Teaching English Abroad


For various historical and economic reasons, English has become the dominant language of the world in the twentyfirst century. English is the language of science, air traffic control, tourism, the internet and to a very large extent of trade and export. According to the British Council at least one billion people speak or are trying to speak English at the present time and of those about 300 million people are actively studying the English language. These statistics help to explain the emergence and explosion of the TEFL industry.

This is bad news for those without a command of the English language but very good news for English speakers who find themselves in possession of a commodity that is in much demand throughout most of the world. This guide will hopefully provide you with an insight into the world of teaching English abroad, the qualifications required as well as an overview of countries and regions where job opportunities are most commonly found. We hope that this information will be of use to you and answer most of your questions regarding this exciting and rewarding opportunity. However, if you have any questions not answered here or on our website , please contact us at [email protected].


The above question is probably the one we find ourselves answering the most. The use of these acronyms (amongst others) can be rather confusing, especially as they are frequently used interchangeably. In effect both of these terms refer to the industry of teaching the English language to people whose native language is not English. Below is a list of definitions which, hopefully, should clarify their meanings:

  • TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This term is predominantly used when English is being taught in a country where it isn't the native language (for example teaching English to Spanish people in Spain).
  • TESL - Teaching English as a Second Language. This is where English is being taught to non-native speakers of English in a country where it is the native language (for example teaching immigrants to the UK/USA).
  • TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This term theoretically encompasses both of the above. ELT - This stands for English Language Teaching and is mainly used by institutions in the UK.

Whilst there were slight differences in theory, these terms are nowadays used interchangeably and it should not make any difference to your future career and job prospects whether you study a TEFL or a TESOL course.

Who can teach English abroad?

Jobs teaching English are pretty much open to all native or fluent English speakers. However, the vast majority of jobs will require you to have a TEFL/TESOL certificate, which can be gained by following a fairly short course (typically of around four weeks duration). No previous teaching experience or additional qualifications are usually required and there is usually also no strict age limit, though individual employers may have personal preferences.

Where can I teach English?

There are tens of thousands of TEFL/TESOL jobs all around the world. There are jobs in virtually every town and city of every country. Salaries and working conditions for teachers vary tremendously from country to country, city to city and even from school to school but generally speaking you can expect to enjoy a comfortable and interesting lifestyle. Some teachers have a definite location in mind, whereas others prefer traveling from country to country teaching as they go. Some decide to teach on a short-term basis while others make a career of it but however long and wherever you teach, you will get the opportunity to experience the culture and treasures of that country as a resident and not as a tourist. The world really is your oyster! You can get a general idea of job prospects around the world by visiting our country profiles pages in part 5 of this guide.

Students, schools and timetables

A huge range of people from kindergarten aged children through to adult business people are studying English, so you can expect to teach a wide variety of students. Some schools specialize in teaching children, while others are more geared towards teaching adult learners. There are teaching positions in state schools, universities and large multinational companies but probably the majority of jobs are teaching in private language schools which specialize in providing English tuition to students of all ages and backgrounds.

When teaching English abroad it is useful to do some research into the culture of the country before commencing work. You will find that students in certain countries are notorious for being quiet and studious and less willing to join in communicative activities in the classroom, whereas students of other nationalities are known as being quite boisterous and vocal. Knowing a bit about your students can help you be prepared for all eventualities. Obviously you will learn about how to deal with different types of students during your TEFL/TESOL training.

English language teachers typically can expect around 25 classroom hours per week plus a few additional hours for testing, marking homework, writing reports and other administrative duties. These hours could be within a normal 9 to 5 timetable or they could be early in the morning and then again late afternoon to fit around your students' work/school times. Some schools only operate from Monday to Friday, whereas others also open over the weekend as the students have more free time for study on those days. However, a teacher should expect two days free work per week plus national holidays.

Most schools will close for major holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Easter (though holidays may vary depending on the culture of that country) which gives the teacher an opportunity to visit family and friends at home or to explore more of the country where they are working.

The English language ability level of your students can also vary widely. You may find yourself teaching a group of beginner students, a group of very advanced students or anything in between. The type of English that is taught can also differ. Younger learners are probably going to be learning more basic English through games and activities, while business people may wish to learn specific English for their industry. Some adults may wish to learn English for traveling purposes, some might just want conversation to brush up on their language skills, while others want a deeper understanding of the grammar and structure. Fortunately most employers will provide a curriculum and have a library of text books and resource materials that you can utilize in your classes.

You could be teaching individual students, small groups or large groups and so you have to be prepared to teach at all ability levels, age ranges, group sizes and from a variety of materials. This is why some form of training is essential for all responsible teachers.

What experience/qualifications are required?

As mentioned previously most jobs will require you to have some form of teaching certification to be a teacher. This certification can be quickly (and relatively inexpensively) obtained through taking a TEFL or TESOL course. These courses will certify you to teach English overseas as well as equipping you with all the knowledge and skills that you need to start teaching English. TEFL courses can be taken as an intensive course in a classroom setting, as a distance learning or online course or a combination of the two. Other than that no additional teaching qualifications or experience are usually required.

If you wish to specialize in teaching children or teaching business English, then there are additional specialist qualifications that you can obtain.

Further information on these qualifications can be found in part 2 of this guide or on our website

The most common and useful qualification required to teach English abroad is a TEFL/TESOL certificate. There is a wide range of such courses offered that vary in duration, study method and price but most courses are based around the same principle, which is to provide high quality, practical training. Some courses offered have a greater degree of international recognition than others and quality can vary from company to company, so it is extremely important to make sure that you choose an internationally recognized course that is externally accredited.