It has been said that it’s often the smallest decisions that have the biggest impact on your life. A new career path might appear as a small change in the grand scheme of things, but it can have a huge effect on your life and the lives of those around you.
If you are thinking of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) abroad, be aware that you might be letting yourself into the biggest and boldest adventure of your life. TEFL is an industry that offers incredible opportunities, where there’s a new learning curve that will push the boundaries of your comfort zone every day. It sounds like a lot of hard work – because it is! – but the rewards you will gain are unimaginable.
You will meet people from all over the world, discover different cultures and traditions, find out a lot about yourself, like how resilient and resourceful you can be, for example, and you will probably learn a few languages along the way.
Before delving deep into the world of TEFL, let’s look at a few crucial points that will determine your success in this new adventure:
Although a university degree is required for visa purposes to work in many countries, there are plenty of options if you don’t have one. There are many European countries, like Greece, Romania, Spain, and Italy, where you can teach English as a foreign language at private language schools – also known as academies – without holding a degree. If you are interested in moving somewhere further afield, you’ll find that countries like Mexico, Cambodia, and India welcome international teachers without a degree.
Please note: Teaching in universities or certain state or private schools will require a higher education qualification, usually a bachelor’s degree as a minimum.
Generally speaking, to become a teacher in the TEFL industry, the most important qualification you’ll need is an accredited 120-hour TEFL certificate from a reputable provider (there are online tefl courses). Finding jobs without a relevant qualification might be possible, but it says a lot about the employer. Most reputable schools will strive to hire teachers who have solid teaching foundations. A TEFL course can give you the knowledge you need to start your new career with confidence.
Once you have successfully completed the course, you will receive a certificate showing that you have laid the foundations to teach English as a foreign language.
Usually, a standard 120-hour TEFL course will cover:
- the roles of the teacher
- learners’ needs and goals
- the mechanics of the language
- Language skills and how to teach them
- classroom management
- lesson planning
- materials writing
Most course providers will also support you in finding and applying for your first job with your new TEFL certification.
Some institutions insist on hiring native speakers holding a passport from specific countries like the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa. Although this is unfair and discriminatory, some progress has been made towards equality between native and non-native English teachers. In the UK, for example, where over a million of students between the age of 5 and 16 are bi- or multi-lingual, many private language schools are happy to employ non-native speakers.
Nevertheless, a change of such a large scale will take years to reach a global impact. In the meantime, take comfort in knowing that there are plenty of countries that welcome non-native speakers as TEFL teachers in their language schools, like Cambodia, Turkey (for EU nationals) and most countries in Latin America.
With age comes a sense of understanding and clarity regarding your life goals. Many take this opportunity to turn their life around and leap into new adventures. This often includes a radical career change where travelling is on the cards. Like in other industries, age discrimination is another aspect to consider when looking for English teaching jobs abroad, but the TEFL industry offers opportunities for everyone, whatever your age. There are some countries out there, like Nepal, India, and Thailand, that don’t have an age limit when it comes to hiring international teachers.
Students’ age and class size
While deciding which country to pick for your TEFL adventure, it’s worth considering who you want to teach. Would you be happy teaching preschool/kindergarten (3-5 years old) or elementary (6-12 years old)learners? Or perhaps you’d be better suited for working with teenagers? Or you might be more comfortable teaching young adults (18-25 years old) or professionals.
Take also into account how many students you are comfortable teaching at any given time. In some countries, state schools can have up to 50 students per class, while private language schools have a maximum of 18 students per class.
There’s no denying that teaching isn’t for everyone; even more so if it’s teaching in a foreign country. So, let’s take a look at some typical features of a good TEFL teacher:
- Flexibility. Fostering a positive learning environment requires constant change and the ability to adapt to arising challenges. In TEFL jobs, there will be situations where you’ll have to think on your feet and change your plans. From lack of resources to technical issues, you will be able to deliver a successful lesson regardless.
- Engaging. No more lecturing a class of quiet students. Teaching and learning have become a dynamic process that involves and engages all participants. After all, research shows that effective learning occurs when there’s genuine interest and engagement from the learners.
- Cultural sensitivity. Working abroad, you will be exposed to customs and traditions that you might not understand nor agree with. It is important to remember that you are a guest in a country that has welcomed you and taught you invaluable lessons about the world around you. Be respectful.
- Life-long learning. Being willing to learn is not a mandatory requirement, but it can help you in your professional and personal life abroad. You will soon realise that you can learn from your students just as much – if not more! – as they can learn from you.
Further your TEFL career
It often takes a couple of years for a dedicated TEFL teacher to become an effective one. Usually when that happens, many teachers decide to specialise in teaching a specific type of course or group or learners. In other words, they tend to find their niche.
You might decide that you want to focus on teaching young learners, or business English, or exam preparation classes, or travel the world while you teach online. Whatever you choose, professional development is your best friend. There are courses that will help you hone the skills necessary to further your career and achieve your full potential as a TEFL teacher.
First steps into TEFL
Teaching English as a foreign language is an incredible adventure that will enrich your body, mind, and soul – but not without hard work. Whatever your age, nationality, and level of education, there is always the right place for you to TEFL, as long as you’re willing to embrace the challenges that a new life abroad may throw at you.
What is the difference between TESL and TEFL and TEFL-C?
They are all English Language Teaching abbreviations and they stand for:
- TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
- TEFL: Teaching English as a foreign language
- TEFL-C: Teaching English as a foreign language to Children
So they are all in relation to Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language.