Fancy teaching English in a foreign country?

This week’s blog is brought to you by guest blogger Heather Collier, EFL teacher and qualified yoga instructor zenyourenglish Heather has taught in many different contexts: the UK, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Mexico.

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to travel the world and work at the same time? I did consider it but as I already had a good, stable job, I was not prepared to risk security for adventure. It was just a dream. However, in 2010 I became redundant due to the financial crash of 2008 and then had nothing to lose.

What Qualifications Will I Need?

If you suddenly become ‘free’ from previous work commitments or fancy a career change, How do you go about it and what qualifications do you need? Some people can actually find jobs that do not insist upon a degree, but these opportunities are becoming rarer and would probably not include health insurance, a contribution to your travel expenses or a reasonable salary. Increasingly, foreign English Language Centres require an undergraduate degree first, they prefer English but very few of my teacher friends have English. I had Zoology, of all subjects!  The reality is, they will accept any degree discipline as there are not enough English-speaking teachers with an English degree. What you do need, as a minimum, is an English language teaching certificate.  The two most readily recognised are the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).  You may also see teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) referred to, but you can research more online. If you want to teach in the Middle East particularly, or pre-sessional courses at UK universities, a masters in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), Applied Linguistics or DELTA (Diploma of English Language Teaching to Adults) is usually mandatory.

Where can I do the Necessary Qualifications?

The truth is you can become qualified almost anywhere in the world. If you love travelling and experiencing different cultures, why not start becoming qualified in a different country?  Nearly all countries that you might fancy have a centre(s) for taking an English language teaching certificate.  I chose to do a one-month CELTA in Barcelona rather than the same course in England; this way it was my first experience of actually living in a foreign country and the challenges I might face when working abroad.  It was also a taste of the wonderment of experiencing different food, amazing landscapes and making new friends from different cultural backgrounds and traditions.  Once you get the ‘bug’ for living and working abroad, you will never regret it. You might even decide it’s the ideal opportunity to learn a foreign language, if you ever wanted to.

Where can I Find a Teaching Job?

There are many websites advertising teaching jobs for people with CELTA/TEFL qualifications. If you have a degree too, the jobs offer more money, heath insurance and for me, accommodation was almost always free with the job.  This gives you the chance to save, as the cost of living is usually much cheaper than the UK, and/or travel within the country and surrounding countries.

What countries are best to start your English teaching career in?

I’m not entirely sure. I started off in Mexico at an English Language School, at the time, they did not require a degree, just a CELTA. The payment was poor, there was no health insurance and no free accommodation, but it was a good place to ‘cut my teeth’ in the profession. I began to learn how to teach.  I was told by my CELTA tutor that ‘for the first 2/3 years, your students will know more grammar than you do!’  This, I found to be true. Of course, as a native speaker we do not ‘learn’ English, we acquire it. Most of us did not learn much grammar at school.  Maybe its different now but at school, I only learned what a noun, verb and an adjective was. I learned most about grammar when challenged by students ‘why is that teacher?’ In the beginning, I politely thanked the student for the question and bought some time by saying ‘good question, we will cover that at the end of the lesson if there is time, or tomorrow if not’.  I would then research the grammar behind the question and prepare a mini lesson with examples for the start of the next lesson. I particularly remember being asked by a student why he could not take ‘some wines’ with him in a spaceship (as I had asked him to tell me 5 things he would not want to leave behind).  I then found out about countable and uncountable nouns. Naturally enough as a native speaker I had never come across these terms before. I have also taught in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and China.  My most enjoyable time was in Vietnam where I lived in a hotel apartment and there were yoga classes all-round the clock.  I have heard that South Korea and Japan are good countries to start working in, where the pay and conditions are also good.

What Types of English Teaching Establishments are There?

I had no knowledge of how diverse English language teaching could be. I have taught in an English language school which is perhaps the most common setting for English learning both overseas and at home.  I then taught preparatory English for taking a degree in a university in Saudi Arabia. After that, in a ‘College of Excellence’, which was primarily vocational English to help Saudi women enter the jobs market. I went on to teach in another English language centre in Vietnam and another university in China. Lessons varied according to local needs. I have taught general and business English, IELTS (a qualification to enable students to emigrate or enter a foreign university) and conversation classes. I now specialise in English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which enhances a student’s writing, reading, speaking, listening and study skills before undertaking a degree or masters at an English university.

For me, being made redundant from my safe, ‘stable’ job was a blessing in disguise. I was able to realise that dream. I have now travelled the world, seen some fantastic places, eaten the most amazing food, met the nicest people and made life-long friends, learning so much from them about their country and their culture. I have now ‘learned’ English and in turn, love to help people get better at it in order to fulfil their dreams.


6 thoughts on “Fancy teaching English in a foreign country?

  1. Thankyou for the interesting read. Heather has certainly had a journey and has given positive encouragement to anyone who is thinking of trying the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience it was a fascinating read, it’s such a shame travel is curtailed at the moment I can’t wait to get back out in the world again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. One of the great things about learning a language is using it to communicate with other people. Travel is a great way to do this. It’s so satisfying when you order something from a cafe or buy something from a shop or market and chat with the locals in the language of the country you are visiting.


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