A Great Career to Consider: Teaching English Overseas

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Teaching English overseas is an exciting career for someone who likes language and being around people from other cultures. It has the added attraction of an opportunity to live in a foreign country while earning a salary and can also be an entry into the teaching field. Furthermore, it is a field with many opportunities as English only increases its importance as an international language.


Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL) is the name of the profession of teaching English to non-native speakers. It has two main divisions: English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). ESL students are those who learn English in a country where English is spoken as a native language, like the United States and Canada. In contrast, EFL students are those who learn English in a country where English is not the dominant language, such as Japan, Brazil, or Saudi Arabia (Brown, 2007).

Students learning English where it is not a native language are called EFL students, and the teacher is an EFL teacher/instructor/professor who often has a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate earned after completing up to 6 months of additional studies.

Demand for English Teachers Overseas

The demand for English teachers in other countries is higher than ever because of the role of English as an international language. English is the most widely spoken language in transportation, commerce, banking, tourism, technology, diplomacy, and scientific research (Kachru, 2005; McKay, 2002). Not only do people from other countries need to know English to interact with native English speakers in these arenas, English is also the most frequently used language among speakers of different languages other than English.

Many foreign governments have realized the importance of having citizens who are sufficiently proficient in English to participate on the world stage. As a result, they have increased the amount of English education that students receive so they can reach the level of competency required to communicate proficiently in English.

The same governments have also realized that part of the problem is the traditional Grammar-Translation curriculum, in which students focus more on the rote memorization of grammar rules and vocabulary than learning how to use English for communicative purposes (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). This shift has created a transition to using Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) methods in the English language classrooms, which focus more on meaningful communication and oral skills (Richards & Rodgers). Consequently, there is a high demand for native English speaking teachers who know how to use CLT and who can accurately model native pronunciation and idiom.

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Job Opportunities

Dozens of websites exist that advertise job opportunities for teaching English overseas – just search “Teaching English Abroad.” Some sites are independent, take listings from many sources, and do not charge to access listings; others are the sites of agencies that recruit teachers for particular geographical regions or specific schools and charge for their services. I’ve been reviewing job postings on three independent sites: eslcafe.com, esljobfeed.com, and jobstefl.com, where I found hundreds of job postings.

There are three typical institutional contexts in which EFL teachers might find employment:

  • Countries in which English is offered as a school subject, providing opportunities for teaching K-12 EFL in public and private schools. Some of these jobs also involve teaching content areas in English, such as math and science classes, especially at the high school level.
  • Language schools that offer English classes for children, adolescents, and adults. Language schools can belong to international companies, such as English First (EF), while others are locally owned. A teacher might be hired to only teach children or adults, or teach both.
  • The English department of a university, which usually involves teaching freshmen and sophomore general English classes, but could also include teaching rhetoric, literature, or linguistics to English majors.
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Educational Background Needs

It used to be that if you were a native speaker of English and had a pulse, you could be hired to teach English in another country. Not anymore! As the demand for English speakers has become greater, the requirements for educating them have become stricter. As I read through job announcements from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, I found very similar application requirements. Only university positions require a Master’s, while K-12 and language schools have similar requirements:

  • a BA required, a Master’s preferred
  • a teaching credential and/or TESL/TEFL certificate, and
  • some teaching experience.

So, if someone were interested in this opportunity after completing his or her Bachelor’s in English Language Learning Studies, getting a TEFL Certificate would be the next step. Since most contracts are as short as six months or a year, it could be a great experience for someone to see whether they like being a teacher without a long-term commitment. People with an MA in TESOL would have even more opportunities.

Written by: Dr. Holly Wilson
Dr. Wilson is an assistant professor in the College of Education at Ashford University.

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Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by principles. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kachru, B. (2005) Teaching and learning of world Englishes. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 149-179). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
McKay, S. (2002). Teaching English as an international language: rethinking goals and approaches. Oxford, UD: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J. C. & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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