15 things you need to know before teaching English abroad

15 things you need to know before teaching English abroad

Do your research

Before you apply to a job, have an interview, accept an offer or actually get on the plane to fly abroad and start your new English teaching job do your research. This will help you make an informed decision when both selecting a country to work in and the school/company that you would like to work for. Each country is different so try and choose one that you think you would enjoy the most and one that meets your needs. It may be that you’re teaching English to make money, in which case you’d want to find a country that pays high wages or where you can acquire a lot of private students, or you might want to teach English to travel and as such would be better off choosing a country that would form a good base and starting off point for your planned trip. When it comes to the school/company itself read reviews from other teachers, check the visa application process, think about insurance, compare salaries, holidays and benefits, and look into other possible perks such as if flights or accommodation will be provided as part of the job. As with any job search try and interview with several companies before accepting an offer in order to find a good fit for you and research what you might need to provide for your applications in terms of degree certificates and criminal records checks. This is particularly important if you are going abroad before finding a job because you don’t want to leave anything behind that you might need to get employed! Finally be careful, there are unfortunately companies that will try and take advantage of you and not pay you and there are also people online who just want to harvest your personal details, so to emphasise again make sure you do your research.
Understand the local laws and customs

Make sure you know what visa you need in order to work in your country of choice and try and fulfill any obligations that are required of you. Many English teachers who go abroad end up teaching English privately so it is even more important to know the local laws and customs if you don’t have an employer to guide you through these. Furthermore, if you have an appreciation of local customs people will respect you for this and it will help in both your personal and professional life in your new country.
Know your English grammar

It goes without saying that you need to know English to be able to teach English abroad, but what about your English grammar? Do you know the difference between the present perfect and present continuous? If the answer to this is no then you should consider swatting up. Good grammar is very important when you’re teaching English abroad, particularly in countries where there is a big emphasis on grammar in their own language such as there is in the Spanish language. Remember that your students will be paying for your services and even if they are not paying you directly learning English represents a huge opportunity for them, so it is vital that you provide them with the best tuition that you can. Just being a native speaker doesn’t qualify you to teach English and although you might be able to offer conversation practice, without a qualification it is a good idea to get at least a TEFL certification before you go abroad or when you arrive there to give yourself a foundation in teaching English.
Most companies will require you to have a qualification

If you want to work abroad in an English speaking school or for an English language school or company nearly all of them will require you to have some sort of qualification. At a minimum this is usually a TEFL certificate and a lot of them will require you to have a degree as well. There are other qualifications such as CELTA, which is very popular in English language teaching particularly for those looking to make a career out of it, and these are discussed in more detail here. However, the need to have a qualification is not the case for all English teaching jobs and some companies will employ you if you can just make a good impression at interview or if you’re a native speaker. Nevertheless, it is important to make sure that you can honestly meet the expectations of your employer and students so that you don’t let them or yourself down.
Appearance can be everything

In some countries appearance can almost be as important as your English teaching skills. Schools want to project a professional image to parents and businesses to encourage them to send their children and employees to their school and your appearance is a key part of that. Unfortunately in some cases this policy can extend to only hiring people who look like native speakers so it is advisable to go with an open mind and be aware of the places where this might occur. Regardless of this you should always try to present yourself well and look professional at an interview so even if you’re mainly going abroad for the travelling and plan to just do a bit of English teaching on the side it would be a good idea to either take some smart clothes with you or be prepared to buy some when you are there. Not many employers will want you turning up to lessons in shorts and t-shirt, although you may get away with this as a private English teacher if you’re very good!
You might have to create your own lessons and assessments

If you end up teaching English privately having to create your own English lessons goes without saying, as it will be down to you to identify the type of lessons that your student needs, find the correct materials and put them together accordingly. This is a big challenge in its own right and something that could be discussed in a lot more detail, which we will do in future. For now you should just be aware of this but also bear in mind that you might also be expected to create lessons and assessments if you work for an English school or company. Many schools will work from text books that provide the lessons and assessments for you but others will not do this so you need to make sure that you are prepared and have the necessary skills to put a lesson together.
You will need to plan your lessons

Even if you are not creating your own lessons you will certainly need to plan them. If you’re teaching English from a textbook or if you’ve created your own lesson plan make sure that you know the material beforehand and have a good idea of how you want to structure it when you give the lesson to your students. There is nothing worse than going into a lesson with no plan and not knowing your material because this will make you look amateur and your students will pick up on this and possibly lose their respect for you. This is bad enough if you’re teaching English for a school or company but it is a disaster if your main income is derived from private lessons where a lot of your custom is generated by reputation, feedback and word of mouth among students.
Go with the right expectations

You probably won’t get rich teaching English abroad unless you go to a high-paying country or can acquire a lot of private English students. This isn’t impossible and with the free online tools now available such as those provided by TEFLPA it is much easier than it was before to do this and manage your private English teaching administration and acquire more students, and there are also a number of ways you can advertise your services to students. It’s not all about the money of course and for many people teaching English abroad represents an opportunity to explore a new country and culture whilst enriching the lives of others by teaching them English, which in itself alone can be a truly rewarding and satisfying experience.
Be sociable

When you arrive in your new country it is likely that you won’t know anyone and it is important to remedy that. Most people need the company of others to feel happy and it is good to have some sort of support structure in place when you are living away from you family and friends in your own country. You should therefore try and make the effort to be sociable and make new friends. Try to learn the local language, look online for expat communities, speak to your fellow English teachers, explore the country and join clubs and you’ll have a whole new social circle and group of friends before you know it. Many of the friends you make abroad will be like-minded individuals who you’ll share great experiences with and they will often end up becoming friends for life.
The time will go quickly…

When you move abroad everything is new, the people, the place, the customs, the culture and there will be a lot to take in. Because of this time will go quickly so make sure that you are maximising your time there and doing everything that you want to.
But you’ll have more free time than you think

As an English teacher teaching abroad even though the time goes quickly often your schedule won’t be completely full and you’ll have more free time than you think. This is especially true if you are teaching adult students where it is not uncommon to teach English lessons first thing in the morning until 10:00 am and then have a three-hour gap until 13:00 pm, and then have another gap between 15:00 pm and 17:00 pm. If this is the case make sure you use your time wisely and do any lesson preparation at these times or complete any teaching admin that you might need to do. If you’ve already done this you could take the opportunity to learn the local language yourself during this downtime or use some time to explore the neighbourhood. However, you’ll probably find that once you’ve been there for a while and established a reputation as a good teacher you’ll be able to fill your time with more private students as demand increases for your services.
You’ll be able to get more work once you already have work

Finding a job in a new country can be quite a daunting experience and if you are short of cash this can put a lot of pressure on you. However, in most locations demand is high for EFL teachers so you shouldn’t just accept a low paying job at a poor school unless you really need to, and you’ll find that once you have work you’ll get more work. This is because you’ll meet more people and as word spreads that you’re an English teacher and available you’ll start to find more students wanting to take lessons with you. Also, as you talk to your fellow teachers you’ll find out more about the right places to advertise yourself and the good places to work, and as long as you have the right qualifications, are doing a good job and are gaining experience, the better English schools will naturally be more interested in you. However, if you do decide to change job make sure you have studied your original contract carefully before terminating it to avoid having to pay back flight costs or losing your flight back home.
You’ll probably get sick at some point

A new country means new food and new germs, so there is a chance that you’ll get sick at some point whilst your body adjusts to its new surroundings. With this in mind it is a good idea to get travel insurance and be aware of the healthcare on offer where you are staying such as the location of your nearest hospital, just in case you have any serious problems. In some countries you can just buy medicine over the counter, but it is always good to get a second opinion. It is also sensible to have some money set aside just in case you need to fly home.
Physical health isn’t the only thing you should be aware of however, because a lot of people who go abroad to live or to teach English will suffer from homesickness at some stage. To help overcome this make sure that you can have regular contact with family and friends in your own country either via Skype or by phone and try to remind yourself of the great time and experience that you are having in your new country. It is a privilege to have this type of opportunity and this shouldn’t be forgotten when you’re abroad.
Have patience

The customs and culture abroad will be different to what you are used to and there can be a lot of bureaucracy to get through in order to start working there. Then once you’re working it may be that your employer doesn’t provide you with the teaching materials that you need or things seem to go at a much slower pace than you’re used to. This can be frustrating at first, but if you can learn to embrace it and have patience you’ll get used to your new culture and probably find you end up missing it if and when you return to your own country. Patience is something you’ll need as an English teacher too, because although teaching EFL and ESL is highly rewarding it can be a slow and methodical process. Your students won’t start speaking better English overnight and you’ll encounter students of significantly varying levels, even if they have been allocated to the same class, and it takes experience to learn how to manage this.

It gets easier with experience

Moving abroad to teach English is a big step in anyone’s life because you’ve got to deal with the huge changes of going to live in a new country, starting a new job, becoming accustomed to a new culture and often learning a new language. Fortunately, the good news is that like anything, teaching English abroad gets easier with experience. You’ll start to understand and embrace the culture and as you get more experience you’ll learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie as an English teacher and do better as a result. Prepare as much as you can but don’t worry if you forget something, remember that your most rewarding experiences can come when you least expect it. So go into it with an open mind and enjoy it, and you’ll probably have some of your own points to add to this list in no time!

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