How to Teach English Abroad

May 11, 2012 · 8 comments

Teaching English is a popular method of earning money abroad in order to help fund your travels, as well as opening exciting opportunities to live and work abroad for extended periods of time and start a new unexpected career (trust me, lots do!).

I’ve fallen into teaching English a few times, mostly to help fund my travels, and although it’s not made me rich (I don’t think many people have got rich from teaching English come to think of it), it certainly did its job of extending my travels and keeping my abroad and fed.

Sneaky picture of one of my classes

** Note: I used to recommend Nomadic Matt’s book in this post but he has since removed it from sale and no longer supports it, so you will have to find an alternative now. I have removed links from this page to it for that reason too so if something doesn’t make sense that is why.****

To really get full details of how to do this, I recommend Nomadic Matt‘s book ‘How to Teach English Overseas’, not only does this cover the basics, but it has extensive details on some of the more popular destinations including insights from different and excellent people who’ve taught in each part of the world, including me, I helped contribute towards the teaching in Japan section, some more of my experiences can be found in this post.

Firstly a quick review of Matt’s ebook – It’s well worth buying if you want to explore this route. From qualification requirements (see my notes below), to how much it costs to live in your country of choice, it’s got a whole lot going for it. The specific country guides it offers (in my copy anyway, newer copies may offer more) are as follows: Argentina, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Dubai, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and Ukraine. It also has interviews with people who worked in Ghana and Honduras too. So as you can imagine the 186 page bible of English teaching is comprehensive enough to get anyone started.

Because it’s an ebook, it’s well priced and you can stick it on your kindle or similar ebook for reading on the plane to your adventure destination of choice too. It’s nicely laid out, updated occasionally (free to download the latest version) and easy to read. My only criticism is the editing (my own submission had a few poorly worded flaws that I wish I could correct) and it could do with a better index (i.e. to find the specific countries faster). The actual information and book itself is fantastic.

Anyway, onto my own guide that I’m humbly and generously giving out for free (or is that bad business sense / in need of more website traffic?)

Qualification Requirements

None. Well not always anyway. In fact the biggest qualification you need to being from a native English speaking country. Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada or that one below Canada for example.

There are many courses for the qualifications (TEFL is the usual abbreviation meaning Teaching English as a Foreign Language), CELTA and TESOL are the most respected. They are also the most expensive and difficult to get. For the latest prices and location to learn them near you, I suggest Googling them to find out as it will vary a bit.

I did a 3 day (weekend) TEFL course which got me a bit of paper I could have made myself on word. The course was however quite useful, and at £120 (if my memory serves me correct) it was worth doing just to get a feel of what teaching is going to be like and if it’s for you. Hint: It’s not as bad as it first seems.

If you’re not a native English speaker then it will be more of an uphill battle. And I do feel sorry for you, but maybe you can teach your native language instead? I have met many non-native English speakers with a far better grasp of the language than my own countrymen (including myself at times), so it is a shame, but life isn’t fair.

It’s also worth mentioning racism here too. If you’re of asian descent (but native English speaker) for example and wanting to teach in Asia, you’ll have a bit more problems getting jobs than someone white or black, and when you do, you’re probably expected to know the country your teaching in language better too. It’s to do with being authentic. In the same regards a lot of schools want native English speakers for teachers more than a non-native qualified and experienced teacher. Nothing’s impossible, but it’s worth mentioning. A lot of places (especially in Japan) want a photo with your application form for this reason.

Many schools require certain qualifications, I’ve met plenty of teachers who lie about this and don’t have it checked, but be sure you’re up to standard if you’re going to do this. I don’t recommend trying to get in a top end private school and lie about everything if it’s your first English job, but I’m not saying it doesn’t happen.

As well as schools the countries have certain requirements for visa’s. In Japan for example you need a bachelor degree to get a work visa. This is something that is hard to get around legally, but there are 2 ways. 1. Get a spouse visa – i.e. get married to a native person of your country of choice. 2. Get a working holiday visa. Some places won’t take on working holiday people, so choices are limited (in the same respect, a lot of schools won’t sponsor a work visa, they just want to take on people who already have one, and can continue it from a previous job as its less paperwork for them). I wrote before on getting a Japanese working holiday visa, so more detail can be found there. Each country has their own rules so you’ll need to research that more deeply yourself (or buy Matts book above).

Choosing a country

This is a matter of personal taste above anything else. Although sometimes financially driven, in which case Taiwan and Korea seem to offer the best wage / lifestyle cost from what I’ve seen. I’ve usually chosen the country to teach in as being the country I am in. I am one of those hated travelling teachers who do it to fund travels rather than out of a passion for teaching, so that’s how I’ve done it previously. Otherwise I suggest just picking a country you want to visit, and then work out how to get the job after.

Finding a job

Now you’ve decided to take up teaching abroad, have some sort of qualification and picked the country, you need a job. There are generic websites like Daves ESL cafe for finding teaching jobs abroad anyway, and more specific ones for each country (again, Google or Nomadic Matts book are your friends here). I found most of mine through searching job boards, one-on-one teacher/student matching services and connections with friends. My partner got me a couple of jobs here in Japan too by searching on a Japanese social network.

While there are many styles of jobs (one-on-one), teaching in a school classroom, children’s play school (see my video below), and even random things like naval ship teaching (see my first photo in this post), you will have to choose what suits you best. Personally I don’t like to stand in front of a class and lecture a lot of people, it’s impersonal and I think a poor way of learning, but a job is a job and you might not have the luxury of being picky here.

It’s worth reading over the terms of agreement too. Especially when it comes to time off (something we all treasure), most people concentrate on money, but it’s not the most important aspect usually in my experience. I took a job with GABA a big Japanese one-on-one teaching company (get paid per lesson, not for my time, they provide the students…) and quit my comfortable (regular wage, food and accommodation included) job to do it and move to one of the most expensive cities in the world (Tokyo) to find that after my 3 day (unpaid) training period they decided they didn’t need anyone in the area I applied for so didn’t want to keep me. This royally screwed me over as you can imagine, so it’s worth remembering that. Also don’t work for companies that rhyme with ABBA…

Working the job

The final part is showing up to do the job. Good luck is all I have to say here, all jobs are different so there is not much more to say here. Just make sure you get what your contract says you will and give the students the lessons they deserve, as bad teachers are only going to ruin their chances of improving their English if it’s not something you have a genuine interest in doing. Lets not forget, when at work, you’re there for them.

Finally…

I’d like to add this video of a a English lesson I did with a start up company in Japan, it was fun, interactive and educational for the children, and they got to play freeze-tag too! (Freeze tag: stand still when someone touches you, to unfreeze, someone has to run between your legs). This is not most people’s idea when they think of teaching English abroad, but it was one of my most enjoyable experiences.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Crate rentals May 11, 2012 at 8:33 AM

I really like Nomadic Matt’s book. A friend is teaching English in Bangkok and he has read this book before. I know it is not so easy to be a teacher and I admire their job. I want to wish best of luck to everyone who are doing it.

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AdventureRob May 11, 2012 at 5:25 PM

It can be difficult, I think a lot depends on the students and the school (if there is one) involved. One of my lessons which comes to me was when a student was literally silent the entire time and couldn’t muster up a word, I didn’t have a clue what to do!
AdventureRob´s latest blogpost – The 2011 Japanese Earthquake – 1 Year On

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jennifer May 18, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Very interesting post, this information will surely enlighten every one of us to linked with English language effectively…

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AdventureRob May 18, 2012 at 3:38 PM

Thanks very much. It is a scary prospect, but thought I’d sprinkle some light on the subject.

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Amber May 31, 2012 at 12:43 PM

I have been considering teaching abroad for quite some time, as I am majoring in English and soon will graduate, I really wanted to explore new cultures and places, as earn something out of it. I was told about the programs of Fulbrait and was thinking in that direction, but am going to definitely get me a copy of the book by Nomadic Matt and check his points out! Thanks a lot for informing me!

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AdventureRob June 1, 2012 at 12:31 AM

Being an actual graduate of English will give you a lot more options and the ability to command the highest paying jobs too. You should probably combine it with a teaching certificate to maximise that potential.

Most places don’t care for the English degree, which is why you can step up and go to those who do (and pay better). You’ll want to look at international schools which typically pay double the average teacher wage in countries like Japan.

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josie June 9, 2012 at 9:06 PM

Thank you so much Rob, you’re a blessing…. for sharing your experiences and advice..

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AdventureRob June 10, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Thanks, you’re welcome

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