Teach English as a Foreign or Second Language

Updated on May 22, 2020
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I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

A collection of images used to show students prepositions of place.
A collection of images used to show students prepositions of place. | Source

Teach English and Travel Overseas

Are you looking for a change of career? Maybe you want to see the world and help others at the same time? If your mother tongue is English, the answer could be teaching. An intensive four-week training course will equip you to teach English to speakers of other languages. You can help them improve their written and spoken English language skills. In return you will gain a new outlook on the world and experience other cultures.

English is one of the languages of international commerce, so there are many non-native speakers who need to use it. Some are complete beginners, but many of them want to improve their fluency, with a view to a wider choice of career. This means there’s potential for you to teach English to both children and adults, from novice learners through to advanced level.

You can travel overseas and teach English in a foreign country where you are the stranger. Or you could give lessons in your own country to non-native speakers; they want to become fluent in English for family or job reasons.

Acronyms in English Language Teaching

Teaching English as a Foreign Language
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults
International English Language Testing System

Should You Study For the CELTA?

Very few teaching jobs at any level are open to unqualified candidates. If this type of career appeals, you should study (and pass) an intensive 4-week TEFL or TESOL course. The most widely accepted qualification is the CELTA. This is an initial teacher training qualification for teaching English as a second or foreign language.

Courses leading to the qualification are run under the supervision of Cambridge University, England, but they can be studied in many locations around the world. The fees vary depending on where you enroll, but expect to pay around US $2,200 for four weeks tuition. Your accommodation, transport, and food costs will be in addition to this amount.

To give you an idea of what's involved I recommend you read The ESL Teacher's Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools, and Activities for Teaching English Language Learners of All Levels. It’s a comprehensive reference book that covers all you need to know about teaching English as a second language.

The video below gives some great tips on what to look for when choosing a TEFL course. It explains why online courses are cheap compared to an in-person course.

Online TEFL qualifications are rarely accepted to teach English to students in legitimate schools either overseas or at home. Both you and the people you want to teach will benefit from you studying in-person and gaining proper teaching skills and experience.

Are TEFL Certifications A Scam? Which Course Should You Take?

What Does English Language Teaching Involve?

The aim of TEFL teachers is to improve the fluency of their students in the English language, usually using American or British spellings and syntax. English language teaching covers the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. Most students don’t realize that their teachers plan lessons in such a way that they practice each of these four skills in every session. An in-person intensive initial teacher training course will equip you with the skills and experience to be able to do this. A cheap online-only TEFL course is unable to give you this skill-set.

YouTube is a great source of material to help you with lesson planning. Amongst many others, you will find videos produced by the International English Language Training Scheme (IELTS) from The British Council. The IELTS is a qualification that many of your students will be working towards. It is a globally recognized measure of fluency in the English language. When someone applies to work in the UK or US, they may be asked to show English language fluency to a specified IELTS level. To be accepted onto a University undergraduate degree course, a student would be expected to have achieved IELTS level 6 or 7.

TEFL Lesson in China: 80 Students!

Where Can You Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages?

Once you have your CELTA, other TEFL, or TESOL qualification, the world’s your oyster. You could teach in a conventional school or classroom, tutor students online, or do homestay total immersion teaching.

1. Teaching In Person, Home or Away

There are many reputable companies that recruit native English speakers to work in schools overseas and at home. The jobs are advertised in the same way as any other vacancy. Check out the job boards online, the vacancy listings in newspapers, and listen out for personal word-of-mouth recommendations of places to teach English.

Before you get excited and book your flight, read your work contract carefully. Does it include a legal work visa? What are your contracted working hours, and are you expected to do ‘voluntary’ extra out-of-hours sessions like sports or accompanying children on away-days? What costs are you liable for if you leave your contract early? Be cautious and make sure you understand what you are signing. Once you’re in a foreign country, it can be exhausting and difficult to leave if you end up in a job that you hate.

Online tutoring is one-to-one. It's intensive, but rewarding.
Online tutoring is one-to-one. It's intensive, but rewarding. | Source

2. The Internet

Some students don’t have the time or money to join a physical class so they prefer to take ad hoc lessons online. There are many English language tutor websites that act as an online ad board. In exchange for advertising your skills, they take a cut of any fees you earn.

Or, you could create your own website and use social networks to broadcast your availability for teaching English. Online lessons are given using Skype, Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangout or similar. International payment can be taken via PayPal rather than give out your bank account details.

A homestay student becomes one of the family; they eat and socialize with you.
A homestay student becomes one of the family; they eat and socialize with you. | Source

3. Homestay Total Immersion Learning

Some overseas students want to stay in a tutor’s home and experience both the language and culture of a country. They become a part of your family. In exchange for the homestay fee you take them with you on your family outings, as well as giving them some formal grammar lessons. This type of teaching can be financially rewarding, but it’s also very time-consuming and exhausting.

Study Your Job Contract Before You Travel

Whichever kind of TEFL teaching you choose, make sure the fees are agreed in advance. Discuss with your student, or other fee-payer, the type of English (American or British) they wish to learn, as spellings, pronunciations and word meanings differ.

Agreeing these kinds of things upfront helps to avoid misunderstandings; this could result in a student refusing to pay after you've delivered the lesson. Despite these potential pitfalls, teaching English to speakers of other languages is a rewarding career, and can take you all over the world.

Further Information

If you live or want to train as a teacher in English for speakers of other languages in the UK or US take a look at the Cambridge English Language Assessment website.

For an international organization that covers English language tests recognized worldwide, go to the IELTS website.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    5 weeks ago from UK

    Teaching English as a foreign language has for many years been very useful for those who want to live abroad and travel. I have known several people do it. Your interesting article brings my rusty knowledge more up to date.

  • CHRIS57 profile image


    5 weeks ago from Northern Germany

    Great article, quite impressive...

    I was not familiar with the different TEFLs, CELTAs, DELTAs and how that enables teaching.

    I would like draw your attention to the student side of the business. Having learned a handful of languages, i want to share some experience. Imho learning is basically divided into 2 steps:

    - Basic education, basic grammar, vocabulary

    - Advanced education, writing, communicate, free speech.

    For advanced education a native speaker is very helpful, for basic education this is different. For basic education it is essential to understand the different structural approaches of languages.

    Some languages use a synthetic system (combining words and sentences to form new expressions), some use an analytic approach (using multiple cases, flexions to express meanings). From my experience this is the hardest thing to learn for a language student and here a native speaker is not helpful, especially if the teacher does not even speak the languages of foreign students.

    This is why i have little confidence in language classes for students from 5 continents with 20 different languages. Doesn´t work out.

    Anyways, your promotion of English language teaching to foreigners is certainly worth some applause, but please don´t release native speakers on beginners.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    5 weeks ago from SW England

    Great advice in this. I studied for a TEFL qualification when I was in London in the early 70s. Although I was already a qualified teacher, the TEFL course taught me much more about teaching in general and I went on to teach in a London-based language school for 18 months.

    I've since used it in a my last job as a qualified teacher of dyslexics, as a few of our students were from overseas and the combination helped.



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