Teaching English Abroad

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Douglas from DeVry University asked:teaching english abroad

“How can I get into teaching English abroad?”

Thanks for your question, Douglas. Teaching English in a foreign country is a great way to immerse yourself in another culture, test the limits of your education skills, and learn a lot yourself! There are several paths to certification and ultimately teaching that depend on where you want to go, and the type of experience and training prospective employers are looking for.

Where and who do you want to teach?

Your certification and application path depends on where in the world and which type of student you’d like to teach. Elementary? High school? University? Adults? Would you be happier at a public school, or private? Rural or urban? Even within a country there are different school systems and districts that may have different hiring policies and demands.

Some countries have a higher demand for English teachers than others, and if you have your heart set on a destination with a low demand, you might have to work a little harder to find a teaching position. While your training program may assist you with placement, you will have an easier time and greater choice of schools by choosing a high-demand country.

Spend some time thinking about your personal preferences and comparing the pros and cons of different regions and school systems before looking into programs and training.

Utilizing a program, or going it alone?

There are many all-in-one language programs that will cover your training and assist you with placement in your country of choice. Go Overseas is a good place to start, and lets you compare programs by country or type of certification. This can be especially helpful for first-time teachers, since you would otherwise be on your own to get situated in a foreign country. Applying for a work visa, finding a place to live, setting up banking, building your support system and social group in a non-English speaking country can be a daunting task!

If possible, inquire with the corresponding foreign language department on your campus, and ask if they have a preferred program or can put you in contact with other students who taught abroad. Your school may already have a relationship with a program, or career fairs on campus. Investigate the information already available to you as a student.

You can of course take it upon yourself to facilitate your journey abroad, and after you complete your required certification courses, there are a number of free job boards and resources at your disposal.

Required skills

Most foreign English teaching jobs require a certificate, which can be completed online, through a placement program, or locally. Some programs require at least a BA, but not all, and it largely depends on the demands of your employer school. A background in education can add to your skill set and can make you stand out as an applicant.

Some programs and employer schools have a preference for one certificate over others, so be sure to check on what you’ll need before enrolling in a qualification program. There are a few different kinds of certificates:

  • TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This is the most common and widely used certification internationally. It provides skills needed to teach students who do not speak English as their primary language. TEFL has a minimum 100 hour training course, though 120 hours of training is commonly expected.
  • TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language. This qualification is for teaching students who do not speak English as a primary language, but are currently living in a native English speaking country.
  • TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers Of another Language. This is a newer certificate path, and combines aspects of TEFL and TESL. TESOL is more commonly issued by British, Canadian and Australian training centers.
  • CELTA – Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. University of Cambridge’s branded certificate program. It is the equivalent of the TEFL certification.

Being a foreigner – things to consider

Lets say you chose your country, nailed the training program, found a great school and have moved across the world to start teaching. Now comes the most challenging part of your career path!

Living alone in a foreign country, especially if English is not commonly spoken, can be a taxing experience. All the social cues and rules that are second nature at home are useless here, and you’ll have to slowly relearn how to operate as a citizen in your new home. Ordering in a restaurant, shopping for groceries, washing your clothes, setting up your phone plan, taking out the garbage – everything has to be relearned. As a result, some teachers feel increasingly isolated, and eventually break their contract and return home before the school year is done.

In order to combat culture shock and home sickness, it’s vital to cultivate a support group of friends and other foreigners who can sympathize with your unique situation and provide support and guidance. There may be other foreign teachers at your school, or popular hangouts where ex-pats gather. Seek out forums, online resources and social circles for expats and set yourself up for success when you inevitably feel homesick for your favorite junk food, or frustrated by your inability to wash your clothes.

Best of Luck!


About the Author

Esme Smith

Esme received her M.A. In Counseling from St. Edward's University, and worked with students at Concordia University Texas' Career Center. She developed a passion for Career Counseling after leaving undergrad without much guidance, and grappling with unsatisfying work. She strives to help others bridge the gap between graduation and "the real world."

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