An Introduction to Teaching English Abroad

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Dear American/British/Australian reader:

What if I told you that you carry something incredibly valuable with you wherever you go?  Something that people all over the world pay legit amounts of cold hard cash for?  And no matter what you do with it, no one can ever take it away from you?

Did you have any idea what your English fluency could do for you?

Believe it or not, your native fluency in English can be your ticket to a rewarding international lifestyle.  Millions of people worldwide are desperate to learn or improve their English-speaking abilities.  It goes without saying that English is the lingua franca, or language used, of international business, arts, sciences – just about everything.  In this 21st century global economy, it’s mandatory for the world’s movers and shakers to speak English!

Teaching English Abroad

Share Your Knowledge Anywhere You Go

What can you do that’s so profitable, then?  Help these world citizens master their English language fluency.  If you have a hankering to make a good international living and get to know interesting people and cultures, this may be your dream job!  Other than in western Europe, which has an ample supply of nearby Brits at its disposal, Americans are welcome to teach our language legally in almost any friendly country worldwide.

Don’t worry; no one will confuse you for your high school English Language Arts teacher.  Your job teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) is quite different.  You probably won’t deal too much with English lit or poetry, or diagramming sentences (as fun as that is).  Your concern is teaching the language itself to individuals whose primary language is something other than English.

So Many Options.  So Little Time!

You can choose to teach basic introductory English to Kindergarten children in South Korea.  Or if you wish, you can schmooze with Polish businesspeople in a Warsaw coffee shop, helping them finesse their already quite expressive English.  Why not try one teaching gig for one school year, then move on to a new opportunity in a new country the next year?  The possibilities are really endless!

Teaching English Abroad

Teaching What You Learned as a Baby Ain’t Isn’t Easy!

Yes, you speak English with native fluency, but teaching it to others can be surprisingly difficult.   I know I would have an easier time teaching one of the languages I’ve learned as a non-native speaker than I would teaching English.  The way you learned English as an infant, through pure immersion, is different than how you probably learned a second language in school, which emphasizes memorization, repetition, and endless workbook exercises.

Immersion, by the way, is a perfectly valid and even prized way to learn a second language!  There are special techniques, such as Total Physical Response (TPR), to enhance this methodology of foreign language learning.

Teaching English Abroad

TESOL Training

So how do you learn to teach what you already speak?  Following a good course in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) will help open a lot of doors to you in your pursuit of teaching the language abroad.  You can take TESOL classes at numerous universities near you, or even abroad.  Thanks to the current Information Age, some TESOL classes can be taken online, although you would do well to arrange a “practicum,” or way of teaching what you’ve learned in class in a real-life situation, like student teachers do.

The most economical way to TESOL success is to learn how to teach English while you get paid to do so.  This is possible to do online, from your own home.  In fact, I think this on-the-job free training is the best course of action to take.  It’s just such a mammoth undertaking to pack everything up, kiss your hometown goodbye and head overseas to teach ESL.  You really need to ensure you enjoy it, first!   I will introduce some awesome avenues towards on-the-job training in a future post.

Teaching English Abroad

No TESOL?  No Problem!

Finally, although I would strongly encourage you to seek some fashion of learning how to teach ESL, it’s not a hard and fast requirement.  Lacking a formal TESOL education does not preclude you from obtaining numerous job offers to teach English abroad.  Many ESL schools in China and South Korea require relatively little training and/or experience.  You’ll want to check out job postings in the areas you’re interested in.

In the meantime, how about a quick rundown of common ESL acronyms so that you know what you’re looking at as you search for more information about this fascinating educational field:

  • CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. The recognized gold standard in basic TESOL, it virtually guarantees the certificate holder a job in any number of ESL schools throughout the world.  The cost to pursue a CELTA can be well over two thousand dollars.  You can take CELTA classes in person or online.
  • DELTA: Originally the Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults.  As of late, the letters are the same but what they stand for has changed.  The DELTA is now considered the Diploma in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages.  For professional teachers and those with experience teaching English, this is an advanced TESOL credential. Its graduates often go on to become school directors or TESOL teacher trainers.
  • EFL: English as a foreign language.  There is a subtle distinction between EFL and ESL, which I won’t go into here.
  • ELL: English Language Learner.  AKA, one of your students!
  • IELTSInternational English Language Testing System.  This is a standardized test of English proficiency for non-native English language speakers.  Infrequently used in the US, but you’ll come across the acronym with some frequency.
  • L2: Second language.  This may be any language, not just English!  My L2 is Spanish, but before I went to live in Mexico in high school, it was French.
  • SLA: Second language acquisition.  Practically an academic discipline unto itself.
  • TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language.  The IELTS of the United States, a standardized test of English proficiency that non-native speakers usually take upon applying to American institutions of higher learning.


Resources for further reading:

Your intention may not be to study abroad, but you should still read my seminal work about the personal qualities and attributes it takes to live abroad successfully!

Dave’s ESL Café, which has been around since 1995, lists classes in TESOL as well as opportunities to teach English virtually anywhere in the world.  Dave’s website is the most comprehensive resource I’ve come across for current and would-be English language teachers.  You can spend entire days combing through job ads, finding great resources and communicating with ESL teachers all over the place.  Pay particular attention to teachers’ school reviews in the area in which you wish to teach!

TeachAway lists all sorts of international teaching positions, not just ESL ones.  Pull up ads in the countries you’re interested in and get an idea of the requirements needed.  Understand that international employers don’t necessarily have the same job listing requirements that American companies do.  For example, you may find ESL jobs that say you can’t be more than 35 years of age.  Others may have you attach a photo to your resume, or ask your religion.  If you aren’t comfortable with any particular application demand, feel free to look elsewhere.  Each school and situation is different!

Teaching House administers the CELTA and DELTA courses in the US on behalf of Cambridge University.  All you want to know about these programs, along with more information about TESOL, can be found here.

Free TESOL training is offered by the TEFL Professional Development Institute.   I can’t vouch for how good their course of study is, but they say it is adequate to prepare you for a job overseas.  The price sure can’t be beat!

Ready to Get Your Feet Wet?  Learn how to kick off your ESL career with no experience or formal training!

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9 thoughts on “An Introduction to Teaching English Abroad

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  1. “You probably won’t deal too much with English lit or poetry, or diagramming sentences (as fun as that is).” This made me laugh out loud!

    What a wonderful idea to capitalize on intrinsic skills while traveling. Thank you for providing a comprehensive list of options as well as avenues by which to become more proficient in teaching English abroad. And, also for the chuckle.

    1. I wasn’t trying to be funny, Jackie! I really did love diagramming sentences in high school. I wonder if there are any diagramming competitions out there? 🤔 In any event, thanks for the comment!

  2. I’ve been debating teaching English abroad for a couple of years now, I just haven’t wanted to make the year commitment. BUT I recently found out that they have some shorter placements ~4 months! This article is very timely and has everything I need to get started.

  3. One of my favorite teachers in high school always talked about her experiences teaching English abroad. It always sounded like something I might want to do. This post has a lot of great information!

  4. I was thinking about trying this when my son completes high school in a couple of years. Great information I’m subscribing.

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