This Can I be a TEFL teacher if English is not my first language? If I had a penny for each time I heard this question… I could fly you out myself because the answer is yes! You absolutely can teach English abroad despite English not being your first language.
Of course, there is a short answer and a long answer, as there is with any other question. We’re already off to a good start with a ‘yes’ for the short answer. But, there are many things that you should consider before you book your flight abroad.
The Benefits of Being a Non-Native English Speaker
It is almost always down to the teacher’s personality, ambition and skills to determine how effective they are at teaching. However, one could argue that there are fundamental differences between native English and non-native English speaking teachers in the classroom. One thought is that non-native speakers might have an edge in the grammar department.
Having grown up using grammar structures naturally, native English speakers might not be as effective in explaining particular grammar structures. As a native English speaker myself, I recall trying to explain particular grammar rules to my students. I knew the rules, but I didn’t know why they are the way that they are.
Non-native English speakers, however, will have learned the intricacies of grammar rules since they will have been introduced as entirely new concepts. Not only will they have adopted the rules, they can thoroughly explain why these rules stand. This is because they have learned them as a non-native English speaker.
Furthermore, non-native English speakers will have more insight into the difficulties of learning a new language. They will be aware of obstacles such as ‘L1 interference’. This is where the student’s first language will complicate their learning because of direct translation not being applicable and differences in grammatical structures.
Additionally, employers will realize what it took for native English speakers to become a TEFL teacher. They will realize the amount of work that was put in to become not only proficient in the language but good enough to teach the language to others.
I have met countless native English speakers who proved to be incompetent (idiotic, unmotivated, uninspiring… I’ll say no more), and I’ve met many more non-native English teachers that were professional, inspiring, and overall phenomenal teachers.
Disadvantages of Being a Non-Native English Speaker
Non-native English speakers can bring benefits to learning in the classroom, however, the disadvantages of being a non-native English speaking teacher come from more of a logistical standpoint. That is, employers may be more hesitant to hire non-native English speakers.
This can mean that some countries or companies do not hire non-native English speaking teachers altogether, or that the process will be much more difficult. While native English speakers can easily apply for positions without much hassle, the process of becoming a TEFL teacher has many more obstacles. Some government programs will refrain from hiring non-native English speakers due to their policies, whereas employers may simply have a preference.
Ways to Improve Your Chances
However, just because it might be more difficult to find jobs in the location that you want, doesn’t mean that you should give up on your dream of living abroad and traveling the world as a qualified English teacher. You shouldn’t be discouraged, and instead, use this as an opportunity to show your potential employers that despite the obstacles, this is what you want to pursue.
Fortunately, there are many ways that you can show to your employers that you’re better than the next candidate. While TEFL isn’t necessarily a ‘cutthroat’ industry, you need to highlight why you’re the best option for the role and how you surpass the others. But firstly, you need to grab their attention with on-paper experience.
Because your employers may know that you are a non-native English speaker, they may skim through your application knowing that there are native speakers waiting. This is why you really need to captivate them with your on record experience.
Upskill With a Standout TEFL Course
While you can certainly obtain teaching positions and explore the world with a 120 hour TEFL course, it must be said that it is the bare minimum. The 120 hour TEFL course is no doubt a useful certificate to have as it acts as a passport to many corners of the world. However, you should aim for higher if you really want to maximize your TEFL experience. Your chances of employment will be greater and you’ll smash the ceiling of your salary potential.
Many settle for the 120 hour course, especially native English speakers. This is because native English speakers can afford to due to their natural command of English. However, settling for less certainly doesn’t inspire much ambition within the TEFL industry. Employers might see the extent of your qualifications and be impressed with not only the skills you have but the ambition you have in the TEFL industry.
At Premier TEFL, there are plenty of courses on offer that surpass the 120 hour TEFL course in terms of quality. A 120 hour TEFL course is typically ranked as Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) Level 3, whereas there are plenty of Ofqual Level 5 courses available. Our Level 5 courses are;
- 180 Hour Ofqual Regulated Level 5 TEFL Course
- 240 Hour Ofqual Regulated Level 5 TEFL Course
- 300 Hour Ofqual Regulated Level 5 TEFL Course
With these courses, you’ll get the benefits of studying professionally assessed modules, guidance of DELTA qualified tutors, and personal tutor support. You’ll even obtain a UK Government regulated qualification. If that doesn’t entice you, these courses are ranked at the same level as a CELTA (the most widely recognized and reputable TEFL qualification) on the Ofqual framework.
Gain First-Hand Teaching Practice
Some courses on our websites also offer first hand teaching experience. This is viable if you’re nervous about your first day at school or you want to impress your employers.
To show your employers that your teaching methods have been assessed will be a testament to your abilities. With these courses, you will gain first-hand experience and acquire an internationally recognized certificate fully endorsed by Training Qualifications UK (TQUK). Whether you’re already TEFL qualified or you’re just starting out your journey, there are a range of course options available;
- 10 Hour Virtual TEFL Course
- 130 Hour Hybrid TEFL Course
- Level 5 250 Hour Hybrid TEFL Course
- 310 Hour Hybrid Master TEFL Course
While you certainly didn’t come to this article if you only wanted to volunteer, volunteering can be an enriching experience for you and your CV. Volunteer opportunities are aplenty, and they won’t be so strict during the hiring process as other positions are.
Native and non-native English speakers can find plenty of opportunities to volunteer in schools, summer camps, homestays, and more.
Of course, volunteering should be a short-term goal. However, you will reap long-term benefits. To be able to demonstrate to employers that you’ve the capacity and skills to work in an environment similar to TEFL, and having a reference letter to show for it, will pay dividends in your quest for your perfect TEFL role.
Additionally, there is always the possibility that you will be hired directly by your school or company following your volunteering period. If they are impressed with the work that you’ve put in, you could put yourself into contention for a permanent role.
Teach English to Students Online
Want to work from home? Next to your kettle and snacks? Got it. You could do so by teaching English online. It’s an excellent way to make money without actually getting out of your PJs.
The virtual classroom mostly consists of teaching students 1-1. However, you can also find companies or students that would rather work in a group environment. With smaller class sizes, you’ll demonstrate that you can pay attention to the unique needs of your students. Remember, you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, so you’ll have to improvise and adapt your lesson plans according to the learning styles of your student.
It can also help you be more comfortable conversing with students. Some TEFL teachers may be good teachers but lack the ability to communicate with students on a more friendly and personal level. By building a rapport with your students you’ll become more confident in navigating conversations within the classroom.
Engoo, iTalki, and Preply are just some of the many examples of online teaching companies which hire non-native English speakers to lead their classrooms.
Offer More Than General English
One way that you can really stand out from the crowd is to offer more than just general English education. If you have a degree in Business, or work experience in engineering, just for example, you could offer English lessons within the context of these subjects. This will make you a more valuable teacher because you have something specific to offer.
To teach something that you are genuinely interested in can be difficult to come by these days. But at Premier TEFL, we have a range of specialized courses that can spark interest in the classroom and give you the edge in a competitive market. Some examples of our TEFL-pro courses are;
Obtain an English Proficiency Qualification
While it may be annoying to have to prove that you do have a good command of English, many employers will require that you have a test to prove that you are proficient in English. You can obtain these by undergoing tests such as the International English Language System (IELTS) or the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).
You can even test your English right here at Premier TEFL! This test can help you determine which course you should take based on your abilities. It can also help to know where you need to improve before you start teaching English, or maybe some teachers would like to undergo the test just for the confidence boost!
Where Can I Teach if English Isn’t my First Language?
Unfortunately, there are countries which will be “off limits” for non-native English speakers who want to teach English, that is legally anyway. I’ve come across countless teachers that teach on a tourist visa, and while they’re happy, it isn’t advisable.
Some countries such as South Korea, for example, will be extremely difficult to teach as a non-native English speaker. However, let’s not focus on where you can’t teach, let’s focus on where you can teach! If my word isn’t good enough, I’ll use the proof of Premier TEFL alumni to prove to you that you can teach English as a non-native speaker.
Martijn’s Story in Thailand
Ah yes, Thailand. The first country you’ll probably think of when you hear the words travel, holiday, islands, or Thai curry.
Meet Martijn, a young man from the Netherlands who taught Physics in Thailand as a non-native English speaker. Not only did he fall in love with a girl from Thailand, he fell in love with the country. If this isn’t a classic romantic TEFL story, what is?
Martijn explains how there is always a high demand for English teachers in Thailand, and that was how he was able to obtain a teaching position as easily as he did. Now, he is establishing his own online tutoring business as a non-native English speaker.
Grace’s Story in Cambodia
Not only did Grace overcome the obstacles of being a non-native English speaker from Namibia. She overcame the obstacles presented by the pandemic to pursue her dream of teaching English in Cambodia.
While working two jobs, one as an insurance broker consultant and one as a teaching assistant, she took the leap of faith of becoming a teacher in Cambodia. Grace also explains how Cambodia, or the land of temples, was extremely accommodating and welcoming for teachers from all over the world, not just English speaking countries.
Penelope’s Story in China
With the intention of learning Mandarin, Penelope from Venezuela became a Spanish teacher as well as an English teacher. She has now spent over 6 years teaching in a country which she now calls home.
Not only did she move to China to teach English. She raised a family in a country where she describes the population treating pregnant women as “queens”. As a non native English speaker she is able to earn a handsome salary. Penelope is demonstrating that non native English speakers can certainly pursue a career as a TEFL teacher that pays off.
Denise’s Story Teaching Online
While the pandemic evokes connotations of negativity, Denise from Argentina sought opportunity among crises. She transitioned from being a fly attendant into a full time online English teacher as a non-native English speaker. And, she did this without a degree.
Her learning of English only ignited her wishes to travel. That’s when she thought it was a perfect opportunity to work remotely as an online English teacher. Denise’s experience exemplifies the saying discipline equals freedom. Her efforts of learning English and maintaining a full time schedule as an online English teacher means that she has the freedom to travel wherever she wants.
No Excuses! Teach English as a Non-Native Speaker Today!
These are only a few of the innumerable experiences that non-native English speakers have had teaching abroad in foreign countries. If you want to read about more, you can visit the TEFL as a non-native page at Premier TEFL!
Despite the obstacles that these teachers faced, they did not let them prevent what would become life changing experiences. All you need to teach English abroad is a few things. A good command of English, and more importantly the enthusiasm to deliver engaging lessons to your students!
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