Teaching English As A Foreign Language

My wife and I have discussed what will happen when I graduate from college next spring. Although we are hoping on a job opportunity back home, it would be nice to be able to travel. Since our son is still young, therefore not in school, it would not be a problem (or as much of a problem, we figure) - what should we know when we look into this?

I assume I will need a certificate in TEFL, but should I get one from an online school, or should I look for a college that offers a program so I could get one and then look for work. We originally started discussing this because I saw a posting for a job in Korea, but my wife has expressed no interest in anything but Western Europe. What should we know about this before we look into it further? Where can we find reliable information? So many questions! How do I know what to ask?

So, dopers, has anyone ever taught English in a foreign land? Where do I start? What information can you give me? Sorry, I have no idea where to go with this idea, but thought the dope was the best place to look for info.

Brendon Small

I looked into this a while back, and you do need a university degree, although the type of degree does not seem to be as important as its presence. A mere college diploma, such as I have, isn’t enough, alas; it has to be a four-year university diploma. I was looking at Asian requirements though; it may be different elsewhere.

I believe Kyla is teaching English in Bulgaria; perhaps she will look in on this thread.

Hopefully she will. It would be nice to hear from someone who is doing it now. May 9th I will graduate with a BA in English. My wife has a BA in Sociology and will have an MA in Criminal Justice by fall, but that is done through a distance program, so she could do it from anywhere.

I wondered if I would be able to do it without the certificate, just having my college diploma. Of course, if I could, it’s possible my wife could to, that way if either of us got something we could go ahead and do it. Is there a good market for it? I’m somewhat trilingual. I took 4 years of French and am in a Spanish program now. I know a little already, but just conversational things. I’ve only been in it for a week, but it lasts until May, so I figure I will have a better knowledge by then. Hopefully the internet is back on at work tonight so I can gather some information.

Brendon Small

The Peace Corps is still around. Not much pay, but a great experience for 2 years.
I went to Tanzania in 1965, and stayed for 4 years teaching and building schools. I know that was a while ago, but the opportunity is there.

I taught English in Mexico this summer, but I did it on a volunteer basis and did not require a degree to do it. I have a friend who is teaching English in Japan with a very comfortable stipend, and he doesn’t have certification to do it either, just a Bachelor’s in Political Science.

The general assumption for teaching English outside of the U.S. is that, if you live there, you are a native speaker, and thus would not need certification. Certain programs no doubt would require certification, and I’d wager that several others would OFFER certification.

My best advice to get started: Google ‘‘ESL Job Opportunities’’ or something along those lines. Once you know specifically what programs interest you, then you will know what your next step should be.

I googled a couple of things, but didn’t want to get my information from a site that was a scam, so I figured I’d ask advice as well. I’ll keep looking, but I figured the part about certification - I just worried that because I’m not a teacher I would need something like that.

Thanks for the answers so far.

Brendon Small

If you’re interested in Japan, think about the Jet Program. I’m a college senior and currently applying for this. IIRC it only requires a bachelor’s degree.

The program is not all smiles though. I’m sure we have some former JETs, so hopefully they can pipe in. In the meantime, here’s a great website that details one man’s JET experience: http://www.gaijinsmash.net/

brendon_small, the Jet program Autolycus mentions is the very same my friend in Japan is involved with. He originally had a two-year contract and just signed on for another two years. We may never see him again…

I’ve never taught ESL, but in our travels I have known many ESL instructors. My impression is that there are many opportunities, but the quality really varies - you can get hired by a scummy, fly-by-night institution that will take advantage of both you and the students, or you can end up in a cushy job working for a multi-national firm teaching mid-level executives. Or somewhere in between.

Among the things I would look most closely at are:

(a) what country do you want to be in? There ae so many choices, all offering different plusses and minuses; since you can probably exert a fair amount of control over this aspect of things, you might as well make a choice that is good for you.

(b) Is the medical care going to be of a quality and affordability that you are comfortable with having a small child, and will you be able to communicate with the health care personnel if your child is very sick?

© What does your wife plan to do? If she’ll be a stay-at-home mom, will she be able to establish a social network so that she doesn’t go crazy? If she’s hoping to work as well, will she be able to find a job? Keep in mind that in certain countries, you will have access to affordable nannies who are wonderful, which frees parents up a lot.

(d) A little more back on track with ESL as opposed to general “choose-a-country” remarks: since the quality of workplaces varies from fabulous to horrific, make sure you talk A LOT to other employees before you make a decision. Ask a lot of hard questions about how happy they are. And make sure the pay is enough so that you aren’t constantly scrimping and worrying – that’s no way to live when you have a baby in an unfamiliar country.

Good luck and let us all know what you decide!

Well not today. We are kicking off Ramadan early this year. Hie thee to The ESL Cafe for all your TEFL questions.

Yes! I am here! I teach English as a Foreign Language in an elementary school in a very small town in Bulgaria. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer and this is my gig. Being a PCV is a very difficult, but also very rewarding experience that I do not recommend to everyone. If your wife wants to live in Western Europe, Peace Corps is NOT the way to go, as we don’t have any programs west of Albania.

I recently met an English guy who teaches EFL in Budapest, and has taught it in various other places too, and he told me that basically the farther west in Europe you go, the more competetive it gets and the more they look at your qualifications; he specifically mentioned the CELTA as the best way to show you’re qualified. The farther east you go in Europe, the easier it gets. (Here in Bulgaria, there are people teaching English who don’t speak English. Seriously.)

Feel free to ask me any questions, but I’ll understand if you don’t, because it sounds like we are on pretty different paths. Good luck!

The difference is a Brit has a EU passport, and so can work anywhere in the Union. Americans can’t. Europe is dominated by the Brits. Unless Brendon can dig up an Irish grandparent.

Well, having taught for about 14 years in Germany and Switzerland, there are some “tricks” to getting work papers if you are an American. Takes some persistence and timing, but I met enough other Americans teaching in Europe to know that you can do it if you set your mind to it.

It is true that there are lots of schools out there - some are scams and pay little or nothing, and others are cushy, high-paying jobs. I have worked for both. The high-paying jobs are usually taken quickly by those who have been there for awhile and know somebody who knows somebody.

To be quite honest - going solo to Europe and looking for a job when you are young and not worried about living well is the best approach. Going there to start a career and expecting things to work well right off the bat - well, good luck. Lots of trial and error needed, and many periods of little or no money coming in. So if you are up for an adventure, go for it. But if you are looking for a nice apartment, well-paid job and open arms upon arrival - maybe you should re-think this plan.

If you think you can convince your wife to give Japan a try, I can highly recommend the JET program. Like Autolycus said, it’s not all smiles, but it is extremely well-organized, pays pretty well, is a guaranteed paycheck, and has a huge network of fellow JETs with lots of get-togethers happening all over the country. And when it’s fun, it’s a whole lot of fun.

You don’t get to pick exactly where you want to go, but you can express preferences for your type of living (big city, small town, etc.) If your wife is at home with your son, she will have to work pretty hard to keep from feeling isolated, but that’s probably true anywhere. You would probably want to ask to be placed in a big city to accommodate your family. Travel is easy and not ungodly expensive from Japan.

I loved JET, thought it was a fantastic program, and would totally recommend it. Qualifications are a BA only, though a certification won’t hurt. They’re looking for people who are honest, resilient, flexible, diplomatic, have a good sense of humor, and don’t take themselves too seriously.

If you want more information, you’re welcome to email me (email in profile).

Thanks so much for the responses. Of course, the internet was down at work, so I am just getting back to the dope after posting yesterday. I discussed it with my wife again, and although she would love to go to places in the EU, and some places in South America, she has no desire to go to Japan or China. I’m not sure exactly why, but that is something she has said since I first brought this up. She mentioned that if she could also teach English, she would love it, but any job (at least part time) outside of the house would help because she wouldn’t want to be isolated all the time.

DMark - basically, we want to do it for the experience. Although, it is pretty much something we just brought up a few days ago and discussed every so often, not some set plan yet. If it would be possible to do, it would be worth it, but we wouldn’t want to kill ourselves to do so.

Brendon Small

I’ve never taught English in Thailand, but I have known farangs (Westerners) who have. In Thailand, they are paid about the poorest of all the countries in the region. I believe farangs make more teaching in Vietnam and even Cambodia. A full-time salary for a Western native-speaking English teacher runs about 30,000 baht a month on average, often much less. At the current exchange rate of 34 1/2 baht to the US dollar, that works out to about US$870 a month. Of course, living expenses are lower in Thailand, and housing accommodation is often thrown in, but by no means always, nor is it necessarily desirable when it is. The low pay may not be an obstacle if you have a source of funds yourself and just want the experience.

Work permits can be red-tape hassle to obtain in Thailand, but the school that hires you will help take care of that. They cost almost $300 a year, which the school should pay itself. (It’s a sign that you’ve signed onto a bad school if they make you pay it.) Immigration and Labour have tightened up in recent years. Only foreigners with a bachelor’s degeree in a certain few fields, including education, are granted work permits, but any master’s degree or doctorate will qualify you for one. If you are over 60, you will be refused a new work permit, although extensions to the old one have no upper age limit. (Although retirement age being 60 here, there is no legal impediment to firing you for age.)

The low pay, especially compared with the extremely high English-teaching salaries and benefits in Taiwan and South Korea, and the red-tape hassles have driven away most qualified foreign English teachers. Many, perhaps most, farang English teachers here work illegally. That allows the school to pay at the bottom end of the scale, and you generally get no benefits. Farang English teachers have actually gained a bad reputation in Thailand in recent years, especially in Bangkok, because of the fly-by-night schools that recruit heavily for “teachers” from the backpacker areas like Khao San Road. The backpackers may or may not be native speakers, are almost never qualified and see it simply as an opportunity to extend their stay in Thailand for a few weeks. And my apologies to the backpackers on this board who may be reading this, but they also have a reputation for smelling really bad, a reputation that is not entirely undeserved.

There’s also a strict pay dichotomy. Americans are paid the highest, and so, too, the Brits I think. Maybe Canadians. For some reason, I believe Aussies and Kiwis are paid slightly less. Then comes a huge drop as Filipinos are paid much less, followed by Indians, and I believe Burmese English teachers are paid the lowest of all. A lot of the less-reputable schools will look for only Filipinos, Indians and Burmese, to avoid paying a decent salary.

Having said all of that, I’ll refer you to an excellent 50,000-word essay about teaching English in Bangkok othat appears on the Stickman website. Stickman is a Kiwi of my acquaintance, an extremely nice fellow who has worked as an English teacher in Bangkok, and his weekly columns on Thailand and what’s happening in Bangkok have a wide readership. The essay is here.

As a PS, I should add that holding a TOEFL certiicate but no university degree is a gray area. The Labor officials don’t seem to be consistent on this point.

Also, you’ll need to change your Tourist visa, if that’s what you’re here on, to a Non-Immigrant visa, which is a little bothersome – this often, but not always, necessitates a brief trip across the border – but again, the school that hires you should be able to assist.

You know, when I first read this, I completely missed the “no,” and thought she was interested in anything BUT Western Europe. Oops - my previous remarks are fairly irrelevant, then, as I was thinking more of the developing world. Sorry.

That having been said, why is your wife so restrictive in her interests? If she is afraid of getting out of her comfort zone, she might be surprised to learn that there is research out there suggesting that American expats actually fare better, adjustment-wise, in non-European countries. (This is sociology research funded by multinational companies who want to learn how to choose/prepare their employees for expatriate posts, so they don’t tank on arrival.)

I think some of the reason is supposed to be that American expats in Europe falsely assume that it will be a fairly easy transition – “they are Westerners, just like us! It’ll be easy to make friends!” The reality is that, especially in some countries, there is litle interest among the locals in going the extra mile to include foreigners. And the culture may be more different from your own than you think.

On the other hand, people don’t have unrealistic expectations when they move someplace like Thailand or Indonesia. Of course it will be different - duh! And, if I can indulge in a gross generalization, I have found that many (not all) Asian cultures are spectacularly welcoming to foreigners.

Well, your wife is entitled to her opinion, and for all I know it is based on an incredibly rational argument (she has relatives in France she’d like to be close to, or she was an Art History major specializing in the renaissance and so her academic training is a fit with Europe … whatever). But you might think of exploring with her WHY she is limiting herself to Western Europe, and making sure her expectations are realistic.

A very good place to start your research is the ESL Cafe link given by Paul in Saudi. It will give you a better picture of the requirements and conditions in a range of countries.

I’d echo what others have said - I think the chances of finding work in Western Europe, realistically, aren’t that high. Reputable language schools - and you do want to work for a reputable school - are almost certainly going to be looking for CELTA certification as a minimum, plus experience. The further east you go, the less fussy they are going to be about qualifications/ experience, but the conditions and renumeration are not going to make for an easy life.

In addition to a certificate increasing your earning potential, a training course will also help you learn to teach. The minimum CELTA certification is worth getting because a good program will give you classroom time with real students. Backpackers who are teaching along the way to pick up a bit of cash usually aren’t too bothered about professionalism - however, they tend to earn accordingly. If you going to try and support a family, you’ll need to be able to show that you are at least semi-professional in your attitude and ability to achieve results in order to keep students coming back and contributing to your paycheck.

Sorry if I’m raining on your parade. I taught EFL and English for Academic Purposes for about 3 years in Russia, and I’m CELTA certified - any other questions, I’m happy to answer them.

I taught English, worked for a newspaper and a did a bit of consulting in the Republic of Georgia. It is a hard way to earn a living and you will not be able to save much money. That said, it was a decent experience, but we had other income to fall back on and could basically leave whenever we wanted. Be sure to have a backup plan… I doubt you’ll find work in Western Europe, but in the East and elsewhere in the developing world, it will be no problem to find work.