I have been teaching English around Asia for a while now and am currently studying part-time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to get my Masters in the field so I’ve had a bash at thinking about all the questions I had when I was about to set off teaching english in Thailand and South Korea – so here are the answers (most of which I learned the hard way :S ) If you have any more questions, just email me at johnny ‘AT’ onestep4ward.com and i’ll whack the question and answer on the page…
1) Is It Necessary to Speak a Foreign Language? Probably the most common question.. The answer is reassuringly simple – NO! In fact, even if you can speak their language, you are not supposed to speak in the classroom! The students have paid for full immersion in English so if, for example, you are in China and you speak fluent Chinese it doesn’t affect your job prospects at all and (officially) you are no more likely to get employed than your monolingual friend- your level of English is the only language criteria you your employer cares about.
2) How Much Can I Earn Teaching English? Hmmm, this is opening a can of worms! I’m going to address this issue in full later on in my blog because the answer is so varied, for recently qualified teachers salaries can vary from $500 per month in Laos to $3000 in Japan, I’ll write the review of salaries as soon as i get a chance
3) What Qualifications Do I Need to Teach English Overseas? Generally speaking, you need to have the qualifications which would allow you to access a degree course – i.e. A-levels/HSC or an equivalent. Often though some schools (and countries, such as Thailand) may require you to have a degree, whilst others will consider your application if you just have relevant life experience – so make sure you google if before you set off!
4) What Age Do I Have To Be? You have to be at least 18 years old to teach English abroad and, middle-eastern countries aside, there is no maximum age – hence me trying to convince my mother of the merits of teaching abroad
5) Can I teach if English Isn’t my First Language? This is tough guys :S I had a very good (German) friend who took the CELTA course with me – his English was impeccable but he really struggled to find a job after receiving his qualification as the vast majority of language schools require you to be a native speaker. Certainly, you will struggle to get a job in a reputable school but if you are willing to rough it in Government schools, private schools and the like then you will have a chance
6) Can I Bring My Friends/Partners etc With Me? If your friends/partner want to work within the TEFL field then more often than not the school will give you both jobs, they figure that a happy teacher is less likely to quit – so yes, this is a distinct possibility
7) Can I Arrange a Job Before Leaving Home? Yes you can but to be perfectly honest, it’s not always the best option. If there is a third party involved in placing you at an institution then invariably you can sort your own job out for a better salary. I know it’s scary to book a ticket to a place with no plans in place, but that’s also where the best opportunities lie (and certainly the most fun!) but if that’s not your cup of tea then it’s very easy to sort out a job online before you leave
8 ) When Do Jobs Start? People on all the forums will tell you the various academic term times of the countries that you are looking at so pay heed to those but in my experience if you want a job in any country and you turn up willing to work you will find a job, 99.9%.
10) How Long Will I Need To Commit To? The most frequent contracts are either 1 year or 2 years and you normally get a bonus (generally one months wage) on completion of the contract. Naturally, you are not obliged to stay beyond when you want to though and you can always move on if you forego your bonus
11) What Do I Do About Visas? If you work for a half decent school they will begin the visa process as soon as you start (sometime they pay, sometimes you pay but it’s never too much money), soon you will have a work permit and work visa, normally eligible for one year then it needs to be renewed. However, between you and me, many people work on tourist visas for cash in hand with various less reputable schools and although this isn’t strictly legal, it is rife
12) What Are Typical Working Conditions? Hugely dependent on the school or university. It can range from air-conditioned lecture halls with electronic white boards to wooden huts in 40 degree heat and 50 students! Just make sure you know what your getting yourself into before you commit
13) What About Travel Costs and Accommodation? Many of the more affluent countries (SK, Japan, U.A.E etc) cover your flights for you and put you up in decent accommodation. In less developed countries it’s up to you to pay for it but normally the school will assist you
14) What Will My Students Be Like? Depending on the calibre of school, your class size could range from 6-50 people. Often first time English teachers end up teaching primary school kids but if this isn’t what you want (like me!) then you can easily find schools with adult learners
15) What Happens If I Really Hate the Job or the Country? This one is easy – leave! This happens a fair bit, especially for people who have never lived away from home so the schools are very understanding and they will send you off with a friendly handshake, a decent reference and unforgettable memories
16) Can I Make A Career Out Of This? Absolutely! And you can earn some serious cash too, there are loads of further qualifications available out there, Masters, PHD’s, DELTAs etc. all of which nudge you up the TEFL food chain and allow you to earn serious western wages in every country in the world