TEFL 101: What You Need to Know About Teaching English Abroad

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by All Star Staff

world globe signifying teaching english abroad
world globe signifying teaching english abroad

If you’re armed with an education degree and are an adventure seeker, teaching English abroad is a ticket to international travel. Plus, because the cost of living in other countries is often lower, it can be easier to save money. This makes teaching abroad particularly attractive to recent college graduates who want to quickly pay down student loans.

In addition to being so widely spoken, English ranks first in the business world, therefore many want to learn it to advance their careers. In fact, the British Council predicts that as of 2020, two billion people will be using it-or learning to use it.

In Mexico City, students are eager to speak English but also nervous, according to Shirley Helm, a volunteer teacher from Seattle. Because of this, she has tried to create a safe and comfortable environment for her students to learn and practice their speaking skills.

“In return, I have seen Mexico through their eyes and experienced things I would not have otherwise,” she said.

“I have had the best time introducing my group to English idioms, new vocabulary, humor and life in the U.S. from a Pacific Northwest perspective,” Helm said. “It is a rewarding experience and one I highly recommend!”

What else can you expect as an international English teacher? Read on.

Some schools may only require you to be a native English speaker, but most prefer advanced education and training. But don’t give up hope: Those without degrees might qualify for volunteer programs.

Bachelor’s Degree
Most schools expect at least a bachelor’s degree-and although the area of study won’t hold you back, having an education degree and being a certified teacher makes it easier to land good jobs with higher salaries.

Master’s Degree
In some regions, particularly the Middle East, a master’s degree, national or state certification, and prior teaching experience can put you ahead of the pack-especially if you have an accredited certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). In fact, most schools worldwide prefer TESOL or TEFL certification.

TESOL and TEFL Certification

Earning a TEFL or TESOL certificate indicates that you meet international standards for teaching English. Schools granting certificates vary in what’s required and included, but the following gives an idea.

  • Fees from approximately $500 to $2,000
  • Programs from four to 12 weeks
  • 100 to 170 hours of coursework
  • Six or more hours of in-class teaching practice
  • Day, evening, weekend and online classes
  • Housing, transportation and visa assistance for programs taken in other countries
  • Job-placement services and access to job databases

What to Expect

  • Positions are at Department of Defense, international, public and private schools as well as corporations. Private tutoring is another option.
  • Students will be of all ages.
  • Contract lengths vary, but the range is month-to-month to two years.

Upsides to Teaching Abroad

Schools vary, but some offer these perks:

  • Visa assistance
  • Relocation or transportation allowances
  • Airfare to and/or from your home country
  • Accommodations
  • Health insurance
  • Contract-completion bonus

Additional upsides include the following:

  • You’ll make a lasting impact on your students.
  • Depending on the country’s cost of living and your salary, saving a lot may be easier.
  • You don’t need to know a foreign language, but you may earn more if you do.
  • Teaching abroad gives you skills that make you more desirable to future employers.
  • You’ll learn about different cultures.
  • Travel to other countries is easy.

Downsides to Teaching Abroad

  • Pay may not be equal to your U.S. pay.
  • You may have to pay taxes in your country, the host country or both.
  • If not included, health care may be a large expense.
  • Access to your favorite foods and creature comforts may be limited.
  • Some schools may impose age restrictions to those younger than 20 or older than 50.
  • You may get homesick.

Potential Savings

Europe and Latin America: Teachers can live comfortably in these regions, though they may not save much. However, teaching private lessons can supplement your salary.

Asia: China and South Korea pay well, and despite their higher cost of living, you can save $500 to $1,500 a month. Most schools in China and South Korea provide free housing and airfare. As for Thailand, it’s cheaper to live there, but savings may only be $400 a month.

Middle East: These countries pay top dollar ($1,500 to $4,000 a month), plus some schools provide free housing, airfare and health insurance. However, there are fewer positions, thus increasing competition.

Sources: British Council; TEFL Online; Language Corps; Teach Away, Inc.; English Toolbox; International TEFL Academy.

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