that teaching English is the easiest way to do it. While that’s true in some respects — finding work, proving your qualifications, breaking into the field — you should be aware of what’s involved before making the decision to do it.

Here are some things to consider if you’ve got the travel bug and think that teaching English abroad may be the way to satisfy it:
Where do you want to go?

Native speakers of English are highly prized in many countries around the world. However, certain places make it easier for certain “brands” of English. Citizens of the United Kingdom will find it relatively easy to get well-paid positions throughout the European Union due to easy work visa exchanges. Americans have a harder time in EU countries because of the reams of paperwork necessary to make them legal. Hiring a Brit is almost always easier. Does that mean that Americans can’t work in Paris? No, but it means that they will certainly have to work harder to do it legally.In some countries and situations, however, being American is an advantage. Most countries that do a lot of business with U.S. companies, like Japan, prefer the American accent.

In all, though, you should feel free to choose your dream location — but be prepared to research the working climate both for legal and linguistic restrictions.

  • How do you want to teach?

There are two basic ways to teach English abroad: work for a school or set up your own business. Advantages and disadvantages exist for both methods.There are several types of English schools, ranging from commercial schools that teach quickie English to businesspeople and others, to secondary schools and universities. A contract with a school usually carries most of the benefits that you would expect — health insurance, regular salary, vacation, payroll tax deductions. Moreover, schools will probably help you with the wrangling necessary to get your work permits and other legal niceties. Some schools also offer training and other perks like housing, transportation pay, and Internet connectivity. Your teaching day could range from 3 hours to 8 hours, depending upon the type of school in which you are working, and your contract length could be anywhere from one month to two years!

The downside is that if you sign a contract, you can be legally obligated to see it through: you can’t just quit any time you want to go travel. Read the fine print VERY carefully!

Working as a private teacher or tutor can be more lucrative, since you can eliminate the “middleman” of a school and charge what you like. You are also your own boss, meaning that you can set your own hours. That freedom has its pitfalls, however. Finding reliable clients can be tough, and you may find that you spend more time in unpaid marketing efforts than in paid teaching.

Additionally, if you want to become legal where you’re living, you’ll have to do it on your own — and some countries make it very difficult to get residency papers if you don’t have a traditional employer. If you decide to work without the required permits, you can be deported and/or fined, but hundreds (if not thousands) of people do it. It’s not at all uncommon and depends entirely on your own risk tolerance.

  • What are your skills?

While there are still some places in the world where you can show up and teach English without any “paper trail” of qualifications, those locations are dwindling in number. Most reputable schools require either a Bachelor’s degree (or foreign equivalent) and experience, a Master’s degree, or a TEFL certificate (see below). And even private clients in most countries will want to know what makes you qualified to be a teacher.If you are considering going abroad to teach, but don’t have one of the combinations of desired skills, consider volunteering at a local charity or school. Most cities have organizations that work with immigrants and need people to help. Some may even offer free training to interested volunteers. Volunteering will also give you an idea of whether you enjoy the work without making the move around the world to do it.

You could also teach English as part of a volunteer program overseas. These placements generally require no previous training or special skills and are short-term enough to give you a taste of the real thing. Check the GoNOMAD ALTERNATIVES LISTINGS for volunteer programs with English teaching.

  • To TEFL or not to TEFL?

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate and degree courses seem to be one of the fastest-growing businesses worldwide, probably because English teaching is such a big business. The courses range in length and complexity from distance-learning programs that may cost several hundred dollars to month-long intensive courses that can cost as much as several thousand dollars to two-year Master’s program requiring student loans.Whatever your location or needs, there is probably a TEFL course somewhere that fits the bill. The real question is whether you need it.

If you have a Bachelor’s degree and a little experience, you may find that jobs are relatively easy to come by, especially in Latin America and Eastern Europe. However, if you lack a degree — or if you want to teach somewhere that places more value on titles and certificates, as is the case in many Asian countries — you may want to consider making an investment in a course.

The other reason to consider a course is simply to gain skill in the classroom. Many schools throw you in without any training or guidance. Ideally, a TEFL course will give you some of the tools you’ll need to be effective as a teacher, which may be comforting when you’re staring down a roomful of eager students.

  • Where are the best resources?

GoNOMAD.com is a good place to start. There are also a lot of books about teaching abroad, but some of the best real-life info about it can be found on the Internet. Dave’s ESL Café daveseslcafe.com provides job listings, teaching tools, and inside views from teachers worldwide. Transitions Abroad (TransitionsAbroad.com) maintains a list of TEFL training facilities and contacts for teaching worldwide, as well as numerous personal accounts of teaching.

You may also want to visit teflboard.org to check out many different programs available around the world offering teaching certificates.

People who are actually teaching are probably the best resources. If you find a school or a country that interests you, try to find a teacher there who will correspond with you via email. They are your best bet for reliable info.

Just because you can speak the language doesn’t mean you can teach it. The most difficult thing about teaching English to non-native speakers is trying to explain complexities that you probably haven’t even thought about in relation to your native language. Why doesn’t “through” rhyme with “tough,” “cough,” or “though”? Why do we say “the wallet is in the street” but “the building is on the street”? Sometimes there isn’t an explanation to the questions students have, but you have to know enough to decide that.

If you like what you discover through your research, consider joining one of the many global nomads who use their tongues to travel! The financial rewards aren’t always great, but the personal growth can be. By the way, my students loved the chocolate, and they didn’t seem to think I was so bad either.

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