Teaching languages abroad: What are the options?

teaching languages abroad

Teaching languages is becoming a more important and lucrative industry as the world becomes smaller and businesses seek to establish themselves in multiple countries. With English now being a prerequisite for many jobs in many countries, particularly throughout Europe, moving abroad to teach English is becoming an ever-more viable option for those either struggling to seek employment at home or who simply want to live abroad for a period of time.

But, do you need a qualification to teach English abroad? What qualifications are on offer? Can you really earn a living by teaching English in another country? Are there other important languages that people also want to learn? Just a Platform investigates.

Training for language teachers – CELTA and TEFL

The best known and most widely recognised course on offer for those wishing to teach English as a foreign language is CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). CELTA is the most popular qualification of its kind and is aimed at people with little or no previous teaching experience. The course covers five main topics including language analysis and awareness, planning for different contexts and developing teaching skills and professionalism. The course is assessed throughout by two types of assessment, teaching practice and written assignments. Although a fairly heavy workload it is not too intellectually challenging, providing you put in the effort.

teaching languages abroadImage: Carrie Kellenberger via Flickr

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is not a qualification in itself but is used to describe accredited and often standardised courses to equip those wishing to teach English as a foreign language with the necessary skills. Centres that give training in how to teach English have recognised the need for an official qualification and often implement a externally assessed certificate in their courses. Many language schools require new recruits to have completed an accredited course and to have undertaken a specific amount of observed teaching practise.

Sav D’Souza, Editor-in-chief here at Just a Platform undertook an intensive OxfordTEFL course himself whilst living in Prague, which involved attending lessons five days a week from 9am-5pm for a month. ‘It was pretty intense and probably one of the hardest things I have ever done,’ he comments, but goes on to state that it was a brilliant way to make friends and meet people when living in a new city. The benefit of his course was that upon successful completion he had the chance to give English lessons at the OxfordTEFL centre in Prague for a salary.

‘Teaching at OxfordTEFL did not pay brilliantly,’ he comments, ‘but it was extra money and useful practice, plus living in Prague meant that the cost of living was cheap.’ The centre also offered opportunities for students to gain work in schools after having received their certificates, so the possibilities are fairly extensive once you have a qualification under your belt.

teaching english pragueImage: photosam88 via Flickr

Despite not needing a teaching qualification for her language assistant role in Chile, organised by the British Council, Emily, a recent Modern Languages graduate from UCL, states that well-established language schools, or at least those she has come into contact with in Chile, often do require a formal qualification such as CELTA. She took the CELTA course and examination as she felt she could learn a lot and that it would help her with her teaching methods. ‘CELTA is very worthwhile,’ she comments. ‘My instructors were good, so showed us a wide range of teaching methods. I don’t feel like I’ve been told there’s only one way to teach.’

Do I need a qualification to teach English as a foreign language?

Despite these language qualification courses being helpful and interesting, if you are looking to teach short term or simply to gain some extra cash, they do not appear to be entirely necessary. Sarah, another UCL graduate in French and Spanish has had experience teaching English in both Spain and Buenos Aires. She has no qualifications in teaching and taught English in Spain before she even started her degree.

By advertising locally she was quickly able to earn money from giving one-on-one English lessons in Alicante and Valencia. ‘Students were mostly interested in how the classes were delivered, how quickly progress could be made and that you were a native speaker,’ Sarah tells me. ‘Being British was also a plus, as Spaniards seemed to favour British pronunciation.’

Alice, who is currently an English Language Assistant at the Sorbonne, Paris, also runs private English tutoring classes on the side and, like Sarah, holds no formal teaching qualifications. She tells me that people were attracted principally by the fact that she marketed herself as being able to tailor her classes to their needs and had a southern British accent.

‘Wanting to earn some extra money on the side, I put up English tutor adverts on Gumtree and Craigslist,’ she says. ‘I also found a pupil through a family friend, a young boy, who I currently teach at a rate of 25 euros an hour. Finding people to teach is easy; there is a high demand for English teachers and people aren’t too worried about you having any qualifications.’

work abroad teaching EnglishImage: HerryLawford via Flickr

Elizabeth, a recent modern languages graduate from Cambridge University, is currently teaching English in Spain, in a town near Madrid. She secured her role in a language school through a contact at university. She also teaches in businesses and gives home-schooling. Demand for English teachers is so high that she tells me she has also been offered numerous other jobs at various language centres in the area.

She tells me the work is enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining. ‘In a class working on adjectives for personality, I asked people to describe their best friend’, she says. ‘Most of the class described their best friend as ‘nice’ or ‘funny’, but one person described her boyfriend as ‘irrelevant.’

paid teaching English abroadImage: Greenwich Photography via Flickr

Can I teach my own language in Britain?

People who do not live in Britain and wish to teach their own mother tongue here can equally apply for a language assistant placement at schools, colleges and universities in Britain and applications are often filtered through the British Council. Although foreign teachers are unable to apply directly through the British Council, the British Council works in partnership with various foreign local authorities to match applicants with a suitable role. Language tutors are always required from France, Germany, Italy, Russia and China to teach in high schools, colleges and universities. For more details on how to apply and to see if the British Council has a partnership with your region. List of British Council Country Language Partners.  visit their list of partners here.

With declining levels of people wishing to learn foreign languages however, setting yourself up as a freelance language teacher in Britain is proving an increasingly less viable option and the statistics for foreign language learning amongst British youngsters are not pretty. However, with Michael Gove hoping to implement obligatory language learning in all schools from the age of five onwards, positions for tutors and assistants across Britain may be set to increase.

teaching English abroad salaryImage: Tim Green via Flickr

Teaching languages worldwide

Throughout the world there are private language schools in almost every city teaching the language of the country in question to foreigners and expats. In countries where demand for learning languages other than English is low, working in an established language school to teach your language of choice is a more secure option financially speaking.

Organisations such as Tandem International often have partnerships with private language centres to ensure there is a level of standardisation being upheld. Tamdem International works with schools in Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, helping them to offer specifically designed courses teaching those of all nationalities the language of the country where the school is based.

Courses on offer include learning language for business, learning as part of the Erasmus programme, short intensive courses and longer more conversationally based courses. The majority of good language schools throughout Europe should offer course content that corresponds to the CEFR, which, for those still studying, allows you to receive university credits from participating universities by studying the language of the country where you are currently based for your Erasmus/University exchange.

where can I teach English Image: Rex Pe via Flickr

For language teaching in the Middle East, www.teacherport.com is a particularly good website that displays jobs and teaching opportunities in many countries. With visitors to the site able to browse both available jobs and employers worldwide, all levels of language tutoring jobs are featured in well over one hundred countries. Some require no formal qualifications, others require a strong teaching background.

A brilliant aspect of this site is that it also offers jobs teaching different subjects, but in English. If you are already a qualified teacher who wants to relocate, this looks to be an attractive option. International schools, which normally conduct teaching in English, are becoming increasingly popular as more and more parents have to uproot their children to continue their careers abroad.


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