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Teaching English abroad – what you need to know

Fancy travelling the world and earning some extra cash along the way? Teaching English abroad can be a great way to immerse yourself in another culture and refresh those CV skills while you’re at it

We asked English language assistant Nellie Khossousi to answer some common questions about teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), such as whether or not you need a TEFL qualification, and the first steps people should take if they're interested.

Skip ahead:  

What is teaching English abroad like? 

Nellie: Teaching abroad was a very rewarding experience as I was able to see students improve throughout the academic year. 

I worked with mixed-ability classes of 12 to 30 students aged 11 to 20 years old, including students with special needs. Topics varied but were primarily based on British culture, festivals, school and university life.

I had a lot of freedom when planning lessons, thus making teaching very interesting. I mostly concentrated on improving my students’ speaking and comprehension skills, through PowerPoint presentations, quizzes or roleplay.   

Is teaching English hard? What should someone who's interested expect? 

Nellie: It wasn't too difficult because I was only contracted to work 12 hours a week, meaning I had a lot of spare time for other ventures.

Working as a full-time teacher would be more demanding as this can include marking work, giving feedback to parents and more planning around the curriculum. 

My students were friendly and I didn't need to worry about disciplining them, making my job a lot easier and more enjoyable. I got on well with all my students and had the support of my colleagues if I ever had any issues. 

The cultural differences can be challenging, but personally I prefer working in a foreign country because of the challenges, and I am able to learn the local language and culture a lot quicker while being fully immersed. 

Where did you teach abroad? 

Nellie: I worked in Montauban, a town in the south of France, near Toulouse. I worked at two schools: a lycée (like an A-level college) and a collège (secondary school). 


What's the best and worst thing about being an English language assistant? 

Nellie: The best parts are seeing how my own mindset and teaching style can empower students and give them confidence.

I improved my French and public speaking skills. I also learnt a lot about French culture from speaking to my students first-hand. 

The worst part can sometimes be the disorganisation. Every school and country is different.

At one of my schools, my timetable changed a lot so that I could work with many different classes. This was great in terms of meeting many students, but sometimes this made it difficult to strike up strong relationships and have continuity with my students.

It also made it hard for me to plan my free time in advance and have a routine. 


Did you need a TEFL certificate? 

Nellie: Working as an English language assistant through the British Council does not require a TEFL certificate. However, if you're accepted on to the China programme you will be required to complete a TEFL course before starting. 

Each country has different requirements. Most do not require teaching experience. 

There are no language requirements for Spain and China, but other countries require a B1 level of the official language. Colombia asks that you have studied languages, literature or Latin American studies at university degree level. 

If you are considering teaching English in a country not listed on the British Council website and you want to work more than 12 hours, having a TEFL or an equivalent certificate may work to your advantage.

Some places in need of English teachers will also accept native speakers without the TEFL but with experience. It really depends on where and when.

Are there any background checks you need to go through to get a teaching position?

After you're accepted, you're asked to get an International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC). You can apply for this online here.

An ICPC is a criminal record check for UK nationals or non-UK nationals who have previously lived in the UK and who wish to work with children overseas.


How did you find TEFL jobs? 

Nellie: I found my teaching job on the British Council website here.  

Does teaching English abroad pay well?

Nellie: My salary after tax was around €785 (around £700) a month. For only 12 hours of work a week, this pays very well per hour.

Some assistants have other jobs on the side such as working as a tutor or au pair. 

I was fortunate enough to not pay rent and paid very little for food, so I was able to make a saving while teaching.

Others find it difficult to budget, especially those who live in larger cities where the cost of living is higher. 


Do you have any tips for travelling cheaply and saving money? 

Nellie: I have written a detailed guide on how I save my money here. I always try to use public transport, cook and stay in hostels, or use Couchsurfing.

I use a Revolut travel prepaid card. There are no fees in more than 150 countries. I do not get charged for withdrawing my money from an ATM abroad (no fees up to £200 a month and a 2% fee thereafter), exchanging my money around the world or using my card.

Revolut has incredible exchange rates with foreign currency as they use interbank rates. I never exchange money before travelling, instead withdrawing local currency from an ATM when landing in a new country, or I pay for things directly by card.

The app makes it easy for me to analyse where I am spending my money by grouping my spending into categories such as groceries, transport and entertainment.

My blog Third Culture Nellie is all about travelling, working and studying abroad on a budget and has some ways to live rent-free.

What's the first step for someone who wants to start teaching English abroad? 

Nellie: I would recommend the British Council programme as a first step to assess whether teaching is right for you, as it’s a good number of hours a week. 

If you’re more serious about teaching abroad for more hours a week and for more than one year, or perhaps tutoring, look into getting a TEFL certificate. 

For more information, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on Twitter @thirdculturenel or my blog itself. I would love to hear from you!

Nellie KhossousiAbout Nellie 
The Uni Guide provides guest spots to external contributors. Nellie Khossousi is an economics graduate who writes about her budget travelling adventures with strangers, as well as tips for studying and working abroad on her blog, Third Culture Nellie.

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