If you have researched teaching English abroad, you will no doubt have found that the information available online is both extensive and probably a little confusing. This complete guide to teaching English abroad will help you make sense of the mountain of information and help any prospective teacher get started on the right path towards TEFL certification abroad and international employment.
What is TEFL?
The worldwide standard of qualification for teaching the English language is a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), or a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). TEFL commonly refers to teaching English to non-native speakers in a non-English speaking country, such as teaching English to Spanish students in Spain. TESOL is defined as teaching English to non-native speakers in an English speaking country, such as teaching French waiters living and working in the United Kingdom. Despite this small difference, TEFL and TESOL are generally used interchangeably and either certificate is accepted by the vast majority of employers worldwide.
Benefits of TEFL
Many people ask, “Do I even need a TEFL certification to teach abroad?” In the past, it has been possible to turn up in a country with no teaching qualifications or experience and find an English teaching job simply because you are a native speaker. While this may still be true to some extent, the vast majority of employers who are offering a reasonable salary and good working conditions now expect their teachers to possess some form of qualification.
Think of Your Students. To be an effective teacher it is advisable to gain some kind of instruction before entering the classroom. While you may feel you are capable of teaching English without any guidance, the reality is that planning and delivering well structured and effective lessons requires a considerable amount of specific skills and knowledge.
Teachers who are not qualified generally create around three times as much work for themselves doing the wrong thing and at the end of the day, it’s the students who suffer. Many students pay a lot of money for English language lessons (in relative terms) and they deserve a teacher who knows what he or she is doing.
A good quality TEFL course will provide you with a sound understanding of the structures of the English language as well as the skills and confidence to deal with issues, such as lesson planning, needs analysis, and discipline in the classroom. Bottom line, you may be able to find a teaching job abroad without a TEFL certification, but it will likely be at a lower wage, in a more difficult work environment, and your students may not get the education they deserve.
Who Teaches Abroad?
In the modern age where international borders continue to open and worldwide travel is ever more accessible, people of all ages and backgrounds are able to live in another country and teach English abroad. For many young people leaving university or college, the idea of travelling to far flung corners of the world to experience new environments and cultures has always been popular. However, this is far from the only demographic taking the TEFL certification route. For many people, from all walks of life, the opportunity to leave behind a job that is not fulfilling in favor of world travel and personal fulfillment is very appealing. There are many surprising benefits to teaching English abroad no matter what your age or stage of life.
Thousands of people every year see earning a TEFL certification as the perfect way to make a clean break and set out on a new life path. For some, this may mean a short spell volunteering as a teacher in a developing country, which is a fantastic way to gain life experience while also providing a much needed service. For others, it is a longer term option of starting a new life living and working in countries all over the world. The bottom line is that there is no typical TEFL student as everyone has their own reasons for embarking on the TEFL journey.
Choosing a TEFL Course
A quick search online for TEFL certification can lead to instant confusion; there are thousands of options! So how do you choose which TEFL course is right? What makes a TEFL course legitimate? Unfortunately, there is no one, clear answer, but there are very important things to keep in mind when looking for a TEFL certification program.
Hours Matter. Course lengths vary from as little as 20 hours up to 250 hours and beyond. Obviously a short format course will be the cheapest option, but many employers will only recognize certificates of at least 120 hours. If you are planning to volunteer or are simply looking for insight into English teaching, then less hours can be sufficient. For anyone hoping to earn a good salary or work as an English teacher in a more popular destination, a TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours is recommended.
Style Options. Providers generally offer the choice of online courses, in-class courses, or a combination of the two. Online TEFL courses are the cheapest and most flexible option and they can usually be completed in your own home at your pace. The downside is they do not include practical teaching expeirence which can be a problem for those without any prior teaching experience.
In contrast, in-class courses are usually a fixed period of intensive training (typically four weeks), which includes guided English teaching practice with real students. This type of course is great for instilling confidence in your teaching abilities and learning the skills and techniques required to operate your own classroom. However, the downside is they are considerably more expensive than online TEFL options.
There is little doubt that an in-class course is the best option for preparing a novice teacher for the demands of working in their own classroom. If you have sufficient finances and time then taking an in-class, on-site TEFL course in the country or region where you intend to live and teach English abroad can be the perfect choice. However, if a lack of funds or time to commit is a problem, a 120-hour online course operated by a well respected course provider will still give you all the theoretical knowledge required and can offer a genuine start to a career teaching English abroad.
Where Can I Teach?
The range of teaching jobs abroad available to you with a TEFL certification is surprisingly large. The majority of teachers will find themselves:
- Teaching in a standard classroom format in either a school, university, or language academy
- Private tutoring to small classes or in private homes
- Providing in-house teaching for large corporations, or teaching specific curriculum within a business
Once you have gained experience and maybe a higher qualification, such as a TEFL diploma, you will be able to apply for more prestigious ESL teaching jobs abroad, such as director of studies, teacher trainer, or curriculum designer. It is also quite common for TEFL graduates to further their English teaching careers by undertaking study within the mainstream teaching profession. Regardless of your long term plans, a TEFL certificate can open doors to many different careers and lifestyles.
Career vs. Year. It is often said that ESL teachers are in it for the travel and life experience and not for the money. This is often true, but for others it is also a serious career choice and earning a good salary is important. The good news is that it is entirely possible to find English teaching jobs abroad with high salaries and generous bonus packages, in several parts of the world.
If you are primarily focused on making money, look to the Middle East, South Korea, and Japan. Teaching salaries in Saudi Arabia can reach up to $4,000 a month and you can expect to earn around $2,000 to $3,000 teaching in Japan or South Korea. These positions will be more structured and demanding as well. For those who are less interested in salaries and more focused on travel and adventure, then the world is your oyster – just spin a globe and point your finger. Teaching jobs in South America or Southeast Asia will typically pay around $700 to $1200 – enough to live comfortably, but not for big time savings.
Whatever your reasons for considering TEFL certification, there is certainly a suitable TEFL course available to suit your needs. While it is not strictly essential to have a certificate to gain employment in some countries, completing an internationally recognized TEFL qualification will greatly improve your chances of landing your dream job teaching English abroad.