Teaching English as a Foreign Language: TEFL

What is TEFL?

TEFL is often used to mean the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language or Second Language (TESL / TESOL) and also to refer to the qualification. TEFL/ TESOL qualifications enable you to teach English to those whose first language is not English in commercial language schools and institutions of further education. You may be teaching children or adults overseas or in the UK so it’s important to work out the level of training and job that’s right for you.

Where are most of the jobs?

Demand for TEFL teachers is currently high in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. North Africa and Latin America are also worth exploring. It is anticipated that in the future demand in Europe will slow.

The ease of finding work varies considerably according to the location. You will also see adverts for English language summer camp tutors in Europe. There are, on occasion jobs advertised for online TEFL tutors as well.

The vast majority of TEFL teachers work overseas yet qualified TEFL / TESOL teachers are still needed in the UK. However in the UK there is a lot of competition for long-term permanent posts.

Do I need a qualification or experience?

Start by researching the job market, you will find jobs vary widely in what they require. Use job vacancy sites to research the countries you want to travel to.

  • Many employers favour courses that are over 100 hours in length, which include teaching practice, such as CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching Adults).
  • Some countries may require you to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and often up to two years general classroom experience.
  • You may not need TEFL qualifications but be required to be a Native speaker. You might not even need a degree.

Getting experience will help you understand if you will like the job and also make you more attractive to employers.

  • Try to find an opportunity to get involved with volunteering to teach English, before committing to any course costs. Consider the "teaching English to Asylum seekers and refugees" volunteering option through the Volunteering Hub.
  • English language summer camp tutor roles may not require qualifications as many will give you training. They are a good entry level way to get experience and find out if you will enjoy the work.

Questions for you.

  1. Are you planning to teach overseas in a non-English speaking country or in the UK? Will you be teaching children or adults? This may also affect the qualification or experience you need.
  2. How long are you planning to teach for? What level of investment are you prepared to make?
  3. Do you have any previous teaching experience, how will you cope with lesson planning and classroom management?

TEFL qualifications are open to graduates in any discipline who have good English language skills; however the following degree subjects may also increase your chances: English, Modern European Languages, Modern Non-European Languages; Linguistics and Education.

What are the qualification options?

You can train for a TEFL qualification at various levels, in a large number of language schools and colleges in the UK and abroad.

  • Courses vary from short introductory courses lasting only couple of days, studying part time, and online or intensive certificate courses lasting around five to six weeks, you can even do a Masters level qualification.
  • If you are interested in short term TEFL work, cheaper course may be the most suitable option. It is still advisable to look for a course with some teaching practice included, which will better prepare you for a TEFL job.
  • Consider the course location, price, dates and times and level of qualification, as well as asking the course provider questions such as where have previous students from the course gone to work? Do you get support from the course provider to find a job during or after the course?

Prices and funding

Course costs vary between different organisations, their location, facilities, length or level of qualification and the reputation of the school. In general the cost of the course will depend on how many contact hours there are, if teaching practice is involved and the level of certification.

You should expect to provide your own funding for most other TEFL courses. You may find offers for reduced rates or competitions to win a place but it is rare to find a fully funded place.

What will the work be like?

Teaching abroad does not follow a typical nine-five routine, classes are often run on evenings or weekends when the students are not working or studying. Class size varies between locations ranging from four to twenty pupils or more depending on age. Classes are usually taught entirely in English; even at beginner level therefore knowledge of a foreign language is useful but not always essential.

The ability to entertain and dramatise is useful as lessons tend to be practical and functional rather than just concentrating on theory and grammar. You will encourage students to communicate with each other and improve their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.

Whilst abroad you may also be expected to take part in extracurricular activities on evenings and during weekends especially if teaching on summer courses for young people.

How much will I earn?

Salary levels vary depending on the location, the type of employer you work for, the terms and conditions of employment, as well as your level of qualification and experience. With a reputable employer you should earn enough to get by comfortably in local terms.

Salaries vary widely between countries and across organisations. If the cost of living in your host country is low it may still allow you to live comfortably abroad on a lower salary than you would expect in the UK. Generally the better paid jobs are available in countries such as Japan, Taiwan Korea and parts of the Middle East. Private schools may also offer higher salaries and teaching English to professionals is likely to pay more.

Look at advertised vacancies in different countries, check what qualifications they expect you to have and how much they pay.

What do I need to consider when making an application?

When making your applications you should carefully consider;

  • Cost of living (accommodation, food, travel costs etc.) Many positions include free accommodation - you will need to check this with your employer.
  • Will you have to pay for your initial flights or will your employer?
  • Will you need a work permit?
  • What is the rate of national and local tax?
  • How will you be paid, monthly, weekly or hourly?
  • Are you guaranteed a minimum salary/number of teaching hours per month?
  • Are there opportunities to work overtime?
  • Does the employer pay sick leave/holiday pay?
  • Will you be entitled to maternity leave?
  • Does the employer cover the cost of medical insurance?
  • Will you feel safe and happy living in that particular location?
  • Is the country’s political and economic situation stable?
  • Are there any extra-curricular activities that will be part of role?
  • Remember to research the Language school fully before accepting a position of employment.

Is TEFL a long term career option?

Most graduates going into TEFL will probably do so for a summer or just few years, as it is a great way to work and travel. However for those really interested in a long term career, it is possible to move into more specialist or senior roles, for example developing materials, managing and teaching staff or even setting up your own TEFL school.

To pursue a long term career, a higher level qualification such as diploma is usually necessary, for example the Cambridge Diploma in English Language teaching to adults (DELTA). Qualifications such as this, combined with at least two years’ experience, can make you more successful in applying for more senior positions.

Where can I look for job opportunities?

Further resources