If you’re reading this article, then you may have also read some of our other posts about learning a foreign language. Ultimately, learning another language and teaching English abroad carry many of the same motivations – a desire to connect with people across the world, experience new and exciting relationships and destinations, and broaden your respect for the world.
In my opinion, learning a language and teaching English abroad are inextricably intertwined. In order to be as successful as possible, it behooves you to learn something about the country you’ll be traveling to, including its language and culture. That will serve as the start for your connection with your students. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) can be one of the most enriching experiences of your life, especially if you pursue it for the right motivations, and do it the right way.
The Why and Where of Teaching English Abroad
Why do you want to TEFL? Where will you go?
Maybe you’re looking to open children’s eyes to global opportunities…
Maybe you’re fascinated with the relationship between two cultures and languages…
Maybe you have distant relatives somewhere…
Maybe you want to learn more about a specific culture…
There are a lot of motivations for TEFL, and ultimately, you want to understand your own – but some of the most common fall under the categories above. Be inquisitive, be open, and be honest with yourself. If you assess why you want to TEFL and essentially come up with selfish reasons for doing so, you may want to rethink your proposition. The saying goes, “you get out of it what you put into it,” but in TEFL, the reward almost always outweighs the investment.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of teaching English abroad is the vast opportunity of location. Where you decide to teach English is more or less completely your decision (maybe an employer has some sway), but if you apply yourself, you can really be teaching English anywhere you desire. It is a great opportunity, and native English speakers are very fortunate that so many people around the world pursue learning English.
Picture yourself having dinner at 9-10pm in Spain? Maybe you’re a Vietnam War buff who wants to head to Ho Chi Minh City. Love technology and Sushi? Japan may be for you. You could be wondering just how many dialects of Chinese there are. Maybe the Indian Himalayas are calling your name. Whatever the location, there is an opportunity…
That said, choose a location that interests you: not for a week or two, but one that you will spend your free time exploring. Picture yourself being an expert tour guide by the time you return – or maybe you won’t want to return! In the end, you will inevitably learn (some of) the language of the country you choose, so that may play a factor in your decision.
Some questions to ask yourself:
Do you crave modern technology?
Does the thought of rural living intrigue or repel you?
Do you need to be online, or can you break away for a long spell?
Who would you write home to? Do they see you in this location?
Any dietary restrictions?
Your answer to these questions may influence your location selection, so be sure to research your responses with characteristics of your candidate countries/locales.
OK, I know Where I’m Going and Why, but How do I do This?
When embarking on TEFL, there are a few paths you can take – and while there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer, you can certainly do things to prepare.
1) Just Jump In
A story I’ve heard more than once is from folks who literally choose a location, buy a plane ticket, and figure things out when they get there. This method usually suits people who are unafraid of ambiguity, are willing to search locally for work upon arrival, or already have some familiarity with the language and culture. It has a nice, laissez-faire ring to it when the story is told later, and often sounds impressive to listeners. I’m not discounting this tactic as a way to TEFL, but one of the risks is that you never find that job and fulfill one of the reasons you went there in the first place. You also may not have a source of income, and that can be stressful for some people. In the end, if you choose this method, your success will depend upon you and your confidence level, along with your willingness to adapt if you “just jump in.”
2) Take a Course
This is probably the simplest way to become the most prepared: you will learn basics of teaching English, you can boost your resume, and it will arm you with the confidence to get out there and make a difference. So which course?
There are programs that offer many certification systems of differing intensity, and give you further access to placement opportunities abroad. There are methods for teaching youngsters, how to overcome cultural differences, and both online and classroom options to best suit your schedule.
3) Learn Basic Linguistics
If it’s possible, a very helpful basis for TEFL is to learn some basic linguistic principles, such as syntax, and phonology – how sentences and sounds are formed. Using these tools, it is much easier to relate to learners and encourage speaking more like native English speakers. Showing that you understand how their language works in relation to English establish trust and displays an interest that engages them beyond their basic desire to learn English. Remember, you may have students that are learning for many different reasons, but you can become a memorable teacher and influence in their journey by being prepared and educating yourself first.
When you feel ready, whichever path you choose to TEFL, get out there and enjoy the experience. Most people will tell you it’s one of the most rewarding times of their lives – that it changed their perspective on life, or more likely – changed their life itself!
Remember that you are in their country, but you are using your expertise to help them learn your language. Respect and relationship nurturing go a long way to helping them along their journey, but also remember to take moments to learn from them. And finally, remember to be grateful that English is pervasive enough to grant you this opportunity. Soak it up like a sponge, and make some wonderful friends along the way.