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Advantages and Challenges of Teaching ESL/EFL

When I landed at Taipei International Airport near Tauyuen, I spoke not a word of Mandarin and had with me only a small purple bag of carry-on luggage and my wits. I had spent the last six months or so in Southeast Asia, practising yoga and meditation, living in a palm-thatched hut on a beach of one of Thailand’s small southern islands, which at that time was rural, quiet and still remote, and travelling simply, quietly, and cheaply. Once I came to a point where I clearly needed to earn some more money, the opportunities at hand were to teach English in a country where people paid money for the commodity I had. Japan, Korea and Taiwan were three destinations people pointed me to, and I bought a ticket to Taiwan.

Teaching English as a Foreign language is an option both for professional teachers with experience, training and credentials, and for travellers whose credentials are native speaker fluency and a university degree in any field. In fact, it is a wonderful opportunity to travel, see something of the world and immerse yourself in a culture with the chance to stay there for long enough to go beyond being a tourist dillettante and actually explore and understand something of your host country as you get to know your students.

Advantages of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

  1. There are opportunities to travel. It is easy to get work today in Japan, Korea, Dubai, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Greece, and any country you care to go to. You can check out sites like tefl (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), Go Abroad and Dave's ESL Cafe Teachers' page to get a few ideas about the endless, thrilling possibilities. On vacations you can travel to nearby exotic destinations and explore the planet on your own two feet.
  2. It is a good way to learn another language. You will be immersed in the language and culture of your host country, and will hear the language all around you. You will have to learn something of the language in order to survive, buy food, and get around. it is a good idea to do more than that, and sign up for classes at a language school to actually study the language. This will take you far in having your students and host community respect you, especially if you end up becoming fairly fluent. Of course, it is also possible for you to live exclusively in the expatriate community and only speak English, as some teachers do, but why go abroad if you don't want to learn anything new?
  3. It is a great chance to learn the history, culture and aspirations of another part of the world or continent. Read guidebooks, research on the internet, ask people, visit the museums and galleries of the local cities, travel within your country, visit students' homes when invited, join in local celebrations and festivals, and soak it all in.
  4. Depending on the country where you teach, the work may be lucrative. Often teachers start off teaching for a private language school because those jobs are easy to get, but they are not the best paid. Be on the lookout for private students who will pay more, or ask your neighbours if they want their children to come to an English class in your own home once or twice a week. Talk to other teachers, and see what is possible.
  5. You will be able to work with people of all ages and all walks of life. Classes for children are common, as are classes for middle and high school students, young adults, and company employees. If you have another skill, like teaching yoga or photography or painting, you may be able to combine your interests and teach your interest classes in English to local students as well as to the expatriate community.
  6. There will be opportunities for work you would not be qualified for in your home country, or for which there may be a lot of competition, such as journalism, writing texts, and teaching at universities. Be fearless, walk through doors, ask people, drop off your resume, use your network of people you meet and your students, and see what you can do.
  7. Allow yourself to grow personally and professionally. It is such an amazing experience to be out in the world away from your support network and your comfort zone, and discover the resources within yourself.

Challenges of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

1. Since English language training is such an important commodity in the world market these days, there are many unprofessional schools who are primarily looking for students' money and are less concerned about providing good service or quality teaching. It is easy to end up contracted to one of these schools if you sign a contract from outside the country. If you don't like the way a school you work for does business, leave.The school program may lack structure. There may be few resources, no textbooks or inappropriate texts, and no clear progression in skills development from level to level. Since students don't see real progress in their English, they leave for another school, which means students are constantly new and you can't get the satisfaction of seeing students progress. Some of these schools are conversation clubs, which you may enjoy, but after some time I find that gets boring. In a country where English is not the primary language, it may be difficult to access teaching materials, such as English books, or newspapers. If you are in or close to a big city like Hong Kong, London, Cairo, Bangkok or others, there are English-language bookstores that serve the expatriate community, and you can make a trip there from time to time to stock up. It is a good idea to bring a kit of your own supplies, as I discuss later in this article. You can also find lots of free materials on the internet, such as:

2. However, you may end up teaching in a town that is remote or may have unreliable internet connection and electricity, so be prepared for that. Always have a backup plan for your lesson.

3. You may end up living in a remote area, which is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the language and culture of the host country, but may be lonely. Bring what you need in terms of inner resources and books, personal writing material, hobbies, etc. to be happy in a certain degree of isolation. In most places you go, certainly in any city, there will be other expatriate English teachers and you will make friends with them as well as with local students.

4. You may live in cities that are highly polluted, which has serious health concerns.

5. Although life abroad can be very stimulating and comfortable, after a certain number of years the expatriate lifestyle may be unsatisfying for growth on deeper levels, and you may feel the need to come home to be able to contribute to society through citizenship and family.

Teaching English as Second Language

Teaching ESL means teaching English to non-native speakers in an English-speaking country. These may be immigrants, short-term students, or international students who are aiming to complete their education at a European, Australian or North American university. In the past few years I have been teaching English as a Second Language to international students and immigrants in Canada. This has its own advantages and challenges.

Advantages of Teaching English as a Second Language

  1. On the one hand, it is professional work, often in a high school, college or university setting, with on-going opportunities for professional development.
  2. Usually students are highly motivated, for they are either immigrants who need to learn English fast and well in order to adjust to life in Canada, or they are international students who, with few exceptions, are paying high fees for a North American university education, and expect to work had to get their money's worth.
  3. There is lots of access to community resources, for the whole surrounding community speaks English. Consequently, teachers can assign contact assignments, arrange field trips, set up library resource assignments, and use newspapers, library books and guest speakers.
  4. In English language environments, ESL classes usually include students of diverse cultures, so the students can teach each other about their part of the world. The class is full of cultural ambassadors for peer teaching. This type of mixed class makes it feasible to assign a learning task and create small groups of mixed languages, where the only way students can complete their task is by interacting and collaborating with each each other in English. Once they break the ice and get things moving, they appreciate getting to know people from the other side of the world. In fact, that's what international students have come here to do.

International Days 2012 at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia

Columbian dancers share their culture at TRU |nternational Days

Bhangra Dancers from India

Challenges of Teaching English as a Second Language

  1. It may be difficult to get a full-time contract, and you may be stuck in short contract or sessional work for the duration of your professional life The tenured positions are few and far between at Canadian and American universities, so the uncertainty of a semester-by-semester contract with few benefits is the reality for many.
  2. Competition is great for the jobs there are, for there are many native speakers and professionally certified teachers around.
  3. Other challenges are the usual ones which every teacher handles--working with mixed-level classes, balancing in-class structure, guidance and practice with meaningful homework that the students can do, negotiating the various goals of the students, and shaping the chemistry of the class with the blend of personalities that are present.
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If you go abroad to teach EFL

1. Consider going without signing a contract from your home country. Lots of schools come to North America or Europe and recruit over the internet, and one of these may be a good choice for you to help you get started with a visa and a place to stay when you first arrive. However, you need to be aware that these are not the best jobs, usually. Many of them pay a local scale of salary,not the expatriate scale, and may not pay much more than your living expenses. Jobs vary, and you need to ask questions. Given that English is such a valuable commodity in the global business environment, many schools set up as businesses more concerned with taking students' money than with offering good service and clear, structured programming where students can progress. I have been asked to teach in places that didn't have a curriculum or books, and teachers had to spend a lot of time preparing lessons while being contracted to teach 30 or more contact hours per week. Calculate spending at least an hour planning and marking for every hour you teach, so 30 contact hours means at least a 60-hour week. Is the salary they are paying you worth your time? Once you get to a place and start to know your way around you may be able to teach private students or find jobs in companies or publishing houses or newspapers that pay better and give better conditions, so keep your eyes open and ask people that you meet, including other teachers and your students.

2. Bring a kit of supplies--an anthology of short stories, and short short stories, a book of dialogues, a few Penguin Simplified readers, some classic children's books, the whole series of BOB phonic readers, a few classic young adult novels, a half dozen simple science and biography books, a few issues of evergreen magazines such as Discover, a grammar book (Azar), and possibly a 6 or 7 level series of ESL text books, a songbook with lyrics of English classic songs (country and western, easy listening, whatever you like--slow beat and simple words), a listen-and-read set of children's songs like the Wee Sing series, a teach-yourself-how-to-draw-cartoons book, your camera, a hand-held digital voice recorder, and your laptop. A whiteboard and set of dry erase markers with a brush will also be useful.

3. Here are some suggestions for core supplies:

4. Get training if you can. A TESL (Teaching English to Speakers of Another Language) Certificate is really useful. Depending on your program, it may be a fultime intensive program for a month, like the one offered by Vancouver Community College in Vancouver, Canada, or spaced out over several months, like the one offered byThompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. Check it out in your neighbourhood and see what is available. This will give you specific training with short courses on how to teach grammar, pronunciation, phonics, reading, writing, listening comprehension, how to manage your classroom, and how to plan a lesson and incorporate elements like warm-up, review, new skill, structured practice, learning task, written follow up, and wrap-up activity or game. You will easily find work abroad without a certificate or training, but you will enjoy the work a lot more if you have some skills and a sense of how to manage the class from the first day you stand in front of it and find thirty or forty expectant pairs of eyes looking at you as if you were some kind of foreign expert.

5. Bring paper copies of any certificates and diplomas you have. This will save you the hassle of having to send for them later if you want to try for a better type of job, for example teaching at a university. In some countries, for example China and Taiwan, authorities are not interested in seeing your transcripts, they want to see the degree, with the name of the university on it and the official seal. They really like official-looking papers and corporate seals more than the nuts-and bolts of what you actually studied and whether you aced your courses or not.

6. Be prepared to be flexible, go anywhere, teach anyone, work nights and weekends, when most business people and students have free time, be friendly, keep a positive attitude and a sense of adventure, know that things are going to go wrong--electricity will fail, the classroom may flood, the photocopy machine will break down, the internet will stop working, you may show up for class and find out you just got fired with no notice, and so on.

Teaching ESL or EFL is wonderful work with lots of room to be creative, incorporate the teacher's own interests into the curriculum, and grow with the students. I love the contact with the international forum and the intellectual stimulation. The work is varied and flexible, with lots of opportunities to develop it in your own way.


Darcia Douglass from Kennewick, WA on August 10, 2017:

Great article! I've been looking for ways to earn money at home and this may fit the bill. We have a lot of immigrants in our area.

Janis Goad (author) on September 28, 2012:

So true! Some people go over, and stay for decades.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 28, 2012:

A friend of mine went over to Korea with her husband and 3 sons to teach English. They stayed about a year and loved it there. What a great way to travel, meet new people and learn about other cultures.

Janis Goad (author) on September 28, 2012:

You are never too old--I have met people doing it after they retire, and want to travel and stay in a place for 6 months or longer to explore the country and culture. Go by yourself, if your husband wants to stay home and surf!! Have a great day, Judith. Nice to see you here.

Judi Brown from UK on September 28, 2012:

Wish I had thought about doing this when I was younger - hope it inspires someone else to give it a go!

Janis Goad (author) on May 02, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, GoodLady. You are right, the pay can be very unfair in some schools, given the amount of work required. People who want to do it need to really look into the school that is hiring them.

Brainy Bunny, that is a good question. Maybe I need to write a hub about that.

Hi Sid, welcome to HubPages. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

Sid on May 02, 2012:

As a seasoned language instructor, I am confident those interested in teaching English at home or overseas will find the information in this hub as very valuable and very accurate.

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on April 19, 2012:

I've never taught EFL, unfortunately, but I have been an editor of EFL/ESL textbooks for 10+ years. I found the kit of resources that you recommend very interesting, and I'd love to know what ESL series you find the best and why.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on April 18, 2012:

What an informative Hub. I'm a TEFL teacher, though I didn't travel. I taught schools, businesses, individuals in the city of Rome, (Italy )where I lived for many many years and where I really learned a lot about so many walks of Roman life I'm both happy and unhappy to reflect on. It was an unfairly low paying job, my hours were long, prep was long, responsibility was enormous, but it paid my children's education and our rent and so in my way I loved it. ("allow to let you grow personally and professionally" - yes!)

Thanks for your resources and detailed information and links. Wish i could bookmark it!

Looking forward to sharing with you!

Voting up and interesting.

Janis Goad (author) on March 25, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Nell! Yes, the people are always the most interesting part of the work we do.

Nell Rose from England on March 25, 2012:

Hi, this is such an excellent idea, as Paul says, above, he has been doing for a long time, and its such a wonderful way of learning new languages and meeting the people, really interesting thanks! voted up!

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on February 05, 2012:

I have been teaching both ESL and EFL in the States, Taiwan, and Thailand for the past 40 years and I can't agree more with what you have said in this excellent hub.

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