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Whether you’re a career teacher or love the idea of living and working overseas for a while, you can teach English abroad as an exciting way to immerse yourself in another culture while making some money and gaining valuable work experience. Best of all, there are many potential places you could work and plenty of different pathways into this career.
Read on to learn the key terms associated with teaching English abroad, whether you need TESOL certification or a TESOL degree, and the steps you should take to kick-start your career.
The world of teaching English as a second language comes with a planet-full of terms and acronyms! Many of them mean similar but slightly different things, although they can also be used interchangeably at times. Here are the most common terms you’ll come across.
English as a Second Language. ESL can refer to the teacher or the learner of the language.
English Language Learners. Simple, really!
English for Special Purposes. These “special purposes” might be business, study, or other factors that motivate people to want to learn English, beyond general communication.
Test of English as a Foreign Language. Standardized TOEFL tests measure the English-language ability of ELLs (see above!) who want to study at a university or institution conducted in English. TOEFL qualifications are accepted by many universities and colleges around the world.
English to Speakers of Other Languages. This is pretty similar to ESL but recognizes that English may not be the second language, per se.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Not to be confused with TOEFL, which is a qualification.
Teaching English as a Second Language. You might see this used in general terms, or as TESOL certification or TESOL degree to refer to a qualification.
So You Want to Teach English Overseas?
Idioms Native English Speakers Use
Not all jobs teaching English overseas require you to have a degree specifically in teaching English as a foreign language. Some countries, such as Japan, simply require that their foreign English teachers have a college degree in any subject.
However, if you know you want to make a career out of teaching English abroad rather than just do it for a couple of years, a specialized ESL degree will open doors. Not only will you be better at your job than many minimally qualified teachers, you’ll be able to work in universities in some places and may get paid more.
Linguistics degrees teach you far more than the basics of grammar. You’ll get a deep understanding of the way language is structured, which will be very helpful if you want to teach ESL. Many universities offer linguistics as a major or a minor subject, and some students combine linguistics with English or other subjects in the humanities and social sciences.
A linguistics degree alone won’t necessarily equip you with all the skills necessary to teach English, but combine it with a master’s degree in ESL teaching or a certification in TESOL, and you’ll be well qualified.
A bachelor’s degree in teaching or education is another stepping stone to a TESOL abroad career. If you’d prefer to work with younger students (elementary and high school age) then this is an appropriate pathway, especially if combined with a master’s or certification in TESOL.
Master’s Degree in ESL, TESOL, and TEFL
Many colleges and universities offer master’s programs in ESL, TESOL, and TEFL. They’re often a one-year program. The name of the ESL degree at your local or preferred institution may be different (master’s degree in TESOL, for example), but to give you an idea of the range of names these degrees take, check out this list:
- Master of Arts in Education (Teacher Leader), ESL Specialty, Campbellsville University, Kentucky
- Master of Arts in Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Education, University of Texas Permian Basin
- Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MTESOL), University of Canterbury, New Zealand
- Master of Arts English Language Teaching (ELT), University of Southampton, U.K.
An alternative to taking a whole degree or master’s in teaching English as a second language is to get an ESL teacher certification. These can often be done part-time, remote, or intensively, so you don’t need to dedicate years of your life to gaining a recognized qualification. This kind of certification is also ideal if you’re making a career pivot and want to improve your hireability as an English teacher abroad before looking for jobs.
TEFL, TESOL, and ESL Courses
TEFL, TESOL, and ESL certification courses come in many varieties. They may be conducted online or in person, and some may allow you to gain in-class experience. As when signing up for any kind of higher education, look at the quality of the institution before parting with your money. A random TEFL certification from an unknown online school that doesn’t offer classroom practice may be less worthwhile than a similar course run through a well-respected college.
If you’re itching to travel and don’t have a TEFL/TESOL/ESL certification yet, a good option may be to take one of these courses abroad. Resources like Go Overseas and Go Abroad provide a wealth of information.
Another acronym to learn is CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages. CELTA is accredited by and associated with the University of Cambridge in the U.K., one of the highest-ranked universities in the world. Therefore, a CELTA qualification is highly respected and likely to make you stand out from the crowd. You can take these courses in your own country at an institution that offers them, or abroad.
Choose the ESL certification that suits your circumstances and education. If you’ve already got a degree in linguistics, you’ll probably need a different type and level of certification than if you’re fresh out of high school and wanting to learn a new skill during a gap year.
Once you’ve chosen a course, follow the requirements as you would in any educational setting. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out! If you’re taking an ESL certification course in a foreign country, it’s also worth going the extra mile to study the local language, so you get a first-hand experience of what learning English will be like for your students.
1. Get a Degree
Although having a bachelor’s degree is not a requirement for all teaching English overseas jobs, it is for many. This is a competitive field, and most ELLs want well-qualified teachers. Your degree doesn’t necessarily need to be in teaching or linguistics, but it helps.
2. Get an ESL Certification
Wondering how to get TESOL certified, and if this is even a requirement? It’s not always. But if your degree is in a field unrelated to teaching or language (environmental science, say) then TEFL certification or another related qualification will prepare you well for teaching.
3. Find a Job
How do you find a TESOL job abroad? There are various ways to go about this. If you’re just finishing up at college, speak with your career center about opportunities. Large foreign language schools and their recruiters often advertise for teachers through universities, as they know this is an easy way for them to find entry-level teachers.
If you’re looking specifically for a job teaching in a college or university (which can be better paying and more suited to well-qualified job seekers), then check out resources like HigherEdJobs and Times Higher Education Uni Jobs.
4. Apply for a Visa
Once you’ve been formally offered a job, you’ll need a visa for your destination. Most reputable institutions will know and understand the requirements of their country and will help you through the process.
You will probably need a job offer letter and proof of sponsorship or support from your employer. You’ll also need a passport, certified copies of your qualifications, and sometimes police and background checks. You’ll probably have to pay a fee, too. Make sure you leave plenty of time for this process as it can take months, depending on the bureaucratic processes of the destination.
If your employer doesn’t help you with this process, then you should think carefully about whether you really want to work with them. Reputable institutions will understand that getting the right paperwork takes effort and should ideally make it easy for you.
5. Work Out Your Housing Situation
Moving to another country can be challenging, and house hunting in a foreign country in particular can be stressful and confusing. Many TESOL jobs will help you with this process, providing company housing for a fee (or even free, sometimes!) or setting you up with temporary homestay or shared accommodation until you find your feet. Again, if your employer doesn’t help with this at all, reconsider whether you want to work for them.
How much does an ESL teacher make? There’s no simple answer. The kind of salary you can expect as an English teacher abroad varies enormously, depending on the location and the kind of place you’re working in. Private language schools will pay differently than government-funded schools, which will pay differently than universities or business schools. Countries with lower salaries generally will usually pay English teachers comparably lower salaries.
Teaching English in a public school or a private language school in Nepal, for example, will only just cover your expenses and should be treated more as work experience than a way to save a down payment for a house back home. On the other hand, get a private university teaching job in the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, and you could make a pretty penny (and often a tax-free one at that). Places like Japan and South Korea offer a reasonable salary that is comparable to what you’d earn in a teaching job at home; you won’t be living large, but you’ll do OK.
In short, there’s no “average” salary for teaching English abroad, so consider your own needs and priorities, and the kinds of places you’d be happy to live and work.
The world is truly your oyster! There’s a need for English language teachers practically everywhere where English is not spoken or used as a first language. Even where English is a first language, there is some need for English-language teachers for study-abroad students or immigrants.
Some countries make it easier for foreign English-language teachers to get visas and jobs, however. In some places, you may only be able to get short-term visas, whereas elsewhere you could settle for life. Here are some popular places to teach English abroad:
- South Korea
- Hong Kong
- Costa Rica
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- Saudi Arabia
Each of these places offers very different teaching experiences, lifestyles, and salaries, so consider the whole package (and your priorities) before applying for a job.
Volunteer opportunities can be found in many other places, such as Cambodia, Nepal, Bolivia, Peru, and other low-income countries. In such places, the budget to pay foreign English teachers well may not exist, but if you’re looking for a different kind of life and work experience, volunteering can be rewarding. This might also be a good option if you’re straight out of school and only have a short time to spend teaching abroad.
If you’d like to teach English as a second language in a country where English is spoken as a first language, you may find teaching opportunities in language schools in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the U.K.
Teaching abroad is an exciting career option, that’s for sure. But is it the right one for you? Ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you thrive in unfamiliar environments?
- Do you find it easy to make new friends?
- Are you curious about the world and have an adventurous nature?
- Is career satisfaction important to you, or do you just want a way to make a living?
- Do you actually enjoy teaching?
- Do you have the skills and knowledge necessary to teach English, or are you willing to learn?
- Do you get homesick easily?
- Do you have a backup plan (and some savings) in case teaching abroad doesn’t work out?
Only you can answer these questions. It’s also important to remember that if teaching is your passion but you’re unsure about living abroad, teaching English as a foreign language is also possible in your home country. Exchange students, immigrants, refugees, and other people from non-English-speaking backgrounds in your community need teachers.
If you’d still like to teach English overseas, then go for it! It might end up being the biggest adventure of your life.
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