English Language Teacher Overseas  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotEnglish language teachers overseas primarily teach people who plan to use English for business purposes in a country where English is not commonly used. Japan is a good example. Many teachers move to Japan and teach English to Japanese businesspeople.

English language teachers who travel overseas to work are also known as English foreign language teachers (EFL) because they are teaching English in a foreign country.

dotPeople around the world want to learn to speak English. Many need it for business, while others just want to be able to speak with visitors or friends. This desire to learn the language has created a demand for English language teachers overseas.

dotThese teachers are different from English as a second language teachers (ESL). ESL teachers concentrate on teaching English to immigrants in an English-speaking country.

dotMany people who work in this field started because they love to travel. They traveled to another country and found themselves staying to teach English. Others plan on this career while still at home.

Many recent college graduates gravitate to the work. That's because it offers a way to make money and see the world at the same time. Some even pay off student loans with the money they make.

dotWhile the demand is strong, most foreign schools want well-trained teachers with some experience. It's a misconception that you can easily get a job teaching English in a foreign country without any qualifications -- especially when you're competing for jobs with people who do.

"It's a myth that any native speaker can go to another country and teach English," says EFL teacher John Trollope. "It just isn't true."

Trollope taught English in France for three years before returning to England to get his master's degree in TEFL -- teaching English as a foreign language.

"I feel training is really important," agrees Celleste Scholz. She is an EFL teacher currently teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia. "You need to have a certificate or a master's degree to know how to do the job right. Being a native speaker alone isn't enough."

The reason for the constant demand for teachers, say experts in the field, is that English is clearly becoming the international language of business and culture.

In coming years, demand for teachers will be strongest in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, says Susan Mankin. She runs a course for students thinking about teaching overseas. "This is not something that's going away," she says.

dotEFL teachers may work in the public or private sector. They're most often employed in commercial language schools, which are run more like businesses than schools. They also find themselves teaching to a wide variety of students and explaining things that, at times, might seem a little odd.

"A woman in my class was attending a meeting in Sweden on the weekend and was planning to attend a hockey game there. Explaining the rules of hockey to her was a blast," says Edward Tanguay. He is an EFL teacher in Hanover, Germany.

dotSpeaking the language of the country you plan to teach in is not required for EFL teachers, but it can come in handy.

"Speaking the language of the country you're in definitely doesn't hurt," says Scholz. "It's best not to use it in the classroom, but what if you need a taxi?"

Tanguay agrees. "It's a myth that you don't need to speak the local language," he says. "Many times it's really necessary, and it always helps. The statement 'Everybody speaks English in Europe' was made up by someone who didn't get around enough."

dotIn addition to the challenge of learning the local language, experts say getting used to a different culture can be a challenge, although many admit this is an exciting challenge.

"Adapting to a new culture can be stressful," says Scholz. She is enjoying watching her children grow up in an international culture. "I thoroughly enjoy Indonesia, but my first year here I had difficulty adjusting. I'm glad I hung in, though, because now I like it very much. You have to persevere [and have] an open mind."

People with physical disabilities or limitations should be able to do this job, as long as they're able to deal with traveling and living away from home.

At a Glance

Teach English in a foreign country

  • The growing use of English as the international language of business is creating growth in the field
  • It's great work for people who love to travel
  • You'll likely need some kind of formal English education