Why teach English as a foreign language?
English as a Foreign (or Second) Language is a massive market for teachers. Attracting those who have a severe case of wanderlust, want to strengthen their CV before seeking a mainstream teaching position, or just want to take a gap year or two before settling down into their chosen profession, opportunities abound in the EFL world. The good news is, it’s also a relatively easy industry to get into. Although there are several different paths on the road to becoming an EFL teacher, each follows two or three key steps.
The first step is to become qualified. There is no single EFL qualification and so choosing which one is best for you may seem difficult at first. The Cambridge Celta is the most popular qualification and seen as something of an industry standard. The Trinity Cert. TESOL is very similar in many respects to the Celta, including in terms of price, length and reputation. There are also a host of other qualifications, many of which are cheaper, but lack the international recognition of the Cambridge and Trinity certificates. They can, though, be useful for people without the time or money to spend on the more thorough certificates, or for those who are not sure about whether TEFL is for them. The structure of courses also differs, with full-time, part-time or online options available. Again, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Online courses offer the highest level of flexibility and are usually cheaper. However, a qualification with an observed teaching component is generally valued higher by employers than one without.
Whichever qualification you choose; you can expect the course to cover the basics of teaching. Hopefully, you’ll gain an understanding of how to prepare and plan a lesson, learn how to manage your students effectively and increase your confidence in the classroom. These courses are generally designed for new teachers, although experienced teachers are also welcome, and so previous experience is not necessary. Having a university degree is also not a strict requirement to gain access to many of the training courses and also to acquire work, although having one, in any subject, is a distinct advantage. An increasing number of employers ask for a degree in addition to any EFL qualifications and in some countries one is necessary to obtain a visa.
Generally speaking, a recognised teaching certificate (especially for teachers with a degree) is usually enough to secure your first job. So, after obtaining your qualifications, the next step is to choose where you want to go and to begin looking for vacancies. There are many dedicated EFL job boards online, and many mainstream teaching job boards also have an EFL section, including here at The Educator. There are also often job fairs in major cities, where you have the opportunity to speak to a potential employer, or a number of employers, face to face. Because of the global nature of EFL jobs, interviews are usually conducted online via Skype, although depending on the location some employers may require a face to face meeting.
Besides the job itself, there are other aspects that need to be considered. After all, you’re not just moving your place of work, but your life, so finding out things like average salaries, the cost of living and rent rates is also important. You may think that the salary for a certain position sounds good, but actually the location is very expensive, or vice versa. Being aware of such things can help you to avoid problems in the long run. Again, a lot of information can be found online on different TEFL forums, such as tefl.net and eslcafe.com. There are also more country specific forums, for example gaijinpot.com for Japan. These sites can provide valuable assistance on job conditions, the cost of accommodation and even things to do on your days off. Of course, you can also ask people who have experience of the country, such as friends or course tutors. Being at least slightly knowledgeable about an area also looks good in an interview, as it shows you’ve done your research and have considered potential problems. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the location in an interview. It’s a good way to find out more information about an area, and also measure a potential employers’ honesty!
Although for some TEFL is a short term calling, for others it is a career in itself. There are many opportunities for those looking to stay in TEFL. Those who do may find themselves becoming university lecturers, academic managers or teacher trainers, or perhaps starting their own schools. In terms of further qualifications that teachers may wish to pursue, the Cambridge Delta and Trinity Dip. TESOL are upgrades of the Celta and Trinity Cert. TESOL respectively. For the most part, again, the courses are very similar in terms of what they provide. Both are also accredited at level 7 of the UK National Qualifications Framework, which is the same level as a Master’s degree. Many universities offer a Masters in TEFL/TESOL, or a similar programme, for example applied linguistics. All of these options will benefit a teacher and help to further their career and are often largely interchangeable in terms of the opportunities they provide. A formal degree from a university may be more appreciated by other further education institutions, whilst the Delta/Dip. TESOL may be more favoured by independent language schools.
Full of variety and potential, then, TEFL is fairly accessible as careers go. A university degree (preferably) and a recognised TEFL qualification should be enough to get you your first job. From there, you can progress with more qualifications and experience, although with a level of diversity and flexibility unmatched in other professions.
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