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Teaching English Overseas

Traveling overseas is a great way to explore a culture and meet a variety of interesting people. But travel costs add up quickly! Teaching English overseas allows you to make money while developing world experience.

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

"Globally, the demand for English is not going to decrease. I just see it increasing," says Dave Sperling. He is the creator and owner of an online job board for these teachers. "China alone will keep English teachers busy for the next 100 years!"

Where Are the Jobs?

In coming years, demand for teachers will be strongest in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The highest paying jobs in Asia are in Korea, Taiwan and Japan, although some teachers in China also earn high salaries.

Elsewhere, the best salaries are paid by employers in the oil-producing countries of the Arabia Gulf.

You should consider more than just wages when you choose a country. Think about what interests you and what you want to see. Do some research about living conditions and prices.

"If money is your only motivation, you may as well stay home," says Sperling. "You need to be interested in the culture and the people."

If a school in Japan doesn't offer to meet housing expenses, you need to think about the dent this expense will take out of your wages. The cost of living in Japan is extremely high.

You may want to consider teaching in South Korea, where 90 percent of teaching positions include housing, according to Sperling.

Canadian Mahdieh Hossini-Nassab went to Taiwan to teach English in order to pay off her student loans. She had over $12,000 of student debt and was able to pay it off in less than a year.

There are many more English teaching jobs worldwide than there are teachers to fill them. If you are American or Canadian, you should be able to find jobs reasonably easily in areas such as Latin America, Asia and Eastern/Central Europe.

The only job markets which you will find difficult to break into will be those in other English-speaking countries, Western Europe (unless you have a European Union passport) and Africa.

"Eastern Europe is a new and growing market," says Sperling. "I am getting more and more clients from the Czech Republic and Poland."

Sperling says salaries in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates may not be quite as high as they were 20 years ago, but benefits for English teachers in these countries can be hard to beat. These include free housing, vacation time, payment or subsidies for international schooling for your children and free air tickets home for you and your family yearly.

China is an up-and-coming country in the demand for English teachers. Sperling says his online job site has had a huge increase in the number of ads for teachers in China since 1995.

"Rural positions in China are very hard -- it takes a hearty individual and a seasoned traveler to cope. In cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, there is not as much of a culture shock," says Sperling.

"As pay goes, there's quite a range. People have made a good living in China," he says. "Trends are changing and salaries are on the rise in China."

The best jobs are those that offer paid airfare, extended contracts, dependent benefits, housing and other perks. If a substantial contract is at stake, the schools are less likely to offer it without a personal interview.

Most employers require an interview in some form (telephone or e-mail). Some insist on in-house training, even if you have a recognized teaching certificate.

The Contract Dilemma: To Sign or Not to Sign?

"I signed a contract with [a popular chain of English schools in Taiwan] while I was in Canada and then went to Taiwan to fulfill it," says Hossini-Nassab.

"When I got there, I realized that the job I took wasn't what I expected. I never did work for this company. The pay was lower than most English teachers. I decided not to take the job and find my own."

This is a common experience for teachers heading overseas. It is very important to do your homework on the company and country.

Hossini-Nassab found her second job through a newspaper in Taipei.

"With this job, I was taken advantage of. I was getting paid salary, so while I was working more than 50 hours per week, my friends were only working 20 and getting paid the same as or more than I was! I learned from this."

Hossini-Nassab learned the importance of researching your employer and the culture before making decisions about work. She got it right with her third and fourth jobs, which she kept while she was in Taiwan.

From the legal viewpoint, pre-arranging jobs from your home country is much more convenient. You are able to obtain a work visa or a work permit before you arrive in the foreign country.

"Sometimes you have to sign a contract first before you can get a visa to work in the country," says Sperling. "This is usually OK, as long as you've done your homework. Ask to talk to current and past teachers at the school. The better schools will put you in touch with contacts."

But Mal Turner says signing a contract before heading overseas is not the best idea. He is an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor in Taipei, Taiwan.

"You never sign a contract before arriving here, as they will try to undercut your salary or wage by getting you to agree to a set wage before arriving, when you could place yourself on the open market. When you do decide to take a job, they generally will withhold a lump sum of your first paycheck -- typically a week's salary -- until you finish your contract to entice you to finish," Turner says.

"However, usually with proper communication you can get out of almost any contract by giving plenty of notice or by finding a replacement teacher," he adds.

"It's simple, really. Just like most things, the teaching in Taiwan revolves around simple supply and demand. There are way more jobs than teachers, and the jobs that are here have a really high turnover rate, making it easy to find jobs and favorable contracts -- when you get them here and not overseas."

Here are some tips about what you should do before you sign:

  • Go to the school and check it out. If you can't actually go there, ask as many questions as you can.
  • Talk to other foreign teachers who work in that school or in that same language school chain. Don't just talk to current teachers, but also ones who are finished their contracts. These teachers may be able to talk more freely about their experience.
  • Contact the local embassy to ask about the school. Visit Internet discussion sites to see what other teachers are saying.
  • Negotiate time off to visit home. Not all cultures celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or summer holidays like we do in North America.
  • Negotiate a pay raise for the future (mid-contract) if you are doing well at your job.
  • Make sure the atmosphere is comfortable.
  • Check out the teaching material and know what you are expected to teach and do in the classroom.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with the job and boss. Most jobs have contracts, and if they are broken, the boss may withhold pay.

Advice From Abroad

"A university degree makes life over there easier," says Hossini-Nassab. "Japan will not accept you as a teacher without one. Learn a bit of the local language for your own personal use. For Taiwan, you really have to just go there and check it out and take it from there.

"It's a huge scary step out of your comfort zone of your own comfy bed, 7-11 Slurpees, clean blue sky, friends to call to hang out with and your pet puppy! Prepare yourself for an adventure! You'll have a greater appreciation for life after this trip!"

Turner's advice is to broaden your horizons and seek out the best scenario for you.

"Hustle up as many teaching jobs as you can -- kindergarten, night schools, conversation classes and private tutor classes. This is because some you won't like, some won't like you, and some are just simply a pain in the butt.

"In the end, you'll end up keeping the ones that suit you best. Optimizing your time, income and schedule takes some work, but once you got it all together, it will really pay off in the bank and working environments."

Terms You Should Know: An Alphabet of Acronyms

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This involves teaching people, usually in their own countries, who want to use English for business, leisure or travel.

TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language. This involves teaching immigrants in English-speaking countries.

TESOL is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. ELT is for English Language Teaching. Both of these are general terms which cover both TEFL and TESL.

And just to confuse you, the acronym TESOL also refers to the American professional association: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.


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