Teaching English as a Second Language Abroad: Is It Worth It?

An English as a second language teacher

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In your early 20s and 30s, you may have many friends moving abroad to start teaching English as a second language. There are many perks to this cultural exchange, however, there are many factors to consider before making such a big decision. You need to determine if teaching English as a second language is really worth it.

Why is Everyone Teaching English Abroad?

The trend of young adults moving abroad to teach English has gained momentum for many reasons. 

There’s a Massive Global Demand

One of the main motivators is the increasing global demand for English proficiency. There are over one billion people learning English as a second language worldwide — this makes up almost 20% of the global population. Most of these students are located in Asian countries. 

As globalization continues to tighten its grip, the demand for English language skills has skyrocketed. From business to academia and from travel to technology, English proficiency has become a valuable asset. English has claimed its stake as the international language of communication, and as a result, there’s a growing need for skilled ESL (English as a second language) teachers worldwide. 

Countries that don’t have English as their native language often seek qualified instructors to provide language education and enhance their citizens’ English skills. Teaching ESL offers you the opportunity to contribute to the development of a crucial skill that opens doors for individuals from all over the world.

It’s a Chance for Cultural Exchange and Diversity

Teaching English as a second language is a great chance to explore a new country and see the world differently from how you would as a tourist. As an ESL teacher, you get to interact with students from different walks of life, each bringing their unique perspectives and experiences into the classroom. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience different traditions, religions, languages, customs and even food by immersing yourself in another culture. 

Moving abroad — even if it’s only for a few months — can be an incredible opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, go on new adventures and gain a broader perspective of the world. You’ll get to explore through bustling markets, savor exotic cuisines and visit historical landmarks. This is a learning experience that extends far beyond the classroom.  

It’s a Great Professional Development Opportunity

Teaching ESL provides ample opportunities for personal and professional growth. Whether it’s advancing your teaching skills, developing a specialized curriculum or pursuing an education degree, the field offers a wide range of avenues for you to explore.

It Can Be a Rewarding Experience

For many teachers, witnessing their students progress in their language skills, from basic conversations to complex discussions, is immensely gratifying. The ability to facilitate effective communication is at the core of ESL teaching. You may find plenty of joy in watching your students progress and succeed — giving you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Possible Challenges

Of course, like any profession, teaching ESL comes with its challenges. Adapting to different learning styles, overcoming language and cultural barriers and managing diverse classroom dynamics and personalities can be demanding. 

It’s also crucial to consider the safety conditions of your chosen location and stay informed about local laws and customs. Do some research on the safest countries to teach English in and ensure you’re appropriately prepared. In higher crime destinations, make sure to stay in well-traveled and reputable areas and take advice from locals. 

However, the rewards often outweigh the difficulties if you’re willing to embrace these challenges and arrive prepared and informed.

The Perks of Teaching English as a Second Language

Teaching ESL provides many other perks, making it an attractive and fulfilling career choice for many. Here are some key advantages:

  • Flexibility: Teaching often comes with flexible working hours, allowing you to adapt your schedule to suit your lifestyle. Many positions, especially those in language schools or as private tutors, offer opportunities for part-time or freelance work, allowing you time to explore and pursue other interests.
  • Long vacations: One of the most attractive perks is the extended vacation periods, typically corresponding to school breaks. During these breaks, many teachers use the time to explore other countries or engage in personal projects. 
  • International certification: Pursuing a career in ESL teaching often involves obtaining internationally recognized certifications such as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). These certifications look great on your resume and also open the doors to a wider range of teaching opportunities globally. 
  • Travel opportunity: Getting paid to teach while being able to explore another country is a massive bonus. 
  • Meeting new people: Teaching is a great career choice if you’re a people person. You’ll regularly engage with diverse students, fellow teachers and locals, learning about their backgrounds, perspectives and aspirations. Each new term brings an influx of fresh faces and you’ll likely form lasting friendships in what was once an unfamiliar environment. 

Tips for Teaching Abroad

If you’re seriously considering teaching as a career option, being well-equipped is essential. Keep these tips in mind during the planning process and teaching phase:

Do Enough Research

Before deciding if, when and where you want to teach ESL, thoroughly research potential destinations. Consider factors like where teachers are most in demand, the cost of living, the qualification requirements, cultural aspects, safety and available amenities. Some countries don’t require any qualifications, whereas some require a bachelors or even masters degree. Some of the most popular destinations include:

  • China
  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Taiwan
  • France
  • Spain

Be Financially Prepared

There are a lot of costs involved when first beginning the process of becoming an English language teacher. You must take into account the visa fees, travel expenses, initial accommodation costs, cost of living and any certification requirements. Take the time to draw up a budget for daily living expenses and unforeseen circumstances. Arriving financially prepared provides a safety net, allowing you to enjoy your time free of financial stress. 

Be Willing to Adapt

Being ready to adapt is a core skill. Teaching ESL in a foreign country may present unexpected challenges. Flexibility and the ability to adjust your teaching methods will greatly contribute to your success. 

Learn Some of the Local Language

While English may be the language you’re teaching, making an effort to learn some of the local language shows your respect for your host country’s culture. It also helps you navigate daily life more smoothly and establishes a connection with your students, who may be more comfortable communicating in their native language. 

Get To Know Your Students

Take the time to get to know each student individually. Learn about their interests, hobbies and backgrounds. This personal connection can make the learning experience more enjoyable and helps you tailor your lessons to their preferences. 

Is It Worth It for You?

Your decision ultimately depends on your passion for education, culture, language and people. If you find joy in helping others develop valuable skills and appreciate cultural diversity, then ESL might be an incredibly fulfilling career choice.

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