Working as an English Teacher Overseas

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By Ben Davies

The English language has become a medium for international communication in the fields of science, business and art. To meet this growth in use, many graduates have taken the step to move abroad in order to teach English as a foreign language. In many countries there is still a massive need for English teachers. So how can you become an ELT (English Language Teacher)?

How Can I Qualify to Become a Teacher?

Teaching English as a foreign language can be a complicated field to work in. A good qualification is an indispensable backing if you want to succeed in this field. The most common qualifications are TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and CELTA (the Cambridge English Language Teaching Award). These courses vary in length, but the most authoritative among them will be at least 120 hours in length and include some classroom teaching experience. Another popular choice is a ‘weekend TEFL diploma', or a TEFL short course. These qualifications, although very common, do not demand the same amount of respect as the lengthier courses.

A common Visa requirement (particularly in countries such as Japan and Korea) is that the applicant possesses an Undergraduate degree. It doesn't particularly matter what discipline your degree is in, but language and education degrees are always going to be more impressive if you intend to teach English.

If you are a graduate or you have teaching experience, another qualification you might consider is an MA in TESOL, which is a very well-recognised route into teaching English abroad.

Why Do It?

Teaching English has a number of benefits and advantages, not least the remuneration which, relative to the country one lives and teaches in, can be very high indeed. One of the major perks of teaching English is that you will be living and working abroad. For many English teachers, this experience is very enjoyable and rewarding. Nate, who has been teaching in Japan for a few years, says that the job "has many positive points and all-in-all it's pretty easy going." He finds learning about another culture to be a facet of teaching abroad which should be enjoyed to the full. The opportunity to learn a new language is another perk of teaching abroad that many find very rewarding. The effort and open-mindedness required to really experience the foreign nature of the work can open up new opportunities and enhance skills that are valued by employers.

How Can I Find Work Abroad?

Although there is a lot of work available in many countries around the world, filtering through the drossy advertisements can be time consuming. "At first", says John who taught English in Asia, "I spent hours searching the Internet for an ideal teaching position, but I soon found that I was going round in circles and that some of the advertisements were obviously of a dubious nature." However, various organisations have been set up to assist those who want to teach English, such as the JET scheme in Japan and the British Council's English teachers program, which has instructors in 18 countries (see the ‘Useful Links' section below). If you apply for a post through such an organisation the criteria is normally quite clearly defined. Many basic teaching posts are open to applications from people with no experience of teaching. Another option is to take up a voluntary placement. These non-paid positions are most common in African and South American countries. Organisations such as the VSO often advertise vacancies for volunteer teachers.

What To Avoid

The internet is rife with horror stories of people who have gone on TEFL positions, both paid and voluntary, only to be seriously let down by the reality of the situation. With any organisation that you make contact with, check their credibility and background as thoroughly as you can, whether it is an organisation that puts teachers in touch with schools, or contact directly with educational institutions. Also, read carefully any contract you are given to sign. Many teachers have been duped by fake organisations and contracts which are unduly binding. With some common sense and intelligent research these unscrupulous organisations can be avoided entirely.

What To Look For

Despite the prevalence of such nefarious institutions, finding work as an English language teacher abroad can be done. Research thoroughly the place to which you want to go. Post comments on TEFL forums to see what others have to say about the location in which you want to teach. Websites such as and have some invaluable information for jobseekers. Also, conduct some research into the typical salary for a teacher in the area. If you are looking for a placement in China, for example, there is a big difference between working in downtown Shanghai and a rural village in Guangzhou. The other criterion you should be aware of is the type of English you will be teaching. Is it technical English for business people? Or ABC's for juniors?

Wherever you want to teach, you will find a wealth of information online. Do some research and be clear about where you want to go and what you want to do. Above all, don't lose your enthusiasm for teaching and travelling.

Useful Links - Useful information and job advertisements for positions in Asia and the world. - The British Council's website for English language placements throughout the world. - Information on TEFL qualifications and jobs. - Voluntary Service Overseas advertises voluntary English teaching positions.

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