It's Better Abroad

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 categorized 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 recognized 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 analyzing 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.

Patricia Walters has lived in Halkidiki, northern Greece since 1980. She has been working in the TEFL field for over thirty years. Her experience has involved working with young, adolescent and adult learners in private language schools and as a freelance TEFL tutor. She is also an ESP teacher (English for Special Purposes, namely Business English and English for Tourism) and has taught English to other nationals apart from Greeks. Currently, she is also an oral examiner for an international examination board, whilst continuing to work in a private language school and also as a freelance tutor. However, her specialty is teaching English to children with learning difficulties.

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