Difference between revisions of "Teaching English"
Revision as of 12:14, 20 November 2012
This article is a travel topic
One way to travel — or to pay for your travels — is to get a job overseas teaching English. If you want to spend several years in a destination, this is a popular way to earn a living.
Jobs worth considering as a long-term prospect — or even as a career — are widely available. They generally require qualifications and experience; see Certificates below. In many such positions, the benefits include airfare and housing, though there is great variation from country to country and by type of institution.
Other jobs might do to supplement a backpacker's income, or even let you live somewhere interesting for a year. For some of these types of jobs, especially in remote areas, anyone who looks foreign and speaks some English can get work. Again, details vary greatly.
Speaking the local language is not generally required, though it may be quite useful in beginner classes and may make your stay more pleasant in other ways.
The students are learning ESL (English as a Second Language) or EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). For the teacher, add a T for Teaching to get TESL, TEFL or TESOL, or just call the field ELT (English Language Teaching).
A recent trend in the field is to do a lot of ESP (English for Specific Purposes), designing custom courses depending on what the learners need to use the language for. One branch of this is EAP (English for Academic Purposes), preparing students for study abroad.
The widely-used English tests have their own acronyms:
Some ESL students may also need or want to take other tests to get into foreign universities. These are not ESL tests, but pre-admission tests designed for native English speakers. They include:
These are more commonly used in the US than elsewhere.
Teaching ESL (or any other language) has much in common with any other teaching, but also has its own unique challenges. Among other things, it needs some understanding of how language works, quite a bit of patience, and considerable showmanship, as non-verbal techniques, gesture, facial expressions, are needed to scaffold the weaker linguistic understanding of the learner.
Teaching English as a second language is significantly different than teaching English literature and composition to a high school class of (mostly) native speakers, though of course there is some overlap as well. For one thing, even intelligent adult second language learners make grammar and pronunciation errors on things any four-year-old native speaker knows; an ESL teacher has to teach and correct those. Also, you have to monitor and adjust your own English, speaking slowly and clearly, avoiding slang, sometimes explaining terms, and so on.
At any level, the teaching needs to be highly interactive. Too much talk by the teacher is fatal; you cannot teach language-using skills either by lecturing or (except in tiny groups) with a series of one-on-one interactions between the teacher and different students. You must set up situations for students to actually use the language. Often this means introducing some vocabulary and/or grammatical structures on the board or in a listening or reading exercise, then setting up some sort of pairs or group task where students can try it out. Various sorts of discussion, role-playing or game activities are often used.
A whole range of props are often used — maps to practice giving directions, newspaper clippings for reading comprehension or summary-writing practice, menus for a restaurant role-play, pictures for parts-of-the-body or parts-of-a-car, cartoons to provoke discussion, and so on. Sometimes the teacher must find or invent these; sometimes the school has a stock, as in the picture, or they can be borrowed from other teachers. It is fairly common for teachers working overseas to ask friends at home to mail them posters and other props, or to collect props themselves on visits home. If you are going abroad to teach, bring props or mail yourself a batch before leaving home.
Getting beginners started speaking English is difficult. Techniques include translation, mime, pictures, and a lot of repetition. With young learners, you may be able to make a game of it.
With intermediate students, you get questions that strain your knowledge of your own language. If "He doesn't have much money" is OK, what is wrong with "He has much money"? Which is better: "a big red balloon" or "a red big balloon"? Why? Is the other incorrect or just unusual? Training and grammar reference books can help here, but sometimes the answer is just "That is the way we do it."
For advanced students, especially in ESP settings, you may need considerable knowledge beyond the language itself. For example, to teach business English above a certain level, you must know quite a bit about business.
A major part of the ESP approach is needs analysis, figuring out how your students will use the language. In some situations, needs analysis is a formal process and courses are written to order for specific groups. Often, however, the teacher just does an informal analysis and finds or invents exercises to suit a class.
Consider a company somewhere that exports products to English-speaking countries. The engineers might just need to read manuals and product specifications in English; they might never hear, speak or write it. Marketers might need to read the quite different language of orders and contracts, and to both read and write emails in much less formal language. Some of them might also need to talk with customers. Executives might need to handle complex negotiations in English — a task that requires not only excellent spoken English but also business skills and an awareness of cultural differences. Ideally, each of these groups would get a different English course.
Anyone contemplating more than a bit of casual work in this field should seriously consider getting some training. Training can make it a good deal easier to survive in a classroom and can help you be a better teacher. A certificate may make it easier to get a job, or to get one of the better ones. Also, in some countries a degree is legally required to get a working visa; there is some hope of negotiating your way around this if you have a TEFL certificate, but almost none without it.
There are a number of different ESL/EFL teaching certificates available.
Most programs include some classroom experience and can be completed in one to three months.
There is no such thing as an international TEFL accrediting body. Masters' degrees are the only actual accredited degrees or certificates, and few positions actually require those, mainly due to the tremendous demand for English teachers and the very short supply.
Short of a Master's, a Cambridge or Trinity certificate is the most marketable qualification to have, though requirements vary in different countries and teaching institutions.
If you plan to make a career in the field, consider more advanced training such as a diploma course (Cambridge DELTA or Trinity DipTESOL) or a Masters degree. These are required for many teacher training or head of school jobs and for some of the best teaching jobs.
Quite a few universities offer ESL/EFL training, often both a Certificate program and a Master's degree. A few offer a Master's program designed for teachers working overseas, with most work done by correspondence.
Popular destinations for paying English teaching jobs include
Worldwide, ESL is a major industry. In any of the areas mentioned above, there are both ESL programs in public schools and universities and quite a few private schools. In some places it seems there is a language school on every block. Japan's eikaiwa ("conversation schools") range from small schools to major chains; both hire native speakers from abroad. South Korea's hagwon, China's buxiban, and schools in many other countries do the same. Demand for teachers in some areas is enormous. Dave's ESL Cafe breaks recruiting ads into three groups: Korea, China, and anywhere else. Checking on a random day (not in the peak hiring season which is around July for a September start) there were over 50 new ads in the previous week for China, over 100 for Korea, over 50 for the rest of the world. Some of those employers advertise more-or-less continuously, some have many jobs on offer, and Dave's is by no means the only site with jobs, so overall demand is very high.
There are a few places where it is difficult to go as an ESL teacher. Some countries, like North Korea, are almost completely closed; others, like Burma are just opening up after decades of being closed and might be quite interesting but perhaps still difficult. Your own government may forbid you to go to others; for example, an American cannot legally teach in Cuba. Jobs are occasionally advertised in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, but taking such a post would be too risky for most. It is also difficult to go to English-speaking countries. Australia does not need Americans to teach them English, and vice versa. There are ESL jobs in those countries — mainly teaching immigrants or foreign students — and some might be open to foreigners who meet the visa requirements (see Working abroad and country articles), but they do not recruit abroad or provide expatriate benefits as ESL jobs elsewhere do.
With those exceptions, there are ESL jobs almost anywhere. There are plenty of jobs in all the areas listed above and some in almost any non-English-speaking country. Areas like subsaharan Africa and the Pacific islands do not have huge numbers of jobs, but they do have some. Given reasonable qualifications (preferably a degree and TESL certification), the question is more "Where would I like to go?" than "Where can I find a job?".
There are many factors to consider in choosing a destination. Some prefer a destination not too wildly different from home, perhaps Western Europe; others want to go somewhere really exotic such as Mongolia. Some might want both, a basically European civilisation but still fascinatingly exotic: perhaps Peru or Prague? Any of these are possible. Some jobs are in major tourism centers such as Thailand or Rio, others in out-of-the-way but interesting places like the Maldives. Areas such as Japan and the Middle East often offer higher salaries, but in terms of buying power you might be better off with lower pay in a low-cost country such as Cambodia or Bolivia. The same applies within countries; major cities often have higher pay than rural areas, but higher expenses.
Language can be a major factor. If you already speak a foreign language, it will be relatively easy for you to live in a region where it is spoken. Some teachers choose a destination partly because of a desire to learn the language, or to improve their language skills. This often implies a preference for countries where an important language is spoken — Russia rather than Finland, or China rather than Mongolia. Teaching in Latin America may appeal for many reasons, not least because Spanish or Portuguese are much easier for an English speaker than Arabic or Chinese. It is also somewhat easier for speakers of European languages to learn English than for speakers of unrelated languages; both students and teachers still have to work at it, though. See also university programs below and language tourism.
Places like Singapore, Malaysia or Hong Kong offer a nice combination. There are jobs for foreign ESL teachers, but many local people speak English well so these places can be much easier to live in than elsewhere.
In India there are few jobs for foreigners to teach English; plenty of Indians already speak excellent English and some of those are trained teachers. There is, however, one fairly large exception. India (especially Bangalore) has many call centers for Western companies outsourcing customer support work. Those centers routinely hire fairly large numbers of people — mostly American/Canadian English speakers, but some for other accents or languages — as accent and cultural coaches for their phone workers. They prefer to hire people with ESL training and/or experience. The money is very good for India, but these tend to be fairly high-pressure jobs like anything in a call center. Also, the hours are often rather odd; you need to be on duty at whatever the peak times are in the clients' time zones. If the clients work 9-5 New York time, then your day runs 7 PM to 3 AM in Bangalore.
In the European Union many employers prefer to hire teachers from Britain or Ireland because citizens of those countries do not need work visas. Some employers are reluctant to hire anyone who does need a visa.
For country-specific information, see the Work sections of country entries. For some destinations, see also Tips for travel in developing countries.
Pay and conditions
Nearly all ESL jobs that hire from overseas include worthwhile benefits. A free apartment is typical, though some employers offer only a room in a shared place. Most contracts are for a year, though some provide salary for only a 10-month school year. Most include annual two-way airfare home, or at least some money toward the cost. University or public school jobs often have quite long holidays.
Language teachers typically do not get the high salaries and juicy benefits package that an expatriate sent by a company to work in an overseas branch would. In particular, education for any children you have may be a problem. International schools are generally quite expensive and few employers (except in the Middle East) cover this. The local schools may not suit your kids.
In lower income countries a language teacher's pay is generally enough to live well there, but not much by the standards of higher income places. For example, $1000 US a month plus a free apartment lets you live quite well in China; local teachers are making much less and paying rent on their apartments. You can afford to travel some in the holidays, even visit nearby low-cost countries like Vietnam. However it would be almost impossible to pay off debts back home, or to plan a trip to Japan, on that income. Korea, Japan or Taiwan have higher salaries, enough to save some despite higher living costs.
It is also common for schools to hire locally for summer programs, for part-time work, and sometimes for full time employment. These jobs often have fewer benefits than the overseas-hired posts.
The best pay for language teachers is generally in the Middle East. They can afford to be choosy, though; most jobs there require a degree and TEFL certificate, and some require an MA. Some jobs in Japan and Western Europe also pay well, but living costs are high.
There are also some highly paid jobs training oil workers; usually these involve an on/off cycle — 42 days working long hours then 21 days away or some such — with the employer paying a flight out every cycle. Most of these want good qualifications — typically degree, CELTA and five years experience.
For most classes, considerable planning and preparation is needed to produce reasonable quality lessons. A language teacher's workload is generally 15 to 20 contact hours a week; with preparation time, marking, staff meetings and so on, that is a full time job. Generally, there are some extra-curricular activities as well.
There are exceptions. With small advanced classes, sometimes all you need to do is start a discussion. Preparation consists mainly of choosing a topic; students just grab it and run. Or for some classes, you may be given a carefully laid out program with a textbook, student workbook and sometimes even presentation slides provided; such courses require less preparation. On the other hand, some schools will just dump you in the deep end ("Here's your class; teach it!") with no materials, and sometimes with other problems like no photocopier or Internet, or a class where students have wildly different levels of English. In those cases, you put in quite a bit of extra time.
There can of course be problems with this. It is fairly common for employers to want up to 25 classroom hours a week, and some want you in the office at other times. Some schools push the extracurricular stuff too far, requiring a lot of (usually unpaid) additional duties. Some rent their teachers out to local schools, which often means you have quite a lot of (usually unpaid) travel time. At some schools, nearly all classes are on evenings and weekends, or "split shift" schedules (where you teach say 9-11 in the morning then 7-9 at night) are fairly common. The worst schools may have several of these problems together; they tend to burn out teachers, to be unable to keep staff, and to be continually advertising jobs. Beware of such schools!
On the other hand, some teachers assume that showing up for class is all they have to do, wandering in with no preparation and inventing a lesson plan as they cross the threshold of the classroom. Expert teachers can pull this off occasionally, but making a habit of it or trying it without a lot of experience generally leads to disaster. Teaching ESL is not just part of your holiday; it is a demanding job and needs to be taken seriously.
There is some risk in taking any overseas job.
If you travel somewhere and then look for work, you avoid some of the risks but you incur expenses. Also you may miss out on benefits; free housing and annual airfare home are more-or-less standard when hiring from overseas, but less common for local hires. Finally, you will likely not be able to get a working visa in advance since you don't have a job. Depending on local regulations, this may be a minor detail or a major hassle.
On the other hand, if you are recruited from half a world away, it is hard to know exactly what you are getting into or who you are dealing with. Most teachers end up just fine in their overseas jobs, but problems are common enough that being careful is absolutely necessary.
The lowest risk jobs are the government-run recruiting programs described below; these can offer a safe way to get your feet wet. Other government-run places, such as universities and public high schools are also relatively safe.
Some factors indicate higher risk:
That said, thousands of teachers are having a wonderful time in jobs with one or more of those risk factors. Some are perfectly happy in jobs with all four! Be aware of risks and use a little caution, and you should be fine.
Check Wikitravel and other sources for information on the location. Do a web search on the city name along with terms like "pollution", "corruption" and "gang"; you might expect a few hits for almost any city, but if there's a big problem, this may turn it up. If having modern conveniences and Western food is important to you, check websites for major retailers like Ikea or the European supermarket chains Metro and Carrefour to see if they have stores there. Ask the school to email you photos of the accommodation and classrooms.
Checking on the job and the employer is harder. The most important precaution: Ask to talk to current foreign teachers before agreeing to anything. Be extremely wary of any school that will not let you do this.
You can also check the web for comments on potential employers or on recruiters. ESL teachers are a chatty bunch, and mostly literate, so there is a lot of information available. Most of the job ad sites have forums that include comments on available jobs. There are also many country-specific forums offering school reviews or just a blacklist of problem schools. Take reviews with a grain of salt, though; even quite a good school may have a few angry ex-employees ranting on the web. Look for other web comments and talk to current teachers before drawing any conclusions.
Looking for work
Many web sites offer English teaching jobs, including Gold Star TEFL Recruitment , Dave's ESL Cafe , Teach Away Inc. , Footprints , TEFL.com , Happy Cats TEFL  One of many employment discussion lists is TESLJob . See also the training section above; sites listed there with indexes of courses also have jobs ads. There are also many sites for specific countries or regions; see the Work sections of country listings.
Some recommend that one should travel to the part of the country you want to teach and get to meet and interview with some of the staff. Many times a series of photographs can be misleading as to what an area or school might look like. Traveling to the city will allow you to see the buildings and streets, understand whether or not the location is a city or countryside, get a feel for the housing and school conditions available, and maybe even talk to existing ESL teachers about their impressions and suggestions. For most people this is not a good option as it costs a lot of money and many haven't really decided the exact location for their work.
Another option is to narrow down your areas and then send out letters of interest with your resume included. This option does require sending out many letters with the expectation that a lot of places will not have openings at this time. Since it is well known that most job openings never get listed in papers or web sites, there is a very good chance you will turn up a great opening that otherwise would never have appeared in media. I lived in one city in China that has more than 15 schools that hire foreign ESL teachers and I have never seen any ads listed on Dave's or other sites for at least 8 of them.
Within some countries the State, Province or other entity in charge of education for many cities will also assist schools in finding staff. Contacting the education department directly can at times surface names of schools needing foreign ESL teachers.
TESOL  publishes journals (available in university libraries) which carry job ads, and provides an online job hunt service. Their annual conference includes a hiring fair. IATEFL  are another professional organisation with similar services. Both organisations have regional affilates in many areas. Like most academic organizations TESOL is more applicable to teachers of TEFL at the university level where service involvement is required for tenure and promotion and the vast majority of TEFL teachers have no involvement with such academic organizations.
Teachers in many countries have established ELT teaching associations. Like any other job search, networking and finding the people who are "in the know" is a great way to find a job or to learn more about local conditions:
At the very least, read the appropriate site to get a feel for the issues that are important in the country you wish to work in. You may also discover who are the leaders locally and what is currently important. Having this information ready will help with any interview. Some sites will link to posts for job notices. Look for conference announcements and plan a visit; these are excellent chances to look for work.
Governments of destination countries
A few countries have government-run programs for recruiting foreign teachers:
These generally take new university graduates and do not require teacher training or experience. However, you may be posted to a rural school where you're the only foreigner for miles around — great for experiencing local culture, not so great if you wanted to move in with your girl/boyfriend in Tokyo/Seoul.
Governments of English-speaking countries
The British Council  is the British government's educational and cultural department. Among other things, they are the largest English teaching organisation in the world, running schools in many places.
The Council also handle recruiting for various foreign governments' English programs. Say Elbonia needs a few dozen teachers; the Council will advertise, collect resumes, and produce a short list of candidates. For the actual interviews, senior Elbonian staff can fly to London and use Council facilities to interview, or the Council can handle the interviews too. For many of these jobs, the Council also provides some guarantees for teachers; if a corrupt school official steals your pay or you need to bail out because of a revolution in Elbonia, you have some recourse.
Council jobs can be searched on their web site or look for ads in the Guardian and the Times Education Supplement or Higher Ed. Supplement. Some, but by no means all, of their jobs are restricted to British citizens. Most interviews are in London. British Council schools may also hire locally wherever they are, but these jobs usually do not have benefits like airfare and housing that the London-hired ones do.
The US State Department also has an English teaching program . Another program , paid for by government and run by Georgetown university, sends teacher trainers and other experts abroad; it requires a masters degree and US citizenship.
Other ways to teach abroad
There are many other ways to live abroad. See Working abroad for some details. Here we cover those that involve teaching.
Teachers from other fields
If you have teaching qualification in your own country — but as, say a biology or history or even English literature teacher — then many English teaching jobs will happily accept you, though some will want an ESL certificate as well.
With such qualifications, consider looking for work at International schools. These are for the children of expatriates. As a rule, the fees for such schools are paid by companies who send staff abroad; both their standards and their pay rates are similar to those back home, or a bit higher. They generally demand the same qualifications as primary or secondary schools back home. Pay and conditions are generally much better than language teachers get.
There is some variation in the qualifications wanted. All want certified teachers, but some restrict that to certifications from a particular country or even state, while others will happily hire certified teachers from anywhere in the English-speaking world. A few will also hire well-qualified ESL teachers — typically degree and CELTA — without schoolteacher certification. Many international schools also look for two years teaching experience in addition to formal qualifications.
Many of those schools teach the International Baccalaureate program, so one way to find them is through the IB site . Other ways include asking embassies and companies with many expat staff. A web search for "international school" plus the name of a country or city will also turn some up, but be aware that "international school" is sometimes (at least in China, possibly elsewhere as well) purely a marketing term, used in promoting any school that teaches some English.
Certified Montessori teachers can also find work in many countries.
Holders of graduate degrees in other academic disciplines may also find work in foreign universities teaching their subject in English (content-based instruction). Many universities hire foreign faculty to teach English fluency in conversation or writing classes. Such jobs at the lower end may be little better than private institutes for pay or treatment, but some universities may seek out foreign faculty with graduate degrees in TESOL, literature, or composition/rhetoric as assistant professors and lecturers.
Teaching other languages
Of course English is not the only language for which there is demand. There is some demand for teachers of any major world language.
Various governments sponsor organisations to promote their nations' languages, and offer jobs for speakers of those languages.
Many Western universities offer some sort of year abroad program, often in co-operation with a foreign university. For students of the language or history of some remote part of the world, these may be a fine opportunity. Typically there are fees which you would not pay if you went on your own, but on the other hand you get credits from the Western university for your foreign studies.
There are two main types of program; examples here are from China but similar things are available in other places.
Volunteer positions are usually for a shorter term and may or may not include room and board. For details see Volunteer.
Online teaching materials
Many sites offer teaching materials, lesson plans, or related ideas.
There are several Wikis for English teachers:
All have lesson plans and teaching materials as well as more general articles.