How to Teach English Overseas

Okay, guys, I said I’d talk about this so I guess I better follow through!

Seriously, teaching English overseas is a great way to get you traveling to places you’d never see otherwise. And meeting folks you’d never meet otherwise.

Innocent Bash, a student when I met him in Tanzania twenty years ago, then sponsored for college in the U.S. At home with his wife Jennifer in Dar es Salaam. Inno was recently elected to the Tanzanian Parliament.

So here we go…

Step 1. Get yourself certified.

By this I mean earning one of the teacher-training certificates you’ll need—that I really needed. I didn’t know the first thing about grammar.

What the cert training also does is help you learn to manage a class and make that classroom a home for your students.

The confusion about the certificates comes with their various acronyms:

1. TEFL. Teaching English as a Foreign Language. For a place where English is not generally spoken.

2. TESOL. Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. For a place where English is used but your students may not speak it. (Why my mother wants me to stay in the U.S.)

3. TESL. Teaching English as a Second Language. Could be anywhere.

(BTW, the cert training will also teach you how to teach without knowing your students’ languages. It’s not hard. You use pictures, you act out stuff, you play language games.)

Do you have to know these acronyms? Sort of. However, they’re all used interchangeably these days—though TESOL is probably used the most.

How long are these courses?
Now you might see courses advertised as 20 hours, some as 100 hours. Do NOT take those courses. Make sure you sign up for the 120-hour course, as many employers will require that.

And where do I take the course?
Good question. Back in 1981, on a trip to Wales, I happened to see an ad for a cert course. Interesting, I thought, tucking the idea into a corner of my brain. Fourteen years later, when I pulled out the idea, the courses still hadn’t come to the U.S. It took a helluva time finding one, which I eventually did in Cairo.

But now the courses are everywhere. You can take them online or on-site. (And you can expect them to set you back anywhere from $500 to $2500.)

Wait. What is CELTA? Do I need to know that acronym?
Sure do. The answer is yes.

The way I look at it is: If you’re going to do the cert, why fool around?

CELTA (the Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is simply a brand name for a TESOL product. And this particular product is affiliated with and accredited by Cambridge University.

And believe me, these Cambridge folks mean business.

CELTA was the course I stumbled into in Cairo—and it was super rigorous. In a good way. We covered everything. We were up to midnight doing lessons plans for the next day. All five of us trainees cried at least once. (Well, Cairo was also 110 degrees.)

Anyway, much later I took up a brush-up non-Cambridge course in the U.S. and to be kind, let me just say: it paled.

Here’s a link that gives locations for the Cambridge CELTA.

I do not recommend taking the CELTA online. I think the live exchange is better, and some employers may not recognize an online certificate. But if it’s impossible for you to spend five weeks at a location, you can do a distance-training course. (NB: you will have to appear in person for the teaching practice component.)

You might also consider taking the course in whatever country you would like to teach in. Which is another reason I went to Cairo. I took the course at an International House school there, and then they offered me a job.

‘Nuff said. I really do have your best interests at heart. You may find a situation where you don’t need the cert, if you’re freelance tutoring for example. But the better paying schools will require it.

Step 2. Pick a country or region.

You’ll find demand for teachers in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Sorry, Africa is a tough place to find a paying job.

You can find details about various countries around the world on this chart.

A sample from the chart.

I think the most info is this: what degrees you need, whether you can interview via Skype, salaries compared to cost of living, and if your employer will pay for your housing and airfare. (The latter two aren’t shown here, but appear in the full version.)

And to summarize, here’s the most important info about each region.

Asia. In Southeast Asia, you mostly find jobs in person. It’s possible to save money in Korea and China. (I’ve also heard that Vietnam is booming.)

Latin America. Again, job hunting is mostly in person. Salaries cover living expenses.

Europe. EU citizenship required. The exceptions are Russia and Turkey. Several EU countries let you teach, if you’re there on a student visa.

The Middle East. Oil-rich countries can be lucrative, though you’ll need qualifications and experience. In other Middle-Eastern countries, hiring is mostly local and salaries only cover living expenses.

Here’s one last thing that’s not on the chart but is important for some of us. In many countries you may find an upper age limit. I know it’s unfair, but that’s how it is. The limit can be law, a Ministry of Labor recommendation, or a preference of employers.

Russia is good though, I know that. They like older teachers.

Step 3. Start looking for a job.

The best job site for us Americans is Dave’s ESL Café. The British job boards tend to be heavy on EU opportunities. (Please note that Dave’s has a general job board, and separate boards for Korea and China.)

The other way to find a job is to let a recruiter place you. Go Overseas has a good list of the best recruiters (which you’ll find if you scroll down on the link above to Option 3).

A word about recruiters. Some are professional. Some will scam you. You just have to judge from their responses how professional they are, and if anything sounds fishy, like paying them to get a job, forget it.

You can also go to Dave’s ESL Job Discussion Forum and his Korean Forum, to read what people post about both recruiters and schools. Or post your own question.

Step 4. Apply.

By now, you’ve hopefully found a few jobs to apply to. And to do that, you’ll need a copy of your resume, college degree, your TESOL certificate, and your passport face page. Scan everything.

If you make it to the interview stage (congratulations!), prep for it. Typical questions include:

Why this country?
What’s your teaching philosophy?
If I entered your classroom, what would I see?
How do you manage a class of mixed-level learners?
What technology have you used? (Like smart boards, e-podiums.)

This is another reason why you need the cert. If you have no job experience, you’ll have your teaching practice to talk about.

Also expect the usual: what-are-your-strengths-and-weaknesses?

Finally, have a question ready for them. You can’t have no questions. (A good one is asking what extracurricular tasks you can take on. My Saudi students loved their Spanish club.)

Step 5) Before you leave …

Study the language, culture and history of the host country.

For one thing, you want to do what’s appropriate. For example, again from Saudi because I worked there the longest, my university there banned celebrating birthdays. But my girls didn’t consider it un-Islamic (I hope I’m not offending any of you), so I told them my birthdate.

And later, I got in trouble. We enjoyed the party, though.

But learning about a place is important for other reasons, too.

You want to be able to say a few things in their language. It’s fun. People like it.

Also, your students may have certain cultural preferences. I.e. my Saudi students had an amazing ability to memorize, word for word. Normally I would not emphasize this but it did come in handy. Knowing learning styles like this will let you better help your students.

Finally, you’re going for something different, aren’t you? You want to have some knowledge of the history and current situation of a place so you can better understand what people have to face in their daily lives. And you learn about yourself when you do understand and help others.

Thank you for reading.

Please let me know if you have any questions—or anything to share.

2 Replies to “How to Teach English Overseas”

  1. Great overview. I think it’s a good idea to get an FBI background check done before you start applying to jobs as well. Many countries require it and it’s not expensive but can take up to 6 weeks to get the clearance.

    Love the birthday video!

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