Teaching English as a second language (or foreign language) is a great career path for many majors, including English, communications, global relations, foreign languages, sociology, and journalism, but also a fun short-term job for anybody with the travel bug.

Whether you’re doing it as a long-term career or as a way to fund your travels, here are quick tips for becoming an ESL teacher (or EFL teacher), both stateside and abroad.

Related7 Job Opportunities for English Majors

Location and Lifestyle

Not all locations are created equal, so being an expat can be a lot of work. Not just because you’re working, but because many places are much harder for foreigners to live. Expats will tell you that relatively simple things in the United States and other developed countries, such as apartment hunting and grocery shopping, can be incredibly unique and often difficult experiences elsewhere in the world.

Make a list of things that are important to you and decide which ones are crucial and which are debatable. Then match these amenities with options around the world. For instance, teaching in Seoul, South Korea is going to be a much easier lifestyle than a year in Durban, South Africa.

Remember, you don’t have to leave the country to teach ESL, but you still have to consider the locations throughout the United States that have the most ESL job opportunities.

Consider Income Level

If you’ve got a $400 monthly student loan payment, living on a monthly salary of, say, $500-$800 in South America could be pretty difficult. There are plenty of places with a super low cost of living whose salaries reflect that, and they might not be for you if you’ve got hefty bills to pay back in the states.

Consider the income level you feel comfortable with, and choose the location and type of job accordingly. If you want a highly paid gig, you should probably get certified to increase your chances.

Get Certified

This is not required in most areas of the world, but can definitely put you on the fast track to a job — not to mention the usefulness of what you learned when you actually get a job.

You can find really cheap “certifications” online, or go with a well-known and respected program for TEFL, or TESOL like International TEFL Academy, or American TESOL Institute. If you want to teach in the United States, a college degree and a TESOL certificate will probably be required, but you can likely take some ESL-teaching classes at your university.

Brush Up on Grammar Rules

We learn how to speak, but we don’t learn why. We spend time learning to spell and learning punctuation rules, but we don’t learn what a past perfect progressive sentence looks like, or how it differs from past continuous or simple past.

Whether you’re getting certified or not, you should definitely brush up on some of the major grammar rules for teaching English. Interviewers often ask you grammar-related questions to see if you know anything, and no matter how much “training” they offer, it’s best to be a few steps ahead.

Find a Practicum Location

This is BIG no matter where you want to work. It’s important to have some experience in the classroom, as many schools and organizations require up to 20 hours of practicum experience.

It’s really easy to get; contact departments at your university, local community college, and other community centers that cater to foreigners learning English. Even if you have a one-hour weekly conversation class in the public library, it will give you something to add to your experience, and help you understand the requirements of this field.

Utilize Available Networks

Certifying organizations regularly offer job placement assistance, so don’t be afraid to ask. You can also contact advisors at your university or alumni association who can help you take advantage of known job postings.

Teach Online

A good way to get started is to find ways to teach online via Skype or Google Hangouts. Even if you do this for free, it’s a great way to get a little practice communicating with foreigners.

You can also look into teaching for Open English, or finding your own students using Craigslist. Finally, if you want to offer free assistance and maybe learn another language yourself, check out online programs like LiveMocha.


And make sure you’ve mastered these commonly confused words and phrases before passing the wrong usage on to others!


Image: Northampton Community College