Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL & ESL)

I’m currently working on my B.A. in linguistics. I’ve got another 2 semesters to go and then I think I’ll go to grad school. Ultimately I want to teach English as a second language either here in the U.S., or abroad.

I’m sure some Dopers have taught English, so I’d love to hear about these experiences.
Also, some specific things I would like to know are:
-how you found the job
-the qualifications and/or schooling that allowed you to get the job
-how well (or not) the job paid, hours worked

I got my first job in the field in the Washington Post. (“Instructor” is next to “International” and my eye strayed. Nowadays jobs are found at Dave’s ESL Cafe and Tefl.com.

A CELTA certificate (earned at a one-month course) is the basic working paper. I do not have one, but I do have twelve years’ experience and know everyone in Saudi Arabia who hires. Or I hope I do as I am now looking for work.

There is no place to make money in this job outside of the Arab Gulf States. Everywhere else, jobs are taken by young people looking for adventure or religious types. Both work cheap and spoil it for the rest of us.

I work about seven hours a day, five days a week. Of that I have about 20 contact hours and 15 hanging around drinking coffee hours.

Pay is about US$35K. Not a bucketload, but housing is free and you pay no tax. It adds up.

Does this help?

I taught English in China from 2003-2005. It was a Communist school, one of the few private ones in China.

  • I heard about the job from someone who was already hired. She said that they were opening a secondary school. I went for the position and got it.

  • We had to have a B.A. in something, ideally with a teaching certificate. Everyone there had teaching certification or ESL certification.

  • $31,000 USD per year. We were paid connected to the dollar, so if the RMB rose or fell, we stayed the same. We worked 8-5, five days a week.

I recommend it.

I went to Japan to teach English back in '95 (still in Japan, but working an office job now). I went through a book called Jobs in Japan that listed several hundred schools around the country, and mailed resumes and introduction letters to several dozen of them until I got a bite. Taught in semi-rural Japan for about two and a half years, then later taught for another year in Tokyo.

Before that, while I was working part time and taking night courses in Japanese, I got some practice (both teaching and getting over stage fright) by volunteering in ESL classes at a community center in Chinatown (Boston).

My qualifications at the time were just a B.A. Now they’re just a B.A., semi-fluency in the students’ native language, and three years’ experience.

The starting salary was 3 million yen/year (the minimum for full-timers). At the time, that was equal to US$37,500 (I went over when the exchange hit its all-time low of 80 yen/$), but would now be $30,000.

The JET program in Japan is a good deal, at least in some situations (like living in the countryside). The rent is cheap and the hours are good (if you don’t mind the frustration of the new laws forcing teachers to show up at school when there are no students). Get it while the gettin’s good-- there’re rumors of the program being in a state of collapse.

This is helpful, thank you. I know Dubai is a hotspot for English teachers right now. Are there any other specific places in the Arab Gulf States that you can recommend?

I taught ESL in Berlin for many years.
At one point, I had the highest paid teaching job in Germany…I was getting about $2000 a week, and that was in the late 70’s, early 80’s!
Nice gig while I had it - but boy did I screw that up.
Let’s just say I will never, ever, sign my name to another group letter of complaint to the powers above. There were seven of us highly-paid teachers at the time, and they fired our collective butts for that stupid letter.

Then I got a really cushy job teaching summers in Switzerland (also for a nice salary) and also taught for a large Berlin corporation that, again, was the top salary in Berlin at the time. When I quit that job to move to Los Angeles, the woman in charge of hiring said, “You are quitting this job?! You are the first person I have ever had who has quit!”

So, yes - there are really high paying jobs to be had.

That said, there are many tricks you need to know, but the most important “trick” is to be really, really good at what you do, and be original.

How I got my first big gig:

I was teaching at a private, for-profit, language school. They would get lots of businessmen who had to learn English really quickly to go to foreign countries and complete projects. I had had several people go to the States and come back and tell me stories. One guy said, “All was going great, but then the manager told me this joke with words I didn’t understand and it was very embarrasing.”

I realized the guy didn’t know the, uh, “bad” words in English. So I created a final class for my students - they were “warned” that it contained every swear word and pornographic term in English. I offered it as a “free class” farewell to my best students. I created a handout. Lets just say that there were about 30 ways to use the word “fuck” and graphic descriptions of every male and female body part.

Word got around the school that I taught that…other teachers wouldn’t go near the subject, so often they would have me come in and teach my “porno” class.

OK. So one day, I walk in to teach this class of German businessmen I had never met before, taught the class, they took copious notes and off they went.

Two weeks later I get a phone call from West Germany and a German guy said, “Are you the guy who taught our businessmen that handout sheet?”
Too late to deny it and I said, “Yes.”
“Well, anybody who has the balls to teach that is somebody we want to teach for us…are you willing to fly here for an interview - we’ll make it worth your trip.”
That is how I originally got that high paying job, and from there - well - the rest is history.

So again, there really are high paying jobs out there, but finding them and getting your foot in the door isn’t easy. However, should you get in - well, I lived quite well over there for 14 years.

Oh, and one last suggestion.
Our motto at that first school where I taught - when the teachers would hang around in the teachers’ room between classes, and right before we would go off to teach a class was, “It’s SHOWTIME!” We would literally yell it out and burst out of the teachers’ lounge and run to those rooms.

Seriously, we realized students paying money for these classes not only needed to be taught, they needed to be entertained!

I am currently teaching at a college, and to this day, right before I enter a classroom, in the back of my mind I think, “It’s SHOWTIME!” and I bound into that classroom and go into high energy. I almost never sit in a class, I move around like a person on speed and nobody ever nods off in my class. Because of that, I am happy to say my student reviews at the end of the quarter are always at the top of the faculty reviews.

Heh. I used to hear Pink Floyd’s “The Show Must Go On” playing in my head before the start. I’ll admit that during my first go at teaching I was a lazy punk with no hustle. The second time around I was a lot more into it, and got a much better response from the students, as well as from the school managers.

Vintage, what part of the world are you thinking about? I’m currently working out the details on going to Japan to teach EFL.

From the little research I’ve done, this online TEFL certification class looks like a good deal: http://www.onlinetefl.com/

If you are interested in Japan, I have about 50 links you could check out. Here are some links for TESL worldwide:




Autolycus, thanks so much for that info. I’m going to do my M.A. in TESOL, but I’m going to take a TEFL course at some point because I want to teach abroad next summer before I start grad school. I’d like to hear how you go with the TEFL course once you get started. Are you going to take an actual class, or the online course?

I have a bit of time before I decide which part of the world I want to go, but I’ve definitely thought about Japan. Are you trying to get into the JET program? I would like to do it, but I can’t commit a full year right now.

Other places I’ve been thinking about are Bahrain and Dubai. I’d like to try Korea or China, but from what I’ve heard, the money isn’t that good.


I applied this year and got rejected. I could apply again next season. May I ask why you can’t commit a full year?

Really? I’ve heard Korea pays the best out of all Asian countries.

In summers I tutor for my university’s ESL program; there are a number of graduate students who also tutor to gain experience as they work towards ESL certification.

I have substitute taught for the ESL teachers, but I do not have a formal certification, which is normally a must for teaching these classes; I do have a doctorate in history and experience teaching Latin at the university level. I was hired on the basis of my previous teaching experience and especially having taught the Latin courses. Having tutored for our ELI (English Language Institute) for about a year and 1/2 now, on the strength of that experience and building up a good reputation, I was given a pedagogy class which starts in two weeks – teaching foreign TAs how to be TAs at an American university.

The upshot it – I got into the gig originally because I wanted some extra money during the summer, and asked for suggestions from my university’s HR people. Other tutors got their jobs simply by contacting the program – most places need tutors during the summer, as that’s when the majority of foreign students have off from their own courses of study. Many of the new tutors this term came from the Linguistics dept. So you might be able to grab some experience pretty close to home quite easily, and other opportunities may come along simply by being in the right place at the right time.

The tutors here have a maximum of 20 hours a week, paid by the hour, ranging from $10-$16/hour based on experience, highest level of education attained, and so forth. I tutor for 14 hours a week + 2 hours a week teaching a grammar class/review (which pays more since I have to do some prep and lesson plans), but I get paid via a contract for the entire session, since I’m already on the University’s payroll. The only reason I don’t do the full 20 hours is because I’m teaching a music course for the University with conflicting hours – I was asked though, because we currently have a huge overload of students this term, so the work was definitely there!

DMark – I think a number of the professors in my dept feel the same way; one guy likes to say to students, when they whine that something isn’t fair, ‘Well, that’s showbiz!’

Sure. I finish my B.A. spring 2009 and then I plan to start grad school fall 2009. I’m an olderish (27-year-old) student, so I don’t want to take off extra time between now and grad school. That leaves just next summer for me to play around with until I finish my M.A…

Ms Boods, tutoring is a great idea. I’ve been running conversation groups as a volunteer for my university’s ELI, so yeah, maybe its time I ask if they have any paid positions.

I’ve taught in Korea, but it was ten years ago so I don’t know how the money is these days. You have to be careful about hagwons (private institutes–generally an after-school sort of thing, often started by people who know that English is big business but may or may not know anything about education, or actually running a business) but it is possible to find a good one. There are also programs with the public schools. I love Korea and I’m dying to go back, but I don’t think I’d do the hagwon thing again.

I came to Japan in 1991 on the JET programme, not particularly interested in Japan as such and not particularly interested in teaching as such. I was prepared to work hard and do a good job but I just wanted a change from the boring admin job I’d had with a charity for the previous three years. That job gave all the office staff two weeks a year on the ground in the foreign countries it served, and I’d found myself marking time for 50 weeks a year, to get to the two weeks abroad. I fancied turning the tables and getting 50 weeks abroad per year!

It turned out that I really did like teaching English and realised that I couldn’t do it. So I enrolled in an EFL correspondence course and did it as I taught which turned out to be very useful.

Then I met my future husband and decided to stay here. I actually got out of teaching and into a job connected with the Nagano Olympics for a few years before quitting to have my kids (and we kept moving in that time also which made keeping a long term job difficult.)

Now I am a permanent resident and I have my own English school with about 90 students ranging from one and a half to about 75 years old. I do enjoy it very much, I love being my own boss and have developed my own curriculum over the past five years that is constantly being refined. Being my own school, I never stop thinking about it or the students so it’s a bit more than a full time job in many respects, and as the school is actually half of our house, it is too easy to “commute” across there at night to do a bit more…

I belong to a number of teaching groups and forums as really the longer I go on, the less I realised I know. I find that regular meetings with other teachers goes a long way to stimulating me and getting me to work on my weaknesses.

I make a good living - enough to support my family, but it is precarious. If the students decide to quit (as three did last week - mini breakdown of genius piano player kid, unexpectedly difficult pregnancy meaning Mum can’t ferry around her two kids) then I am just out that money yet my monthly outgoings don’t change. If I am sick I have to reschedule or refund and that can get VERY expensive. Taxes etc in Japan are payable the next year for the previous year so I’ve had to work hard to save enough money in a special bank account to pay my way the year after I quit if I need to. Last year before I had that cushion I had a cancer scare and was VERY frightened at the idea that I might not be able to work, yet all these bills would continue coming in for the next year. It’s frightening being self employed and it might be easier to be a regular employee. On the other hand, my days of taking crap from bosses who know no English let alone having any clue about how to teach it are over!

You’ll never cover the cost of living in Dubai. Most employers will give you a housing allowance that will not cover anything except perhaps 60% of a villa-share. It is not so much the pay rate is bad, as the cost of living has soared. Better trying Bahrain, Oman or Saudi (as long as Paul gets first pick :wink: ). Qatar’s cost of living is rising rapidly, but may still work out. Kuwait might be ok, but already has lots of Americans with the war staging.

Yemen would be a great place to learn Arabic, and you could make enough to live comfortably, but will not save anything as it is a very poor country.