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.  


Teaching Internships in China





TEFL for the “Non-Standard” Person

What if I am not young, white, thin, blonde, native-speaking, straight, or ?

The reality is that it is common in this business for some schools to want to hire blond, blue-eyed, young, thin and straight native-speakers. But, you will find a very wide variety of people in this occupation. Schools often have an “ideal” candidate – a stereotype if you will – in mind. And while not nice, this practice is legal in many countries, so we might as well be aware of it and create a strategy to deal with it.

That bland stereotype is often the one language schools try to sell to their customers (students or parents of students) of what they think an American, Aussie or Brit or someone else – looks like. I don’t mean to leave out the Kiwis, South Africans, Irish, Welsh, Scots, Californians or . . .

An even better reality is that there is just not enough native-speaking EFL teachers in the world to meet the demand, and even those racist, lookist, ageist, whatever-ist schools often find themselves very happy (and lucky!) to hire those of us who don’t fit their stereotype.

What if I am over 30, 40 or even 60 years of age?

I started teaching English in Korea at age 41, one month before my 42nd birthday. And, I had grayish hair and a white beard at the time. Right now, at age 58 and with thinning white hair, I still wouldn’t have much trouble finding a good job. I have worked with people over 60 years old and even met a teacher over 70!

Don’t allow your age to limit your goals. Luckily, us older folks aren’t usually asked to teach kindergarten (thank God!). If you are older, your broader life and work experience will often work to your advantage – don’t be afraid to use it.

What if I am not “white”?

Most countries are beginning to realize that the UK, Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa – and other countries that speak English as their first language are nations of immigrants – and not “lily white” countries.

While teaching in Korea in 2005, I saw Chinese-Canadians, Hispanic-Americans, Black-Americans and just about every other kind of “ethnic mix” you might think of.

While it might take you just a bit longer to find the right employer, you really don’t want to work for the narrow-minded employers who would rule you out anyway. Persist and you will find the job you want. There are decent employers out there.

What about gay or lesbian or other “non-straight” people?

Many cultures are bit more reserved than Western countries about sexuality issues. While alternative lifestyles, preferences, etc. certainly exist, they are often hidden and not openly talked about. Many people find they need to exercise some discretion while working overseas. But, this is not always true.

Discussion boards can help you find out the best approach for where you want to go. Generally speaking, it won’t come up, unless you bring it up, so it shouldn’t get in the way of landing or keeping a good English teaching job overseas.

What if I am fluent in English, but not from a “native-speaking” country?

This can be a problem as some countries have a list of countries from which you must have a passport if you wish to legally teach English. Two countries that I am aware of that have such lists, at the current time, are South Korea and Indonesia. In some countries where they don’t have a list, there is often the mis-founded belief that you can’t be fluent in English without being a native of certain countries.

If you are fluent, then the best strategy seems to be to go directly to the country and interview in person, thereby proving on the spot that you have the requisite fluency for the position. Many countries are quite flexible and in my opinion, Thailand is one of the best at accepting non-native speakers as English teachers.

BTW, this direct interview approach also works well for us older teachers. If you directly interview with the school, they can see that you may not meet their stereotype of a cranky and tired old person. This same tack can also help other “non-standard” (whatever that is) people land jobs.

Often the #1 hiring criteria is that someone be friendly and easy to get along with. A personal meeting is almost always the easiest way to prove that characteristic.

Got it?

The whole point of this page is to say that anything about you that you might be concerned about, should not really be a worry. But . . . do ask on the discussion boards about possible difficulties. Generally, you’ll find people very encouraging and you’ll often hear from others just like you.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t let anything get in the way of your dream of a life overseas.
It is out there if you want it. Life often checks to see just how much you want something and won’t give it to you if you don’t persist.

TED’s Tips™ #2: A personal interview often overcomes barriers.
Certainly in Asia where “getting along with people” and being friendly are top criteria for many jobs, it is worth applying and interviewing in person.

A great and fun blog to check out is The Black ESL Teacher.

Please suggest others and I will post them. The blog above makes me think of doing The Old ESL Teacher . . .