Top 10 Reasons to Teach English Abroad

Everybody has one. You know, that list of things you want to do before you die? Some people might call it a “bucket list.” Whether your list includes skydiving, a cross-country road trip, or swimming with sharks, there’s one more thing you need to add: teaching overseas. Read on for the top 10 reasons to teach English abroad.

1. You Get to Experience Other Cultures First Hand

Teaching overseas is so much more than a 9-5 job. When you teach English abroad you are not just a tourist, but you are living in a completely new culture, taking in a whole new world of experiences first-hand. You will spend all of your time with a group of people whose lifestyle is completely different from what you are accustomed to. You will live in a new city, have completely unfamiliar accommodations, and if you have an adventurous palate, you’ll have ample opportunities to try new foods, and sample new tastes. For some this may seem scary, but after years of living in just one place, this can be incredibly refreshing and challenging.

2. You Get Paid to Travel

When teaching abroad you not only get paid, you get to travel too! While salaries may sometimes seem small compared to potential earnings in America or Great Britain, you should earn enough teaching to live comfortably and the opportunities for travel are priceless. Living in another country is the perfect opportunity to explore the region, and many countries are so close together you can visit several hotspots all in one short trip. For a yearlong assignment, most teachers enjoy about 3 weeks of time off, as well as local holidays – ample time to explore your new surroundings!

3. You Get Valuable Work Experience

Whatever industry you work in, experience working in a foreign country enhances any resume, and teaching is no exception. An overseas teaching assignment on your resume lets potential employers know you are open to new challenges, work well with others (even if they have different backgrounds or views), have extensive leadership skills, and you can take on any situation thrown at you. 4. You Can Save Money

While most teach English abroad programs do require you to pay for TESOL or TEFL certification and flights, in the long run you can often save money teaching overseas. Living costs depend on a number of factors including the country you are working in, the region, and personal spending habits. But in general, most teachers are able to earn enough to live comfortably, and in Asia, most teachers recoup the program fee, and still add to their savings. While teach English abroad programs are not for people who are strictly interested in “making money,” teaching overseas will allow you to live and travel in another country for a lot less than you would be able to otherwise.

5. You Meet New People

While teaching overseas you will come into contact with individuals who, like yourself, love traveling and helping others. These people come from all over the world and who knows – they could end up being travel buddies, best friends, or even the love of your life!

6. You Get Experiences and Stories to Last a Lifetime

You can make even more friends everywhere you go with the great stories you gain from your international living and teaching experiences. You may not be living in five-star accommodations, and you may encounter some truly strange things, but the experiences will stay with you much longer than those grasshoppers you ate in Thailand.

7. You can Beat the Economy Blues

The economy is rough right now, and you may be struggling to find a job – especially if you’re just out of school and lack work experience. When you teach English abroad you gain valuable experience for your resume while travelling all around the world, which is 1,000 times better than telling future employers you sat at home watching soap operas while the economy recovered.

8. You Get to Give Something Back

It’s not all about what you get out of it – for many people it is about what you can give back. English is, in many locations, the language of international commerce, which makes it an essential skill for non-native speakers to acquire. When you teach English abroad not only do you help your students improve their English, but you widen their horizons with your experiences of life beyond their borders, and actually improve their prospects in life. Through your activities both within and outside of the classroom you will be making real contributions to the success and well being of others.

9. You Get the Chance to Learn a New Language

Schools hiring EFL teachers do not expect you to speak the local language (they are more concerned that their teachers are native or native-level English speakers, and that they have been thoroughly trained in TESOL/TEFL methodology), but immersing yourself in another culture is a great way to learn the local language. As part of training, most programs will offer local acculturation and language training, and many schools offer additional free or low-cost local language training, as well.

10. You Get to Have Fun!

Last but not least, teaching overseas is fun. This life-changing international experience empowers you to create your own personal adventure in spite of current economic conditions. So what are you doing for the next year of your life? Have the adventure of a lifetime when you teach English abroad!

Teaching English in China – Debunking the Myths

Conduct a Google search on “teaching English in China” and what you will find is over 54 million results listing websites primarily from China job recruiters, TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification schools, EFL forums, and “cultural exchange programs,” i.e., glorified recruitment agencies, all of which stand to gain a great deal from convincing Westerners that moving to China to teach oral English is an opportunity and adventure of a lifetime. While it is generally true that an EFL teaching position can be a good way to subsidize one’s travel expenses to exotic locations around the world, it is entirely disingenuous of anyone to suggest to you that doing so makes sense as a new and permanent mid-career move.
 
This article will debunk some of the most common myths you will read about teaching English in China and will argue that doing so should only be considered by a very limited number of people who meet the criteria outlined below. It is written by an American psychoanalyst who has been working in China since 2003 as a mental health consultant and professor of psychology.
 
Myth #1:   All Chinese Desperately Want to Learn English and Will Use It in Their Daily Lives
 
China’s educational system was completely overhauled in 1979 to realize the goals of the Chinese Communist Party’s 1978 reform movement, adopted at the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee, in what is commonly referred to as the Four Modernizations. These Four Modernizations were in the fields of 1) agriculture, 2) industry, 3) technology, and 4) defense and were specifically intended to make China a great and self-reliant economic power by the early 21st century (Wertz, 1998).
 
Nowhere among these four broad fields will you find English as a foreign language or any of the humanities  for that matter. The truth is that English as a foreign language has very low status as an academic discipline in China. It is essentially assigned as a compulsory course of study to incoming freshmen who scored too poorly on the national college admission test (Gao Kao) to receive their requested major in a more lucrative field.

Unless the students have definite plans–as well as considerable funding–to study abroad one day, hope to work for an international company, or intend to marry a foreigner, they will never use even one word of English for the remainder of their lives after graduating from college. In fact, in a land of 1.3 billion people, Chinese, not English, is the most commonly spoken language in the world today. Many of us who have lived and worked in China for years have come to the realization that what the Chinese really want is for the rest of the world to learn Chinese–and that wish might come to pass one day as the Middle Kingdom continues its unbridled rise as an economic world power.
 
Foreign English teachers are recruited as competitively as they are to fulfill a highly resented and bitterly contested national requirement promulgated by the Ministry of Education that mandates exposure to a native speaker for all students of foreign languages. Aside from public schools and universities, the proliferation of private language schools–where the greatest abuses and exploitation of foreigners occur–has created an insatiable demand for white faces in the classroom to attract new students and command higher tuition fees well above what can be charged for classes with their Chinese English teachers only.
 
What you need to keep in mind is that because the teaching and learning of English in China is devalued by China’s academic leaders and administrators, the role of the foreign English teacher is de-professionalized: It is limited to facilitating the students’ speaking and listening skills, with very few exceptions. Whether a foreign teacher holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialty in second language acquisition methodology or is a recent college graduate with little or no relevant work experience, in the vast majority of cases, each will be assigned to teach precisely the same classes with a salary differential of no more than 700 yuan ($102.00) per month.
 
Myth #2:   A Foreign Teacher Can Live Very Comfortably on the Salary Provided and Can Even Save Money
 
The average salary of a foreign English teacher in China–outside of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou–is in the range of 4,000 to 6,000 yuan per month ($584 to $876, respectively) for 14 to 20 hours of face-to-face teaching per week (Mavrides, 2009). Although it is true that this salary represents up to 70 percent more than the current national per capita income of 1,800 yuan (Economy Watch, 2009), that doesn’t mean very much unless you are willing to live as if you were Chinese.
 
While it is possible to save up to one-third of your typical salary of 5,000 yuan per month, you will have to live quite frugally to do so, which means completely forgoing all Western foods and amenities, and carefully restricting your use of utilities, especially air conditioning. For example, a single can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup sells for $3.21 (22 yuan) at a local Western grocery store in Guangzhou and that comparative price ratio of 2 to 1 is fairly constant across all imported goods in China, if you are even lucky enough to find them at all (and you won’t outside of China’s three aforementioned international cities).   In addition, Western brand name appliances and personal electronics will generally cost as much in China as they do back home, sometimes slightly more, and you will often be buying very sophisticated clones, i.e., counterfeit products that will not last nearly as long as the genuine articles do.
 
The reality is that any Westerner who lived a middle-class existence back home will just barely subsist on the typical salary afforded to most foreign oral English teachers in China. Even if you are self-depriving enough to save some money, those savings will rapidly disappear if you decide to travel or if you become seriously ill (real health insurance is not provided, only accidental injury insurance is). Most foreign English teachers in China moonlight and they don’t do so because they can’t get enough of it.

Aside from salary concerns, you also need to be aware that the “free” housing provided to foreign English teachers varies considerably in size and quality, and is most commonly typical today of what the Chinese working poor live in, i.e., small (580 to 900 square feet), old, and rundown units in eight-story buildings without elevators, and with hot water available only for showering. You will have to grow accustomed to washing your hands, as well as the dishes, in cold water unless you decide to purchase water heating units for the bathroom and kitchen sinks at your own expense, and you can plan on getting a lot of exercise especially if your apartment is on the eighth floor.
 
Myth #3: Teaching English in China is Fun, Easy, and Personally Rewarding

The reality is that teaching English in China is extremely tiring and challenging work, and, for the most part, it is a thankless job. While students who believe they will use English one day will have already acquired reasonable speaking and listening skills, most of your students will not be able to understand you at all unless you speak very slowly and use simple vocabulary. Unfortunately, this is not only true of your students but will also be the case when trying to communicate with your colleagues, administrators, and just about anyone else you will have contact with in China unless, of course, that other person is also a foreigner.

It is highly unlikely that anyone other than a career EFL/ESL teacher will find the work to be personally or professionally rewarding, nor will anyone but an educator with a master’s degree and state teaching certification be able to make a real living at it–and only then by teaching at an international school, a joint-venture program, or a Western university with a branch in China.

Myth #4: Every Native Speaker Can and Should Teach English in China

There are four groups of Westerners for whom teaching English in China can make sense: 1) recent college graduates who would like to study Chinese or gain some travel experience before returning home to resume their real careers; 2) active senior citizens in very good health looking for a short-term adventure (four to six months); 3) retired persons seeking to stretch their Western pensions in an Asian country and, as previously mentioned; 4) career EFL teachers who will either be working as school and program directors, or in venues only available to fully credentialed and licensed educators.

For anyone else, especially middle-aged and mid-career individuals without considerable means, moving to China to teach English will most likely render you an economic prisoner of the Asian EFL system: You will be stuck spending the rest of your life teaching English as a foreign language with no savings, moving from position to position, perhaps country to country, in the hope of finding greener pastures and forever cursing the day you  decided to teach English in China.

Notes

Economy Watch (2009). China Income, China National Income. EconomyWatch.com. Retrieved July 3, 2009 from http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/china/income.html.

Mavrides, Gregory (2009). Foreign Teachers’ Guide to Living and Teaching in China. Middle Kingdom Life. ISBN No. 978-0-578-02423-3

Wertz, Richard R. (2009). Chinese History. China and the Four Modernizations, 1979-82. Retrieved July 3, 2009 from http://www.ibiblio.org/chinesehistory/contents/01his/c05s03.html.

Teaching English As a Foreign Language

It may seem to be a strange concept to think of teaching English as a foreign language. But not everyone in the world today speaks English. In fact English as a first language is about number three in world rankings. The first is one of the Chinese dialects. However, English is the common language for the computer. It is important for international travel. English is also the language the UN voted to use for diplomatic discourse with embassies. So it is not that unusual for someone to be teaching English as a foreign language. There are also many bi-lingual speaking people in the world. It is not that uncommon.

Teaching English as a second language is also not that uncommon in the United States. With a large influx of non-English speaking people entering the United States, there are many people who speak another language as their first language. They also attend school here and need to learn English. Or they may look for employment in the United States and they need English for job progression and even basic employment.

There are many public schools in the United States who have hired ESL teachers to teach English to the students attending the school. In fact many full time teachers also offer tutoring in English after their school day is over.

There are a lot of people who simply want to speak English better. They may have grown up in a home where two languages were spoken and they have a rudimentary knowledge of English. They want to improve their English speaking abilities. This makes it easy to teach English in this environment as the attendees really want to learn the language. This is different from students say in junior high that have no interest in learning English as a first or second language or any other subject for that matter.

Many companies send their employees to another country to live and conduct business. Sometimes they are sent to the United States to set up an office or distribution system or another form of business. These employees will have to learn English in order to be successful at their jobs. A lot of people are employed teaching English to these employees. They may be required to teach English to these employees in their home country before they come over to the United States. In that case, the teaching position would be in another country.

Some companies, however, send their employees to the United States or another English-speaking country and expect them to learn their English there. This still affords more opportunities to teach English as a foreign language.

There are many opportunities to teach English beyond the traditional English teacher in a traditional school environment. This may be an opportunity to leave your country and learn another language in a country where you might be the teacher who teaches English to the citizens of that country. This may also lead to a new life in another country which could be fun.