Author: Julie McElroy

8 Things to Ponder Before You Sign Up to Teach English Abroad

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No response.  As I stare at the blank face in front of me I couldn’t help but wonder, did he understand anything I just said?  I know he is here to learn the English language, but I probably moved into an advanced lesson a little too quickly. Or maybe he is trying to formulate the proper response in his head.  Maybe I should speak louder.

Teaching English abroad is a great way to see the world, make a difference, and provide a skill that many foreigners are interested in learning.  You probably already knew that if you are reading this article.  But before you sign up to run off to China for a year abroad, there are a few things to consider.

1. You have to teach.

Obviously.  Although there are a few online teaching opportunities if you are more introverted, if you are a wallflower, this may not be for you. Not only will you have to be at least a little outgoing, but teaching also requires a skill.  A teacher needs to be able to get a message across in a variety of formats to a variety of students.  Throw in language barriers, and you have yourself a bit of a challenge.

Think of creative ways to teach English without breaking out a grammar book that the students may not even be able to read. Not as simple as it sounds, but can be quite fun if you are a creative type.

2. You may have to do more than teach.

As someone who has her Master’s in Education, I learned that when you become a teacher, you do a lot more than teach.  The same can be true when you teach English in a foreign country.  Depending on where you work, you will have to market yourself and create your own lesson plans.

Teaching English in Japan to families or businessmen was a lot different than when I taught in Barcelona.  The Japanese family lived in Ohio for 5 years, so it was more casual conversation over tea. The businessmen were pretty fluent English speakers, but wanted to learn business conversations or colloquialisms.  For that job, I was given a book with lessons that I just followed.

In Barcelona, I had beginners and advanced speakers, and I had to develop lesson plans to accommodate all ranges.  Lesson planning is not for everyone, but once you create a few, it gets easier.

3. You should be fluent in English.

This also seems like obvious criteria, but I have heard of people trying to get a job teaching English who hardly knew the language themselves.

While you are not expected to have a PhD in English, knowing the language fluently is a must. To teach in a more formal setting, some schools will require a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate or a similar credential before they hire you.  Many placement agencies also require a four-year degree.

Depending on where you want to teach, your lessons may be more causal, conversational English, while others expect a deeper level with more focus on the mechanics.  So, if you don’t know the difference between an adverb and an adjective, you may want to check out some English grammar books from the library.

Some organizations don’t require that you be from a native English speaking country, as long as you know the language.

4. Every culture learns differently

In my opening paragraph, I was describing someone from a culture that thinks long before they speak.  To me that is a foreign concept (pun intended).  Many Americans often open their mouths before thinking the words through.  Certain cultures are prideful and the words people say mean a lot.

People from other cultures, besides America, are loud and outspoken and don’t always think before they speak.  Mix those two cultures in a classroom, and both impatience and confusion may present itself.

Adapt and overcome.

5. Living in a foreign country requires adjustments

If you have never left your home country, are very close with family and friends, and don’t like to eat something you can’t get at McDonald’s, you may be in for a culture shock.

Most likely, if you are teaching English abroad, you are going to be in a country different that your own.  In some cases, it may not be that different.  A German who speaks perfect English may get a job teaching English in Austria.  Okay, so he may not have a hard time adapting.  However, an American living in Thailand requires some adjustments.

The most important thing is that if you are going to live in another country, even for a short time, adapt and respect the culture.  Pick up a language book and learn a phrase or two.  Try a new food.  Adjust to the fashion and styles. Learn their way of life because it is now YOUR way of life, even if it is temporary.

6. There are not as many jobs in Western cultures

Speaking of living in a culture different than your own.  While there are actually a few summer English teaching opportunities in the UK and the United States, most of the high demand jobs are in places like Asia or the Middle East.  There are also a lot of opportunities in South America.

If these are places you are interested in living, than you will have a better chance in finding a job.  Indonesia may be far from your home, but it will be an experience of a lifetime.  Take a look around and find out what country matches best with what you are looking for.  You are sure to find something that suits your interests.

7. The pay won’t make you rich.

At this point in your research, you may already be aware that English teachers are not the career people go into to get rich.  At least not financially. However, I can tell you that you will get a rich and rewarding experience.

This is also dependent on where you take the job – less desirable places pay more.  Teaching in a small village on a tropical island won’t fetch you as much as teaching in a big city like Saudi Arabia or the tundra of Russia.  It is a balance of money and lifestyle, but you will probably have to choose which one is more important.

If money is not a factor, there are plenty of opportunities all over the world to volunteer your time and skills.

8. Many places require at least a one-year commitment.

If you can take off for a year and live in a foreign country, then you will have a much larger pool of English teaching jobs to choose from.

While occasionally there are short-term assignments (often in the summer) available, most companies have a one-year commitment.  Having someone who is consistent and reliable is a desirable quality for the schools.  It also helps the students get comfortable with a teacher and shows the school you are willing to stick around for a bit.

If you go out on your own as sort of a freelance teacher or tutor, you have much more flexibility.  But you are also on your own, including finding students and materials to make your teaching business a success.

Okay, now that I have covered the fine print, if you are someone who likes adventure, is willing to live on the other side of the world, is not afraid of new cultures, can adapt to change, and knows English pretty good (or is it well?), than teaching English as a foreign language could be the perfect job for you.

Teaching English abroad can offer a decent wage while you get to live in a foreign country.  Depending on where you work, many of the students you meet could also be traveling from another country.  The exposure to various cultures provides an enriching experience, even if you only teach for a year.

As a teacher in a foreign country, not only will you gain material for your resume, but you will also have stories to tell.  While your students will be getting an education in English, you will be getting an education in life experiences.

Julie is a freelance writer who blogs about here writing experiences at Inspired to Write.  While she writes on a variety of topics, her main love is travel writing. You can read more about her travel writing and journeys on The Travel Beat.

Photos by rudenoon, sixintheworld, yewyenyi

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