Not a Native Speaker?

English Schools Need You, Too

It doesn’t matter what language your family spoke when you were growing up, you can be an effective teacher of English as a Foreign Language. In my career I’ve met many, many great teachers of English who were once students themselves. In fact, in your home country, it’s probable that most teachers of English are locals. The “foreign teacher” is usually a minority.

However, there may be opportunities for you to work outside your home country as an English teacher as well. So, if you are German, you’re not restricted to only teaching English in Germany, but it may be more difficult for you to find your first position teaching English in a third country.

The truth of it is that non-native speakers of English may have a harder time getting a coveted “foreign expert” or “foreign teacher” position in a country that is not their own. Or, you may be offered a smaller salary for doing the same workload as another teacher. And, having a passport from some countries where English is an official (or at least, widely spoken) language, like the Philippines or Nigeria, may also pose a problem in other countries where foreign teachers can only be hired from government-approved nations such as the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. Conversely, depending on your country of origin, you may also be able to get a visa more easily than a native speaker in the country in which you wish to teach. Many non-native speaker European teachers have an easier time arranging employment in EU countries than do Americans, Australians and Canadians, even though teachers from the latter countries are native speakers.

Of course, you have no control over what passport you have, but there are other ways that you can make your application to an overseas English school more attractive to potential employers.

On the plus side, some recruiters may want to hire a non-native speaker because of your ability to teach both English and your native language. Teachers who can instruct both English and German, French, Mandarin or Spanish may be especially valuable on the overseas job market.

Additionally, employers may believe that a non-native speaker of English actually has a better grasp of grammar skills than your native speaker colleagues. After all, native speakers grow up talking and thinking in English, but may not have had to internalize the reasoning behind English grammar’s rules. 

Another reason employers may want to hire you is that they may feel that you will be a better teacher because of your own experiences as a student of English. You’ll understand your own students better because you’ll know what they are going through.

So, what should you do if you want to teach English abroad but English is not your mother tongue?

*Prove yourself on paper. Any certifications you can get will help you in your search for employment. Get some TEFL or TESOL teacher training. The IELTS, TOEFL or other internationally recognized exam in English will also go a long way to assuring potential employers that you are a good candidate for their available jobs. 

*Be professional. As a non-native speaker of English, you will be scrutinized carefully. Dress up for your interview—even if it’s only over Skype. Be extra polite in your phrasings, and proofread your emails carefully before you send them.

*Get great recommendations. Employers listen to other employers. It may seem like a circular argument, but once you get your first job, you’ll be better poised to get other, better jobs because you’ll have your last boss vouching for you.

*Speak English well. Simple mistakes can damage your credibility. Make sure your English is as error-free as possible.  This is more important than you might think.  When a native speaker makes an error, please just assume it was a fast mistake.  When a non-native speaker makes an error the assumption if usually that they don’t know how to speak properly.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  You’ll be a more attractive job candidate if you can teach English and your native language. Get certifications or training to help document your teaching skills.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  High IELTS and TOEFL exam scores will go a long way to proving your abilities to skeptical employers abroad.  


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Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.