How Do I Qualify to Teach English Overseas?

Let’s start by explaining that teaching English abroad usually goes under the qualification titles of TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) or TESL (teaching English as a second language) which can be further abbreviated to EFL or ESL. I will refer to it as TEFL from now on for the sake of simplicity.


The qualifications required to teach, vary from country to country and from school to school but can be generally categorised as follows:-

  • You need to be a native speaker of English, which seems to be an obvious proviso. However, other nationals who have an English language degree are often considered.
  • Many countries require their prospective teachers to have a degree which can be in any major
  • Other countries require a degree and a TEFL diploma.
  • Some are happy with a native speaker who has a TEFL qualification
  • And there are a few countries who will accept you with no qualifications at all just as long as you are a native speaker.

Well, that is certainly a very diverse list of qualification, requirements, isn’t it? So what do you do?


You do it right of course! You train to become the best possible teacher out there because teaching is a responsible profession. You will be directly affecting the lives of others and although it may often be a fun job you must not take your duties lightly. Train and become accomplished in your field of work and you will never be lacking offers of employment.

Teaching English as a foreign language is in a specialist field of its own. Even if you hold a degree, it is not always sufficient to carry you through the TEFL learning curve without training.

In my thirty years of teaching abroad, I have observed a variety of TEFL teachers come and go. Some have been qualified to the hilt whilst others have had the bare minimum and there were good and bad teachers in both sectors.

It is not only a question of the academic ‘pieces of paper’ you collect throughout your life but what you as a person will do with the knowledge you acquire en route. It is the way YOU approach your work and career and how much dedication and professionalism you want to put into it. A good teacher is one who lays down solid foundations, teaches with empathy and continues to develop teaching skills.

Why the correct training is important:

Teaching English to student’s who do not know the English language and whose language you cannot initially speak, can be a daunting prospect if you do not know how to deal with it.

As native speakers we converse instinctively and we have a lot to offer in this area but the English learning experience is not solely about speaking. It is only one aspect of teaching although it will probably be the skill you will be employed for in the early stages of your career. However, you can not rely just on this skill to establish you as a skilled teacher.

Many educational institutes wish to prepare their students for internationally recognised examinations and apart from the oral section, teachers have to prepare their students in reading, writing and listening skills, not to mention grammar.

Unfortunately, these days many native speakers know so little about their own grammar basically because analysing grammar structures have been phased out of the school system. How do you explain to a foreign learner all about the quirky little grammar rules which exist in our composite language that they so eagerly require an explanation for?

The answer is to train and with the correct foundations you will soon know an awful lot more about all the components you will be required to teach. Your newly acquired knowledge will infuse you with confidence so that you can stand in front of a class and be influential in the students learning.

Not convinced yet that you need training or do you think you will be okay with the, ‘some countries do not require any qualifications’ option?

So be it, but when the time comes to do your Lesson Plans and find your Resources I hope you know how to go about it.

Furthermore, can you devise a Placement Test so your employer knows which class level little Johnny should be in?

What about tests and end of year exam papers – yes, it is all part of your job description!

And, what do you know about Class Management?

Class Management is a very important issue. You have got to know how you can competently handle your alloted classes of 10, 20 or sometimes 30 students depending on the type of establishment that employs you.

I can almost hear you saying, ‘but the students look so sweet’, yes, they do bless them in the TEFL adverts, probably because they are there motionless, locked in a time warp on the photograph! In the real teaching world, they fidget, they make a noise, they can be rude and sometimes they hiss and spit! I’m telling you, you have got to be prepared for every probability and keep a grip on the whip handle otherwise they could run circles around you.

These points are not mentioned to scare you wit-less but to illustrate and impress upon you that without adequate preparation and knowledge your TEFL experience could end up being a bad one and you may not be inclined to re-invent yourself and give it a second try.

If you are inefficient or ineffectual it will most likely be a very unproductive experience for your students who will not have progressed as much as they should have.

Furthermore, let us not forget that many language institutes are privately owned so if you fall short with your teaching this could affect their income and that does not go down well.

Of course, you do not have to heed my words of advice the choice is yours and besides, it would not be the first time that a teacher has waffled his/her way through the year because of inadequate training. However, I would be interested to know how many were asked to renew their contract?

I hardly think any aspiring teacher would want such a negative short-lived experience on their resume.

Training Choices:

Those of you who can see the virtue in what I have said are probably wondering which TEFL training you should follow and where. There is a huge choice of TEFL courses out there and it can be very bewildering.

Weekend courses, online courses, residential courses, and so it goes on and for all this there is a fee involved so it is essential that you make the correct choice that will provide you with the maximum benefits and value.

Why not save yourself the chore of researching each and every option and not only find out the best training available but the best work destinations and job opportunities, plus lots more in a four part concise guide that will help short-cut a lot of the groundwork that is needed before you set off on your new career.

I hope I have been able to give you some insight into what is required to teach English as a foreign language and I wish you all the best in your quest in starting this very worthwhile and very fulfilling career.

Teaching English As a Second Language

Bilingual education provides a host of benefits to adults. These benefits go far beyond language earning acquisition. In particular, most bilingual education programs foster community, leadership, confidence, and friendship while simultaneously teaching English. These traits are helpful to and often necessary for effective language learning. In his descriptive anthropology of unregistered immigrants, Chavez (1992) revealed that those groups of friends, family, and neighbors have a significant advantage in helping immigrants to establish a residence and gain employment. The author highlights the rate with which those who want to move north utilize these networks. It provides newcomers to the country with a social network, which is vital to language acquisition.

Chavez states, “when recent migrants join more established immigrants, they are provided with a place to stay and their host often helps them find work” (p. 136). Such networks offer momentous benefits to the migrant workers as well as those whose first language is not English. The programs fill in the demand for a family while simultaneously decreasing the foreboding sense of unknown, which oftentimes leads to despair and depression. Such feelings are relatively common when people are presented with a new environment in which to work, learn, and live. Many immigrants have no ties to their native land. Bilingual education methods can extend adult learners’ circle of friends.

Many adults migrate with their children. With the will to live in a new country, comes the process of becoming acclimated to a new land. When children are involved, the acclimation process becomes even more vital. Bilingual education provides an opportunity to communicate in English as gain friendships. Bilingual or English as a Second Language education benefits adults because it is necessarily interactive. Teaching English as a Second Language allows teachers to have their adult students interact in class in many ways. By interacting, English as a Second Language students are also learning because the interaction is done in English.

Students Teaching other Students

Teaching and learning goes hand and hand, you cannot do one without the other. People who participate in community service value helping others. As a child, value does not mean anything; it is when they become an adult is when they can look back at their childhood and think about the nice things that they did to help another child. That is called value, once it is taught as a child then is it remembered as an adult. There are several ways when teaching English as a Second Language that students can be taught to help others. One way is by helping another student boost low self-esteem. For example, if a student is having a hard time with English, by helping, this encourages self-esteem in the person because it allows them be creative and expressive of words. In life this goes along way, seeing no color just a person. Another way adults can be taught to help others is by sharing. If a child is taught to share things with others or even their sibling, it is encouraged to always share and help with offering your wealth with others (Literacy Centers Help Immigrants; Lack of English Hinders Success of Newcomers, 2003).

Socialization is the process by which people learn about society’s values, roles, rules and norms. People become socialized through life experiences and observation of a variety of people and situations through which they come in contact. Socialization is a process that begins at birth and occurs throughout a lifetime. During a person’s early years, parents and close family members chiefly direct the socialization process; as an individual matures and makes decisions for him/her self, socialization is more self-directed.

The experiences of the socialization process have a significant influence on an individual’s identity or self (“What Is the Socialization Process?”). Socialization and other learned behaviors are an example of nurture. Genetics and and the genes that an individual receives from their biological parents also plays a role in a person’s identity, self and personality; this is an example of nature. This process can be altered and improved through education and teaching English as a Second Language programs.

Leaders are likely developed through a combination of nurture and nature. As with the age-old debate of which came first, the chicken or the egg, the importance of nature versus nurture in building leaders, or any other personality traits or behaviors, will not be solved with any certainty. Perhaps less important than determining which is more important-nature or nurture-is understanding the how these two determinants work together in the development of business leaders.

Leaders are not necessarily conferred as such due to their rank or status in a company. Certainly, the bottom line is that what the CEO says goes, but in the everyday minutia of a company’s inner workings, there is likely a leader or leaders who ensure the job is done. Who are these people? Philosopher Lao Tzu explained leadership as: “When the best leader’s job is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves!” To lead the people, walk behind them” (“Leadership-Nature or Nurture?”). In other words, a leader is someone who is able to motivate others, to inspire them, to help them see their own self-worth-not necessarily the person who barks out orders.

Learning the theories of leadership, seeing them in practice, being mentored by leaders-none of these assure that leadership skills will develop. Here is where nature may come into play, in that a person’s basic personality may require much effort on the individual’s part to metamorphose into those personality traits of a successful leader. Daniel Goleman, author of the book, Emotional Intelligence, asserts that the attributes of a successful leader can be placed into two broad categories: self-management skills and the ability to relate to others (Leadership Traits). Within each of these broad categories are specific abilities/skill sets that an individual who is a leader possesses.

Self-awareness or the ability to understand one’s own motivations, ambitions, goal, strengths and weaknesses are essential before an individual can begin to understand others, another essential trait of leadership (Leadership Traits). Self-regulation is also an attribute that falls within Goleman’s self-management skills. Leaders are no different from other human beings in that they experience impulses, fear, and even phobias. What an individual who is a leader does, however, that is different from many other people is that s/he does not act on those feelings, but is able to exert control over them (Leadership Traits).

Goleman’s third attribute within the self-management area is that of motivation. A leader is a self-driven individual, not requiring prompting from others to take action. A motivated individual can lead by example and work to provide an atmosphere where motivation can thrive, but no one person can make another person be motivated (Leadership Traits).

In author Goleman’s second broad category of traits of a successful leader, that of the ability to relate to others, he asserts that empathy, social skills, and what is termed as active listening are the attributes (Leadership Traits). Empathy is the ability to see a situation through another person’s eyes. An empathetic person can more easily relate to a wide variety of people in any occupation because of their ability to walk in the other person’s shoes, so to speak. Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy-one generates understand while the other pities.

Social skills, for Goleman, are the culmination of all the other traits in this category (Leadership Traits). These necessary social skills are “the ability to build rapport with other and get them to work together towards a common goal” (Leadership Traits). Active listening is a learned or acquired skill. It goes beyond merely hearing what the other person is saying. It requires concentration on the part of the listener, taking care not only to hear the message of the speaker but to note nonverbal clues too. An active listener does not try to finish sentences for the speaker or to be so busy thinking about the response the listener wants to make to the speaker when s/he is done talking.

An active listener will give cues to the speaker such as a nod of the head or occasional “I understand” as the speaker talks. This provides feedback to the speaker and reassures them the listener is indeed paying attention. When the speaker has finished talking, the active listener will paraphrase back to the speaker what the listener has understood the message to be. This reinforces to the speaker that the message has in fact been heard and gives the speaker the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings the listener may have had. In looking back over Goleman’s set of traits of a successful leader, it is easy to see that nurture-or learning-is what is required for each trait rather than a certain genetic code or predisposition. These traits do not differentiate between male and female, or ethnicity or age.

In yet another perspective on what constitutes the attributes of a successful leader, author Napoleon Hill, the first Dale Carnegie of our time, had a list of eleven traits that he felt a successful leader possessed and embodied:

Unwavering courage: Despite fears to the contrary a leader will exhibit courage in the face of adversity by using his self-knowledge and all tools of understanding both the business and related factors.

Teaching English as a Second Language – Self-control

A keen sense of justice: In order to be respected, a leader needs to maintain a sense of fairness and utilize it in his dealings with others. Definiteness of decision: A leader makes a decision based on experience and knowledge. Once a decision has been made, a leader moves forward with it. The habit of doing more than paid for: This follows closely with Goleman’s trait of motivation. A leader does not wait for someone else to tell him what needs to be done; a leader looks for things to be done and does them.

The leader must understand everything about his position, responsibilities and duties. Willingness to assume full responsibility: The successful leader will understand that a shortcoming or mistake by one of his/her followers is a reflection on the leader him/herself. Because of this understanding, the successful leader will take full responsibility for the actions/inactions of his followers. Think Harry Truman and his famous, “The buck stops here.” Cooperation: Eliciting cooperation among his followers can only be done if the leader exhibits his own spirit of cooperation.

As noted with Goleman’s list of traits, Napoleon Hill’s list also sets out traits and attributes that must be learned. People are not born with these traits. Rather, they develop them over their life span. In nearly every list of traits and attributes of successful leaders, whether they be in business, government, or social areas, the traits described are those things which must be learned. There is no DNA for empathy, for cooperation, for active listening.

In considering the importance of nature versus nurture in the development of a leader, it can be noted that the level of intelligence and the basic personality with which an individual is born hold direct bearing on that individual’s ability to be a leader, but anyone of average intelligence can learn what traits and thought patterns a leader should have. Of the traits discussed by Goleman and Hill, motivation is perhaps the trait that is most closely tied to nature in that some individuals possess a more basic driven nature than others do, but that does not rule out that other individuals through determination and perseverance cannot develop that trait as well.

Socialization and English learning strategies for Teaching English as a Second Language Programs

The peer reviewer gains various benefits by reviewing his or her peer’s assignment. It has often been stated that people learn the most when they teach a subject, and while the reviewer is certainly not the teacher, there are several commonalities that are personally beneficial. For example, by reviewing another’s paper, it is necessary to think critically and determine what the author does well in addition to what the author can improve upon. Some of the effective strategies that the writer uses can be incorporated into the reviewer’s own work (ESL Adults Check out Wealth of Information at Library, 2007).

Far from plagiarism, the process would be subtle and mostly unconscious. Several writers, Stephen King, to name but one, has said that during his early years writing, his style fluctuated based on whom he was reading. Eventually, as he became an expert writer, he developed his own writing style. By critically assessing another’s work and providing constructive feedback, the reviewer has the opportunity to think about issues and writing strategies that may be useful in his or her own writing. Furthermore, it allows the reviewer to think like his audience or to keep his audience or reader in mind while writing (Ernst-Slavit, Moore, & Maloney, 2002).

Drawbacks to Peer Reviewing

One of the possible drawbacks is that the person who is being reviewed may not be comfortable being assessed by another person. Nevertheless, such feedback is important to improvement. Another possible drawback is that unless the reviewer reads the assignment critically, he or she may wind up internalizing some of the person’s errors.

Teaching English as a Second Language – Other Methods of Peer Review

There are several methods to review a peer’s paper. For example, the peer could do proofreading and editing. If he or she sees any errors, they can be fixed and noted. Then, the person whose paper it was originally, can communicate back and let the reviewer know which parts they thought were improvements and why as well as which parts the person thought was okay or needed fixing but a different fix. This dialog will make sure that errors are not repeated or internalized. MS Word also has a feature for editing and proofreading, which would offer additional educational value since the reviewer would learn how to use this feature. Other methods for Peer Review include rewriting a passage so the original author can read a different way of writing the paper and possible add this new way into his or her writing arsenal. For example, some people use questions. Others have shorter sentence styles or longer styles. Yet others make use of transitions.

Teaching English as a Second Language – Community

Community work gives an added security to helping others such as knowing they are a good person inside which boost lifelong self-esteem. Community service also helps a child realize to learn to appreciate the things they possess. Learning to appreciate things in life gives a better understanding of value. Kids as well as adults have to know that life is not about receiving. In the younger years if a child is repetitiously getting things they will automatically think it is always okay. Instead, there should be lesson learned for things a child acquires. Valuable lessons learned such as giving the child an allowance for taking the trash out or rewarding them when they do something without an adult asking them to do it. In doing this, it allows that child to know that work is the only way to acquire certain things. Also once a child gets an allowance let them spend it how they choose but also teach them that once the allowance is gone they have to work for it again. This will teach them to spend wisely and value the money without wasting it. For children, everything is a valuable lesson.

Community Service effectively molds leaders in life when adults give kids options in taking action. Children are like adults when it comes to making decisions. They have to be given choices and the outcome that comes from the choice they made. Giving kids that opportunity grants them the knowledge to distinguish basic right from wrong. In teaching this, their communication skills are crucial. The child learns to make effective and substantial judgments. This is what it takes to be a leader in life.

To be a leader in life means to take charge of certain situations. A leader in life means to be an effective listener, have an unbiased take on all things. A leader means to stand for all that is good and fight for what is true in heart. A leader is a front-runner. The fulfillment of becoming a leader grants confidence, loyalty and power. When teaching English as a Second Language, confidence helps the teachers and students feel as thought they can accomplish anything.

So You Think You Can Teach English?

Teaching English, like writing, is one of those occupations that people consider a fall-back option. In countries where English is not a native language, there is great demand for good English teachers. In places like these, it’s quite common to hear unemployed graduates, new retirees or unhappy office workers saying, “Well, I could always teach English…”, but is proficiency in English all it takes to be a good ESL instructor? Hardly. If you’re considering a career in teaching English, there are a number of issues to consider before you take the plunge.

Why teach?

Before quitting your current job for an ELT career, take a long hard look at your motivations for wanting to teach English. Are you disgruntled with the rat-race? Is teaching English the only way you can travel? When all is said and done, teaching English is still a job with a boss, supervisors, clients, a job description and performance appraisals. Unless you love the language and dealing with all sorts of people, teaching can quickly become a chore. ELT is a business like any other, and students are clients with expectations and complaints.

Mind Your English!

Assess your language skills, honestly. Both native speakers and non-native speakers of English have to learn a lot about the language before they can teach it. Native speakers may need to brush up on their knowledge of grammar rules since they use these structures instinctively. When teaching abroad, native speakers also need to learn the differences between UK, US and Australian English. For example, an American teacher might tell students that they have made a mistake by saying “at the weekend, instead of “on the weekend”, without knowing that the former is correct in British English. Non-native speakers, on the other hand, should aim to speak Standard English with a neutral accent, especially if they are from a country with its own variety of English, for example, India, Malaysia or Nigeria. Many of these varieties have differences in grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation which sound like errors to native speakers. Whether you are a native speaker or non native speaker, you must be prepared to continuously work on your language skills in order to grow as an English teacher.

Get Trained!

Some people have a natural instinct for teaching. However, what can take years to learn instinctively can be learned much more quickly from a good ESL teacher training course. Most good language schools in Asia insist on a CELTA or Trinity TESOL certificate. Schools like these tend to be the best places to work at in terms of facilities, salaries, environment and professional development. In other words, investing in a good teacher training course will bring you unlimited returns. Check the qualifications of the trainers and make sure that there will be real, observed teaching practice before you pay for a course.

Be Realistic

In spite of what you might have heard, there are no big bucks in ELT, at least, not for most teachers. While some native-speaker teachers have landed fantastic packages in Korea, Japan and the Middle East, these jobs are not that easy to find. In countries where English is not widely spoken, English teachers can make a good living, but their salaries are still incomparable to those in more lucrative industries such as law and finance. It’s also unfortunate, but expected, that hiring practices in ELT are driven by client preferences. This means that native speaker teachers always get the pick of the jobs. Often, it is not enough to be a native speaker; you have to look like one. If you don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, don’t give up though. With so many excellent non-native ELT professionals out there, mindsets are changing. Being the best teacher you can be, no matter what your first language, is the only way to overcome this challenge.

What is your personality type?

It sounds pretty obvious, but it really must be said: to be a good teacher, you have to respect other people and enjoy their company. There are too many examples of technically competent teachers who constantly run into problems with students because of personality issues. If you are rigid and lack empathy, you might want to consider another career. Students WILL be lazy at times; students WON’T always do exactly as you say; students WILL question you. If you can’t deal with that, you won’t get very far in your teaching career.

All caveats aside, teaching English is an extremely rewarding career which can take you around the world. Teaching is also extremely flexible since you can choose to work part-time or full-time, and you can also choose to teach different age-groups and language components. If you have a love for language and a realistic idea about what teaching entails, taking on some part-time hours might be a good way to find out for yourself, before you make a permanent switch.