Have you ever realised that being a proficient speaker of English could be the most exciting skill you have? Whatever your age or experience, this could be your passport to a stimulating job almost anywhere in the world, by becoming a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.
The first thing to consider when thinking of teaching abroad is what type of work are you looking for? Do you want to help the underprivileged in a school with limited resources, or are you looking for a longer-term commitment with a good salary and living conditions? This is just the first of a bewildering array of decisions: where do you want to go? Do you want to teach children or adults? And most importantly, what type of training do you need?
The necessity for a TEFL qualification is subject to many differing opinions, so we asked Jenny Rowe – overseas correspondent at Working Abroad Magazine, to speak to some experienced teachers to find out what they think. Fraser, who has taught in Vietnam and Japan, believes that the majority of teaching jobs in Asia require teaching experience or a TEFL certificate. He says: ‘I would advise everyone thinking about teaching in Asia to enroll in a course’. However, Richard, a teacher in China who has set up a website to recruit English teachers, disagrees: ‘I found that many companies say that you need to have a degree and a TEFL certificate but none of this is the case. The reality is that there are millions and millions of extremely keen Chinese students who are craving an English teacher.’ And TEFL jobs aren’t limited to Asia; there quite literally is a whole world of opportunity out there.
Whether you need a TEFL qualification often depends on where you are going – for example, a TEFL certificate is more likely to be expected in Europe than South America – and who you want to teach, as universities will tend to have higher requirements than village schools; it may be useful to consider this before you enroll on a course.
Two of the most common, internationally recognised qualifications are the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity College London CertTESOL. Entry requirements to these are generally that you are at least 18-20, are highly proficient in English and have a standard of education equivalent to entry level for higher education. Both are accredited as an NVQ Level 4, so even if you are only teaching for a few months, you will have a well-respected qualification on your CV for the rest of your life. The training is usually a full-time course lasting four to six weeks and can be quite intensive, with extra reading and assignments to complete outside of classes, so be prepared to work hard! In England you can expect to pay anything from £550-1300 for the award.
If you want to make your teacher training a little more interesting, why not attend a training centre in another country? Many large schools will offer accommodation along with training: for example, International House in Prague charge £759-899 for their CELTA course, but for an extra £320 you can include accommodation in a shared self-catering apartment for the duration of the programme.
Countless other organisations offer their own versions of these TEFL qualifications, which can be just as effective in landing you that dream job. As a general rule, the most respected courses will involve a minimum of 120 hours of training, including at least 6-8 hours observed teaching practice, as this is an internationally accepted minimum requirement for many jobs. Still sound like a bore? It doesn’t have to be: Fraser jetted off to a stunning location in Thailand to do his training with Island TEFL and said it was loads of fun! They offer a 4 week course for £989 including accommodation, and also offer an optional voluntary placement in a local school to practice your skills and increase your chances of future employment.
It is possible to find organisations offering scholarships to help with the expenses of TEFL training and finding jobs abroad. Some, such as English First, may offer a discount on course fees if you commit to teach in one of their schools for a specified period of time. Or for those looking for the ultimate cultural experience, programmes such as the Korean Government’s Teach and Learn in Korea seem just too good to be true. By becoming a ‘President’s Scholar’ for 6 months or 1 year, you could receive a monthly allowance of around. USD$1,500, food and accommodation, return airfare, paid leave, as well as many opportunities for personal enrichment whilst in Korea such as language learning, all in exchange for teaching after school classes for 15 hours a week!
Smaller scale online TEFL courses are becoming increasingly popular, as they allow you the flexibility to study at your own pace and cost less than full-time training, typically ranging from £100-400. i-to-i offer a range of online courses from 40-80 hours or have a 20 hour weekend course which can be combined with online elements to create a variety of different i-to-i TEFL certificates. ICAL claims to be the largest online provider in the world; with more tutors than any other online school, they offer 100 hours of online distance learning featuring constant support from qualified teachers. The principle drawback of online courses such as these seems to be the lack of classroom practice that some employers view as essential; however, they do appear to be useful if you are already away teaching and wish to steadily improve your methods whilst gaining new ideas.
Whatever your teaching experience, there are plenty of online resources that can help you at no cost at all. Lots of ELT websites have huge databases of ideas, games and lesson plans, often even providing printable worksheets. Modern technology can also help in other ways; Richard learnt some of his teaching skills by watching videos by Nick Mitchelmore on YouTube, and with a bit of searching it is possible to find a whole host of ESL/ELT videos.
So you know you want to teach abroad, but how do you find a job?
Large recruiters include internationally renowned language schools such as International House and schools run by the British Council. These generally have high entry requirements; most will expect at least a CELTA, CertTESOL or equivalent, and the British Council asks for degree level education with at least two years teaching experience.
However, for would-be teachers of all levels the Internet (and Working Abroad Magazine) seems to be the greatest recruitment resource. Websites such as www.tefl.com, www.eslcafe.com and www.eslemployment.com have extensive job listings, and allow you to post your CV so that schools can view your details and contact you. If you have a specific location in mind, it may be a good idea to contact schools in the area directly. It’s possible for people with little or no training to organise jobs independently and have the time of their lives working in the country of their choice. Richard found his job by sending his CV to schools around China and posting it on teaching websites, then going through the hundreds of replies he received! Working at a private boarding school with 8000 students, he often taught up to 800 pupils a day. Richard was paid roughly £280 per month and given a large apartment with everything from a TV to free meals included! However, he did have to negotiate his contract and stresses the importance of getting things right from the start. ELT jobs for people without teacher training are not limited to Asia; with no prior teaching experience, Sophia, a student from Bristol, organised a placement directly with a private school in Peru which provided her with housing and paid £250 a month. She said that to get on well in a school, certificates were less important than being hard-working and enthusiastic, as the more effort you put in the greater the reward, both for yourself and the students.
The salary you can expect will vary greatly depending upon where you are and how much experience you have. In less well-developed countries, you may not receive much more than £200 per month, but within Europe this could go up to £1,500 with the right qualifications. Bear in mind your costs will also depend on what else is provided for you; some jobs just offer a basic wage, whereas others may provide anything from food and accommodation to paid leave, return flights home and even health insurance!
So, what’s it going to be? Finding yourself a placement in a remote school, while learning teaching methods on the internet? Completing an intensive CELTA or CertTESOL before embarking on a career that has you moving countries every few years? One thing you can be sure, as an English Language Teacher your options are limitless!
Acronyms explained! The world of ELT:
ELT – English Language Teaching
EFL - English as a Foreign Language
ESL - English as a Second Language
TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESL - Teaching English as a Second Language
TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
CELTA - Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
CertTESOL - Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
* The difference between TEFL and TESL is that English as a Foreign Language technically refers to those learning the language for work or leisure purposes, whilst those learning English as a Second Language are likely to be using it more frequently in their day-to-day lives, such as when moving to live in the UK. TESOL is a term encompassing both these definitions; this is more commonly used in America than TEFL.