Teaching English as a Second Language Overseas

by | March 10, 2009

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) has evolved into a global industry. Teaching English abroad has become a great way to spend a few years overseas and experience the world before returning home. From Japan to Bulgaria, from Swaziland to Brazil, you will find a market for ESL almost anywhere.

For workers in many countries, fluency in English is a ticket into the best high schools and universities, as well as into the global economy. Which helps explain why every day, with classes starting as early as 6 a.m. and continuing through to 10 p.m., millions and millions of students all over the world attend English classes. And they all need teachers to help them do it.

So, what does "teaching English" mean? The job can cover a wide variety of tasks and situations. You may find yourself chatting with students in a "conversation class," teaching grammar and writing, or helping students prep for high school exams, the TOEFL and the SAT. A common situation is teaching at a "language institute" set up solely for the purpose of teaching English. Students come to these institutes for an hour or two every day, taking courses lasting from a few weeks to several months. As a teacher at one of these institutes, you might be teaching up to eight classes a day, often split between early morning classes and late afternoon/evening classes.

In addition, English teachers can be found working in private kindergartens, elementary and high schools, in the public education system, in government- run programs, in company training programs, volunteering in remote villages, working at prestigious universities and on remote oil rigs. Some of these positions require more teaching qualifications and experience than others. The fact that a teacher is a native speaker of English is the most important qualification for the job.

Because of the diversity of experiences, the flexibility of requirements and the low barriers to entry, teaching English attracts a wide variety of people, from career professional ESL teachers with Master's degrees, to (more commonly) younger teachers in their 20s and 30s.

The two most common areas of the world to teach English in are currently North Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan) and Eastern Europe (the Czech Republic, Poland, and countries like Bulgaria and Hungary). As it prepares for E.U. admission, Turkey has also seen increased demand for English teachers. Latin America also offers some opportunities, though here the demand for "native speakers" is not as high and many language courses rely on locals with good language skills.

So, where should you go? It depends on your motivation for wanting to teach English in the first place. Is it lifestyle or money that is motivating you? Are you interested in a certain part of the world?

If you're interested in money, there are places where teaching can be quite lucrative. North Asia is still your best bet if making and saving money is your goal. Private tutoring (teaching private or small group lessons on the side) provides ample opportunities to make extra money. Hourly rates can range up to $50/hour, though the best gigs are often monopolized by teachers who have been in the country for a long time. China currently does not offer salaries that match with those offered in Japan, Korea or Taiwan, though demand for private lessons and English teachers is increasing as the economy there expands. Teaching English in certain Middle Eastern countries, such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia, can also be lucrative, though these positions are typically limited to men for cultural reasons.

In other areas of the world, the attraction of teaching English is less about the money. As the director of an ESL institute in Prague says: "We provide accommodation assistance, pay work permit and residency visa fees, pay for health insurance and teacher bonuses. However, if you are hoping to put aside money to pay off student or housing loans in your home country, you should consider teaching elsewhere. Above all else, you should come to Prague for the experience."

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