Teaching English as a foreign language

Teaching English as a foreign language

TEFL or teaching English as a "foreign" language refers to teaching English to students whose first language is not English and is taught in a region where English "is not" the dominant language and natural English language immersion situations are apt to be "few." TEFL usually occurs in the student's own country either within the state school system, or private, either in an after-hours language school or with a one-on-one tutor. The teachers may be native or non-native speakers of English.

This article concentrates on the teaching of English by native Anglophones working outside their own country. It is important to note that this is a small subset of all the English that is taught worldwide. To view this on a wider scale, see English language learning and teaching. There it explains the distinctions between the different types/methods of teaching English to non-native speakers providing a full explanation of abbreviations (e.g. the difference between ESL and EFL, or TESOL as a subject and an organisation). For information about foreign language teaching in general, see language education and second language acquisition.

Teaching techniques

"See also": Language education


The technique of using literature aimed at children and teenagers for TEFL is rising in popularity. Both types of literature offer simpler material ("simplified readers" are produced by all the major publishers), and are often written in a more conversational style than literature aimed at adults. Children's literature in particular sometimes provides subtle cues to pronunciation, through rhyming and other wordplay. One technique for using these books is called the "multiple-pass technique". The instructor reads the book, pausing often to explain words and concepts. On the second pass, the instructor reads the book completely through without stopping.

Communicative language teaching

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. Despite a number of criticisms [ [http://tonvanhattum.com.br/comreth.html Hattum, Ton van (2006), The Communicative Approach Rethought] ] , it continues to be popular, particularly in Japan, Taiwan [ [http://rel.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/36/2/211 The Trend and Challenge for Teaching EFL at Taiwanese Universities] ] , and Europe.
Task-based language learning (TBLL) is a particular approach to CLT which has been gaining ground in recent years.

Blended learning

This is a combination of face-to-face teaching and online interactions. This can be achieved through the adoption of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

VLEs have been a major growth point in the ELT industry over the last five years. They are developed either as an externally-hosted platforms onto which content can be exported by a school or institution (a proprietary example is Web Course Tools and an open source example is Moodle), or as content-supplied, course-managed learning platforms (e.g. the 'Macmillan English Campus').

The key difference is that the latter is able to support course-building by the language school. This means that teachers can blend their existing courses with games, activities, listening exercises and grammar reference units that are contained online. This has applications in the classroom and as self-study or remote practice (for example in an internet café).

Qualifications for TEFL teachers

The ideal qualification is an undergraduate degree in any subject, plus a certificate in teaching English.

English teaching certifications can be earned through an intensive, 4-week program or longer part time program which is in turn internationally recognized qualification that is accepted by many employers around the world. The CertTESOL and the CELTA are the two internationally recognized programs and are accredited in the UK on the National Qualifications Framework. Both qualifications are externally assessed and accepted by the British Council in their accredited teaching organizations worldwide in 100+ countries. Tefl courses offered on the internet often claim to be internationally recognized although this recognition varies as does price and content of the programs.cite web
url= http://www.telegraph.co.uk/global/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/global/2005/09/05/edutefl.xml
title= Right courses can make the world an open book
publisher= Telegraph.co.uk

There are several international certificate programs which are run by schools in various locations around the world. Qualification requirements vary considerably, not only from country to country, but also among employers within the same country. In some cases it may be possible to teach without a BA degree or without a teaching certificate. However, as a general rule, private language schools in some countries are likely to require a certificate based on successful completion of a course consisting of a minimum of 100 hours.

Many language schools will accept any certificate which fulfils these criteria, while others might look for teachers with specific certificates. It is also possible to gain certificates by completing shorter courses, or online courses, but these certificates do not always satisfy employer requirements due to the lack of teaching practice. Also, some private language schools may require teachers to complete their own in-house training programs whether or not they have obtained a certification from elsewhere. Where there is a high demand for teachers and no statutory requirements, employers may be willing to accept unqualified candidates. All in all each country is different and it depends on the demand for English teachers and the teacher's previous teaching and life experiences.

Pay and conditions worldwide

As in most fields of work, the rate of pay depends greatly on the candidate's education, training, experience, seniority, and expertise. As with much expatriate (aka "expat") work, the employment conditions vary considerably between countries depending on the level of economic development and the perceived desirability of living in that place. In relatively poor countries, even a low wage may equate to a comfortable middle class lifestyle.

There is potential danger of exploitation by employers. This is increased when working in a foreign country where the labor laws may differ, may not be applied to foreign employees, or may not be enforced at all. For example, an employer might ignore contract provisions, especially as regards to working hours, working days, and end-of-contract payments. Difficulties faced by foreign teachers regarding language, culture, or simply limited time may make it difficult for them to demand pay and conditions stipulated in their contracts. Some disputes can be attributed to cross-cultural misunderstandings. Some teachers who cannot adapt to living and working in a foreign country leave after a few months. Discussion forums tend to avoid the controversy because of their lack of complete information and potential liability issues.

TEFL Country Locations


Opportunities vary considerably across Europe. In most cities in Western Europe, there are numerous established language schools. These can be on-site, or operated as agencies that send teachers to various locations. September is the peak recruiting month and many annual contracts last October through June. Employers show preference for those with graduate-level academic qualifications, experience in Business English, or experience with younger learners.

The British Council is a key TEFL provider and British English materials are typically used. Instructors from Great Britain and Ireland, countries within the European Union, do not need work visas to be employed in this region, meaning there is less demand for teachers from outside the EU. Immigration laws require this latter category of job applicants to submit documents from their home countries in person after the employer in Europe files an officially documented offer of work. If the worker has traveled to Europe to find the job, this means it is necessary to return back home and wait for some time. Even if the process is followed correctly, rejection rates for visa applications are high, and many private sector employers will not sponsor them at all because staffing needs can already be filled more easily from nearby countries.

Some non-EU teachers are hired by international schools, and these are considered more desirable positions requiring significant experience and qualifications. Various countries' education ministries, such as those of France and Spain, offer the opportunity for teachers to serve as assistant language instructors in public schools. Part-time employment is usually allowed by the terms of an education visa, but this visa also requires proper attendance at an accredited EU college or university, institute, or other educational program. Other teachers work illegally under tourist visas.

Demand for TEFL is stronger in certain Eastern European countries as a result of the expansion of the European Union. Such locations also tend to have lower costs of living. Non-EU teachers usually find legal work here with less difficulty.

Far fewer instructors work in Scandinavia, which has stricter immigration laws and a policy of relying on bilingual local teachers. The Balkan/former Yugoslav countries have seen recent growth in TEFL, whilst private schools have been recruiting Anglophone teachers there for several years.


Many opportunities exist within China, including preschool, university, private schools and institutes, companies, and tutoring. Public schools are tightly governed by the provinces and the Department of Education in Beijing, while the private schools have much more freedom to set work schedules, pay, and requirements. The public schools tend to have lower number of hours per week (12 to 18) with low pay while the private schools usually require more than 22 hours a week and may have higher pay. An exception might be the preschool and elementary schools asking the teacher to do more hours like the Chinese teacher would do.

Most schools will pay for some of the travel expenses to and from Asia and typically will pay round trip for a one year contract (typically 10 months) and one way for a six month contract. Public schools will usually also pay during the vacations, but not for summer while many private schools have shortened vacation schedules and may pay for whatever short number of days is allowed for vacation. Private schools may also require teaching on weekends and evenings while public schools seldom do. Both may have classes that are not on campus which require extra time transportation to and from classes. Public schools will provide an apartment with some extras. Some private schools also do this but others do not provide housing. Companies vary a lot depending on the number of employees they want to train and could employ a teacher for one or two classes or a complete set of 14 to 16 hours a week. Tutoring also varies as in some cases a whole family is being trained or just one member.

Some teachers are successful working independently with several contracts for tutoring, individual college classes, and some company work. The majority of teachers accept contracts with the schools. Public school contracts are fairly standard while the private schools set their own requirements. For the most part schools try to hire teachers who are citizens of Anglophone countries, but because of the large numbers of teachers needed, others with good English language skills are able to find positions.

Hong Kong

Once a British Crown Colony, English language education in Hong Kong is taken seriously, as evidenced by recent government-funded research.


In Japan, the JET Programme employs assistant language teachers to work in Japanese high schools and elementary schools. Other teachers work in private language schools (eikaiwa). The largest of these chains are Aeon, GEOS, and ECC. The industry is not well regulated; Nova, one of the largest chains with over 900 branches, collapsed in October 2007, an incident that left thousands of foreign teachers without money or a place to live. Other teachers work in universities. Agencies are increasingly used to send English speakers into kindergartens, primary schools, and private companies whose employees need to improve their English. Agencies known in Japan as "haken" or dispatch companies have recently been competing among themselves to get contracts from various Boards of Education for Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools, so wages have decreased steadily in the last 4 years.

outh Korea

South Korea has a great demand for native English speakers willing to teach. It is common for institutions to provide round-trip airfare for a one-year contract and a rent-free apartment.It should be noted that since March 15th 2008 rules for visas have changed. Prospective teachers are now required to undergo a medical, provide a criminal background check, provide an original degree certificate and sealed transcripts. On arriving in Korea teachers will have to undergo a further medical check before they receive their ARC card.

Return flights are included in the contract and some schools will offer cash instead. A severance pay equivalent to one month's salary is paid at the end of a contract as well. Citizens of the USA and Canada (and, as of mid-2008, Australia [Australian Embassy, Republic of Korea: ' [http://www.southkorea.embassy.gov.au/seol/AusKorsocialsec08.html Australia-Korea Social Security Agreement] '] ) will also receive back their pension contributions and their employers' part of the pension contributions on leaving the country.

There are four main places to work in Korea: Universities, Public Schools, Private Language Academies (known in Korea as a "Hagwon"), and teaching Business English in-house. Recently there has been a trend for after school programs to open up at small private schools.

Teaching in Korea can seem like a lucrative position but the cost of living there is actually quite high. The savings from not paying housing are one of the reasons that people are able to save money so easily. It is essential to find out if the school you plan to work at has a good reputation or not.

Taiwan (Republic of China)

In the Republic of China (Taiwan) most teachers work in cram schools known locally as "bushibans" or buxibans. Some are part of chains like Hess and Kojen; others are independently operated. Monthly pay in such schools is around the USD $2,000 mark. End of contract bonuses equivalent to an extra month's pay are not mandated by law as they are in Korea, and are uncommon in Taiwan.


Thailand has a great demand for native English speakers, and has a ready-made workforce in the form of travellers and expatriates for whom the lifestyle there is attractive despite the relatively low salary levels commonly available.

As Thailand prohibits foreigners from most non-skilled occupations, a high percentage of foreigners working there are teaching English, as they have no other legal way to make a living, and teach mainly as a means to be able to stay in the country rather than as a pure career choice.

Until recently, Thailand had a worldwide reputation as a place where finding teaching work was relatively easy for any native English speaker who sought it, and recruitment was poorly regulated. However, the recent revelations in 2006 that John Mark Karr, the man arrested in connection with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey (and subsequently released without charge), had been working as a teacher for a school in Bangkok prior to his deportation to the USA, have put the profession under the spotlight, and resulted in a crackdown by Thai authorities on schools employing illegal workers, and visa and work permit regulations have been tightened accordingly. It has, however, become simpler for legitimate workers to obtain visas in-country. In a similar case, a Briton, Sean McMahon, was subsequently detained in Bangkok on child rape charges in January 2007, having fled the UK on bail. He had taught English in a Bangkok school for several years. [BBC News. January 16, 2007. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6266791.stm British man arrested in Thailand] Retrieved March 1, 2007.]

United States

There are a large number of private ESL schools in the United States. The majority are in coastal cities with a high number of foreign students; Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Boston probably have the largest variety of such schools. In addition many states fund ESL programs for adults, often taught in the evenings at public schools, and most large colleges and universities have ESL programs. School districts with high numbers of non-native English speaking students (LAUSD for example) often offer special bonuses and incentives for primary school teachers with ESL qualifications.

It is very difficult to impossible for non-US citizens to obtain a work visa for a private ESL school. Highly qualified teachers may be able to get a visa through a state funded program or a university.

Payment in private ESL schools typically ranges from $12 to $25 an hour. Most schools offer only part-time employment and no benefits. Adult programs tend to pay a bit more than this, for example most adult ESL education in Los Angeles pays around $30-$40 per hour. Colleges also usually only offer part-time employment, though pay can exceed $70 an hour, and tenure track positions sometimes become available.


Whether teaching to travel or traveling to teach, an ELT lifestyle is not without its difficulties. For example, one common concern of new English language teachers are issues related to cultural integration. Even with prior mental preparation, culture shock can take a real toll on one's ability to work effectively. Issues of language barriers, cultural and religious differences, financial infrastructure, climate, administration, access to medical care, and food are also potential problems.

ee also

*English language learning and teaching
*Language education
*Second language acquisition
*Applied linguistics


External links

"Note." Please see for guidelines regarding appropriate external links.

* [http://www.englishintaiwan.com English In Taiwan] - Resources for ESL teachers living in Taiwan
* [http://www.tefl.net TEFL.net - TEFL resources]
* [http://www.china-teachers.com Info on TEFL in mainland China. Out of date, but solid]
* [http://www.esljobproject.com ESL Job Project - Resources for ESL Teachers in Asia]

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