Teaching English as a foreign language

Teaching English to foreign students is a rewarding career that offers you the opportunity to travel across the world. Teachers who have completed a TEFL course have a good prospect of finding a job as an English teacher abroad, though many countries also require a degree or certificate.


Teaching English to foreign students can be quite daunting particularly if you are moving overseas to do so. While this career choice undoubtedly comes with a set of challenges it also offers a variety of benefits and opportunities. 


In this article, we offer you a comprehensive guide on preparing for a career as a foreign language English teacher and present some ideas on what to expect when teaching abroad.  


What do you need to teach English as a foreign language

“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.”
-- Unknown

Many of the best English teaching posts require some type of Bachelor’s degree.


This offers the school a uniform measure of academic competence. Besides, a combination of government and visa requirements means that there are few countries where you can't teach unless you have a college degree.

Whether or not you have a degree, a TEFL certificate will stand you in good stead when you seek an online position or a post abroad. Some countries in South America, Asia and Europe are happy to employ teachers with a TEFL qualification even in the absence of a degree.  


Qualification requirements for teaching abroad
The required qualifications for teaching abroad differ from one place to another, but there are five main criteria for teaching English to foreign learners. 

These are

  • TEFL certification - this serves as verification that you have qualified to teach English to foreign learners
  • Funds - you’ll need enough money to cover your flights and your first month of living expenses
  • A passport
  • A visa and work permit
  • An offer of employment


Visa requirements to teach abroad

A visa is a document issued by the government of the country in which you wish to teach. It is your authority to stay, study or work in that country. 


You should find all Visa information, including document requirements, on the Embassy website of your host country. Visa requirements can be complicated and the process may be slow so make sure that you apply with plenty of time to spare. 

Most countries require you to have an offer of employment before they will issue you with a work permit.

How to get started teaching English as a foreign language

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”

– Mark Van Doren


Before you can even dream of teaching English abroad, you’ll have to qualify as an English teacher of foreign language students.


TEFL is an internationally recognized qualification that will set you on the road to your first English teaching job. You can choose to do the TEFL qualification in one of two ways. You can complete it solely online or you can do a combined course that combines online and classroom training.


When you qualify, you can teach anywhere across the globe.


Below a list of accredited TEFL courses



How much can you earn teaching English?

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”

– Phil Collins

How much you can expect to earn when teaching English will vary depending on how and where you teach. If you have a college degree along with your TEFL qualification your choice of destination will include the higher paying destinations such as the Middle East and Northern Europe.


Employed as a TEFL teacher

Once you have decided which country you are headed for as an English teacher you can find the average salary on the internet


TEFL Internship
I-to-i offers TEFL internships in China and Thailand. These internships include accommodation. The living allowance is good and sometimes meals and other living costs are also included. 


Supported TEFL Job

You could also choose a TEFL supported job, which will pay a salary of up to £740 monthly. It also includes accommodation, transport from the airport and transfers. At the end of the project, you will receive a generous completion bonus. 


Before you leave, you will have to complete the 120 hours online TEFL course. Once you’ve placed you’ll receive TEFL support. 


Teaching English online

Your earning potential with online teaching will depend on whether you teach through an online teaching company or as a self-employed freelancer. The number of students you teach in a single session and the hours you work are also important determinants of your monthly earnings. 


Below we offer a general idea of how much you can earn in each environment

  • Conversation English - £8 per lesson
  • Preparation for examination - £20 per lesson
  • Coaching for a job interview - £15 per lesson
  • Business English - £20 per lesson

Starting in the classroom

"It’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom."
– Michael Morpurgo

When you start teaching English to foreign learners you are teaching people whose first language isn’t English. English may be their second, third or fourth language.

The main focus of TEFL is communication. Teachers are, therefore, instructed to take an open approach to teaching. It is the role of the TEFL teacher to allow students to learn the language as though they were in a real-world scenario.

As a TEFL teacher, you’ll teach English lessons that the students can quickly start using. This is because the language you teach them is immediately relevant to their lives.

You’ll teach them how to ask for directions, give advice and speak to people in the workplace. The lessons revolve around the students’ lives which ensures that they remain engaged and remember the lessons. All learning materials likewise revolve around the lives of the students.

TEFL teachers don’t stand in front of the class and teach grammar by rote. Instead, they are facilitators. They introduce discussions and debates that encourage students to use their learned language skills and to learn through doing. 

The most widely used teaching methods in the TEFL classroom is what is commonly called PPP.  This stands for Presentation, Practice, Production. The teacher presents the language and the context of the lesson to the student. The students then have the opportunity to practice and correct their inaccuracies. In the last stage, the students use the language freely as part of an open discussion. 

The teacher is expected to facilitate interesting discussions and participation by students. The aim is to make the classes enjoyable so that students want to interact and learn. This is done by selecting interesting topics for discussion. 

“It is not necessary for EFL teachers to be able to speak the language of their learners. Your lesson plans, activities, teaching methods and guidance ensure you provide the best learning environment for your students through immersion.”


7 Challenges Teaching English as a Second Language

"You can't direct the wind but you can adjust the sails."



All careers come with challenges and teaching English to foreign learners has its fair share too. Listed below are seven of the challenges that you can expect to encounter as an English teacher abroad

  • Little support - you’ll be far from friends and family, in a strange country amongst people who don’t speak English. If you’re lacking support from your department head, speak up early.
  • Resource shortages - depending on where you teach, you may find that the resources are not as abundant as those to which you are accustomed. Get creative and make a plan.
  • Cultural differences - every country has its own set of cultural values and unspoken rules. Observe the behaviour of the students in the class to learn the culture from student to student and from student to teacher.
  • Unconventional hours - some schools may expect you to work Saturdays and in the evening. If you want a job that requires conventional hours then you will have to include this in your job search criteria.
  • Communication - the language barrier can make it difficult to communicate with colleagues and in the community. Find associates and friends that can speak English and help you along the way.
  • Loneliness - moving to a new country can leave you feeling pretty alone, but you’ll soon meet like-minded people teaching as you do.
  • Discipline - differs from culture to culture. In some cultures, you may find that late arrivals and no shows happen regularly or that students talk amongst themselves when they should be paying attention. You’ll have to adapt your teaching style to deal with these issues. 

Benefits of teaching English as a second language

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

-Henry Brooks Adams

The benefits of teaching English as a second language are many and varied. A few of them are listed below:


  • Learn more about the English language - The best way to deeply understand a subject is to teach it. As a teacher, you will have to do preparation work. You’ll have to answer questions and along the way, you will learn a lot more about your language than you did before you set out on this journey.
  • Experience the emotional reward of mentoring - teaching is a heartwarming occupation. You get to meet inspiring people who will go the extra mile to achieve their objectives. When you teach English you also get the chance to mentor your students, learning from them at the same time. The ultimate reward for any good teacher is knowing that you have made a difference in the lives of your students.
  • Enjoy better pay and the opportunity to travel - English has become the international language of business, and along the way, the demand for English language teachers for foreign learners has grown. This has, in turn, resulted in improved salaries and perks such as free housing, airfare and healthcare. When you teach abroad you also have the chance to travel, see new places and broaden your horizons.
  • Boost Your Resume – You will learn so much as you teach others. You’ll learn to manage challenging people and situations. You’ll make spot decisions and learn to adapt. All of this will bolster your Emotional Intelligence and set up career prospects for the future.
  • Become a New Person – Challenge Your fears and insecurities. Learn new skills and grow your knowledge of foreign cultures.

10 Important Classroom Tips for Teaching English to beginners

"Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers."

-Josef Albers

There is no doubt that teaching a beginner is one of the most daunting tasks that you will face. New language speakers do not know the English language at all, so where do you start? Here are a few tips:

  • Give your students lots of time for practice in the classroom. Beginners need plenty of repetition. They have to learn not only the meaning but the sound of the words and phrases too. Even though the repetition of words and phrases is a necessary part of learning a new language, it doesn’t mean that the lesson should be repeated. Prepare plenty of interesting exercises around those words so your students get to use them in a variety of stimulating drills.
  • Show don’t tell. Engage the students and offer them visual clues as to the meaning of the words - gestures, drawings and pictures add real value to the class.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Never embarrass a student. Offer plenty of praise even if their answer isn’t entirely correct. One way of correcting pronunciation, for example, is to simply say the word correctly after the student has mispronounced it.
  • Always check for understanding by asking questions. Remember that some students may be shy to admit that they didn’t understand so it is up to you to find out how much of the lesson they comprehend.
  • Keep instructions simple. Use as few words as possible. Two or three sentence words will do. “Stand up”, “Sit down”, “Open your Book.”. You can also add a please and thank you from time to time.
  • Establish classroom language early -  Early language learners are often overwhelmed particularly if they feel as though they aren’t keeping pace with the class. When you establish a classroom language you can remove some of that tension. The students can fall back on these phrases if they are called upon to say something. Teachers of young children typically use classroom language but it is useful for teaching adults too. Here are some examples “I don’t understand”, “What is this”, “Can you say that slowly”, “Please repeat that”.

How to teach English in a fun way

Students who enjoy their lessons will learn faster and will look forward to the class. You, as a teacher, will achieve greater success if you can add some fun elements to your class.

Help your class to learn through creative activities. Give groups in the class a list of words and phrases and get them to tell stories using the words. In this way, they will have to understand the meaning of the words and use them in sentences. Using words in context ensures that they will remember them in future. 

Everyone loves music so choose appropriate songs and discuss the lyrics with the class. Chances are the class will remember the lyrics every time they hear the tune. 

Put some fun into the lesson. Start with a game or a quiz and engage the class through fun activities. Both children and adults will benefit from these classroom activities.

Students learn through doing. By ensuring that the classes are fun and engaging you offer your students the best environment for learning quickly. 


Take advantage of the different cultural influences

If you live abroad while teaching English you have the rare opportunity to discover new cultures and truly understand your students. You could take advantage of this by arranging intercultural functions where students dress in traditional attire and bring along traditional foods to share with the rest of the class.

If the students are to fully understand the culture of the various countries that speak English, you could also celebrate holidays from these cultures like Halloween and Guy Fawkes.


To sum it up...

Teaching English to Foreign Language Students offers you the rare opportunity to earn a good income while travelling abroad. This is a rewarding career that will help you to broaden your horizons, improve your interpersonal skills and add weight to your resume.

TEFL certification is your passport to the world. Complete the course and you’re almost assured of a teaching post in a foreign country. If you have an eye for adventure and you’re up to the challenges, teaching English to foreign language students may be the career for you. 


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