One of the few bright spots for the foreseeable future in terms of professional opportunities is the teaching of English. I’m talking about the English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign language teaching profession (ESL/EFL). As more and more people around the world realize that knowledge of English is key to their own career path, they have increasingly sought quality instruction to meet their needs. I stumbled into this field as a foreign language major who found little demand for his foreign language skills in the U.S.A., but discovered a huge demand for his own language all over the world. That fortuitous event has led me to dedicate my life both to ESL/EFL teaching as well as to the training of the future generation of ESL/EFL teachers. In my job as a trainer, I often answer questions about how to begin the process of becoming a teacher of English abroad. And so, for those of you interested in pursuing this profession, I set out the step-by-step process below:
Step 1: Choose a country or a few countries that interest you. There are numerous websites to help you find more information about what countries most need EFL teachers. Currently, there is high demand for native speaking EFL teachers throughout Asia and Southeast Asia, all over Latin America, including Brazil, and in the Middle East, too. Eastern Europe has a high demand as well. In addition to determining your interest in learning the language and culture of each of those countries, you should also consider how much money you need to earn and the working visa situation in those nations.
Step 2: Assess your qualifications. Each country requires different qualifications, ranging from being a native speaker who is healthy to having a master’s degree in the EFL/ESL teaching field. For the most part, however, the baseline is a bachelor’s degree plus a TEFL certificate. (The TEFL certificate is also known as a TESOL certificate in Asia, and both of these are equivalent to a CELTA certificate for the British.)
Step 3: Compare your qualifications with that of your chosen country(ies). Once you have determined what country and you have performed a self-assessment, you’ll need to make some choices based on the resources available and the amount of time it will take you to achieve what you need to teach. This step quickly narrows down your field of options. I think many of you will soon realize that you are already qualified for some countries. But, the jobs available may pay less, and the companies doing business with people who have fewer qualifications are less reputable.
Step 4: Get the necessary qualifications, if you need any, such as a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate. If you realize that you need more training, the quickest option, if you have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, is to seek a TEFL certificate. There are many programs internationally that can train a future teacher in as little as one month. Other options, depending on a person’s resources and time constraints, are the master’s or ultimately the PhD degree. Each of these will depend on your eventual goal: teaching in K-12 abroad (TEFL), teaching in Intensive English Programs internationally (MA), or being a researcher and teacher at Universities all over the world (PhD).
Step 5: Apply for jobs. All the while you should be scouring the world for jobs, no matter where you are in your training. Don’t wait till you have your certificate or your degree before you begin looking. There is a high demand for these teachers and the sooner you’re out there looking the sooner you’ll be employed. Our TEFL certificate in the Center for English as a Second Language at the University of Arizona often enrolls trainees who already have jobs. All they need to do is complete the program successfully. Some of our trainees graduate on Saturday and leave on Sunday with certificate in hand.
Step 6: Prepare to have the experience of your life. Once you’ve identified a country, received the necessary training, and found a job, the rest is simply preparing for your departure and looking forward to jumping with both feet into a place and culture that will afford you the experience of your life. You will gain valuable intercultural competence that you can bring back to your home country and utilize to retool your careers. Or, proceed to step 7.
Step 7: Dedicate your life to a growing field. The field of teaching English as a Second Language or Foreign Language is growing. Until the world has either adopted English as a second language or has extended English language learning to all levels of every educational system, the teaching of EFL/ESL is projected to grow exponentially. This means that the field will continue to expand and professionals at all levels will be necessary to train the next generation of teachers and teach the next generation of learners. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll fall in love with the profession, as I did, and dedicate yourself to it by earning higher and higher degrees. Or, if you’re retiring soon and are looking to make a difference—cash out your 401(K) and travel the world, teaching English and contributing to the future development of nations and individuals.