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Teach to Travel

Rex Pe / CC BY 2.0

By  June 29, 2009

Teaching English is a great way to see the world—and get paid for it.

Here's a common dilemma: itchy feet and an empty wallet. Sound familiar? If you're finding yourself in this situation, you have a few travel options.

You could: Forget about it and go back to bed. Turn on the Discovery Channel, watch a few travel programmes and buy a lottery ticket. Look for a way to help fund your travels.

I graduated with a degree in English and absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Teaching English seemed like a good excuse to travel for a year or so, but like many before me I found the work to be challenging, constantly rewarding and tremendously addictive.

Teaching English abroad can offer some incredible opportunities if you want to help finance your travels and immerse yourself in another culture. English has become the international language of business, science, politics, technology—and your ability to speak it can be much sought after. In many ways, teaching English is the portable career.

Do you want to teach English for pocket money or as a career?

A good starting point is to decide why you want to teach overseas. Are you simply looking for a way to pick up some temporary work while you are backpacking? Or is it the prospect of teaching itself and the depth of cultural experience it can bring that interests you?

Many people start out in former situation and soon realize that teaching is something they wish to continue and turn into a career.

Colette Neville works for the Nova Group, a large organization that operates English schools throughout Japan. She began teaching for Nova with the intent of staying in Japan for a year. "I enjoyed teaching, living in Japan and being able to travel there so much, that I ended up staying on for two more years." She adds, "The income was a good incentive too—there's the potential to make a pretty good living teaching English in Japan."

What you need to teach English: The paper or the practice—or both?

Being able to speak English does not necessarily mean that you can teach it. In many places, your ability to speak the language may be enough to land you a job. But if you don't know what you're doing, there is a good chance that neither you nor your students will enjoy your lessons much.

If you're serious about teaching English, it's not a bad idea to gain some training and experience before heading off into a new country and standing up in front of a group of people who speak another language. Not only will it improve your job prospects and options, it will also to improve your confidence and your abilities.

There is a huge number of organizations and companies that offer teacher training for people wishing to teach English as a second language—and a veritable alphabet soup of different certifications and certifying bodies (click here for an English translation).

All certification courses are not the same and standards are not necessarily—well—standardized. A TESL (Teach English as a Second Language) programme could be taught on-line in as few as 40 hours, or it could involve over one hundred hours of class time plus a practicum of 20 or more hours.

Which one do you choose? That depends.

Clearly, the longer, more involved courses tend to be more expensive. If you are planning on teaching English overseas for at least a year or two—and you would like to have the option of teaching English as a second language (ESL) here in Canada as well—then opt for the longer, more involved course.

There are a couple of advantages to this type of course. Many employers, especially the better paying ones, recognize and require this sort of certification. Also, because these courses tend to be fairly intensive and demanding, and usually involve a practicum where you actually teach new English speakers (and get feedback from instructors), you are generally much better prepared at the end of the day.

If, on the other hand, you are pursuing the pay-for-your-backpacking route, then a shorter, less expensive course may be an option. Understandably, you may leave feeling less prepared than you might with a longer course involving practical experience. But if you are flexible, motivated, and willing to gain your first bit of practical experience on the fly, this may work for you.

Don Christie is a coordinator with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme, a long-running cultural exchange programme operated by the Japanese Government. Although applicants are not officially required to have teaching certificates in order to participate in the JET programme, Christie strongly recommends taking a TEFL course from a reputable provider and gaining as much experience teaching ESL as you can.

A great way to gain experience is to contact your school's international student centre or a community centre in your area, and volunteer to teach conversational English to recent newcomers. Not only is this experience looked upon favourably by prospective employers, it will go a long way to giving you a sense about whether or not teaching ESL is something that you would like to pursue.page3

Landing a job

At the moment, hot-spots for English teachers include Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Eastern Europe. To a certain extent, your experience and qualifications (or lack thereof) will help to determine your options.

An increasing number of employers now require an undergraduate degree as the basic qualification for a teaching position. This may also be necessary in some countries in order to obtain a visa to work. In addition, many of the better, more reputable employers now require applicants to hold a certification to teach English.

If you're a little shy on qualifications and experience, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong still offer many possibilities. Demand for English teachers is high and official certification is not always required. Be willing to accept the fact that you'll probably be paid less than someone with greater qualifications. Also, you may find yourself having to adapt to a less than ideal teaching environment.

"It's easy to find a job," says David Hughes, Director of Language Studies International - Canada, "The question is, 'What happens next?'"

In general, you will find yourself working in a school, or freelancing, offering private lessons to individuals.

"During my first year of teaching English I realised how much I enjoyed the work, and also how much I had to learn to become a really good teacher."                     
David Hudson, 26

Working for an established school tends to offer some advantages: benefits (and payroll deductions), a regular salary, vacation, health insurance. Some employers may also arrange, or help you to arrange, work permits, visas and sometimes even your flights.

Remember though, you are signing a contract that you will be held to. Be sure that you know exactly what it entails. Hughes recommends doing a bit of research about the school's reputation and the working conditions you might expect there before you sign on the dotted line. There are a variety of online forums where you can read about other teachers' experiences in a particular country or at a particular school.

As you research teaching English overseas, you'll discover that teaching English as a second language isn't just a way to pay for time spent in another culture. It is a sub-culture unto itself. Many people who've tried it say they wouldn't trade the experience for the world. Many of those same people have a lot of valid warnings and advice. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of resources online for prospective teachers looking to find work overseas—be sure to do your research.

TESL Resources

Thinking about teaching English overseas? Here are some resources to get you started.

University or College International Centres or Career Resource Centres:

These are always great places to start looking for information about working overseas. Many Canadian universities and colleges have their own ESL programmes.


Teaching English Overseas - A Job Guide for Americans and Canadians by Jeff Mohamed

Teaching English Abroad by Susan Griffith


Dave's ESL Café  
The one, the only...Interesting articles, chat, tips, warnings for ESL teachers, job postings. Visit a couple of the online forums to get a sense of what teaching ESL is all about.

The Internet TESL Journal 
Practical information for ESL teachers.

The ESLoop

TESL Canada 
Information, links, job postings.

Oxford Seminars has compiled a broad range of ESL Teaching Resources

Related reading:

Alphabet Soup: An English Guide to ESL Acronyms

Insider Tips from a TEFL Veteran

TEFL-ution: The Changing Landscape of Teaching English Abroad

Look Before you Leap: Six Things to Consider Before Committing to an English-Teaching Job

Six Questions to Ask Before Signing a TEFL Contract

The Pearl of the Gulf: TESL in Bahrain

Changing Times for English Teachers in Thailand

Add this article to your reading list
Published in Work Abroad
Jeff Minthorn

Publisher, Editor-in-Chief

A co-founder of Verge Magazine and the Go Global Expo, Jeff is a well-known voice in the area of international working, studying and volunteering and was writing about gap years before the term even appeared the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Having worked, studied and travelled on six continents, Jeff is passionate about the important role international experience plays in developing responsible, caring global citizens. He has spoken to audiences across Canada and the United States on subjects ranging from how to plan an international volunteer experience, to developing effective media skills and literacy.
Jeff holds two degrees from the University of Waterloo. Before co-founding Verge, he spent 10 years in the field of experiential education, including several years training experiential educators. Through Verge and the Go Global Expos, Jeff has been helping to connect international organizations and global citizens for nearly two decades.

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