How to Become a Totally Prepared ESL Teacher, Abroad or at Home

Becoming an ESL teacher can actually be a very simple process.

However, at the beginning, it may strike you as a rather challenging prospect.

Overcoming the misconceptions and obtaining the facts about this teaching profession is essential.

You are about to stretch your arms between nations and cultures, no matter where you decide to teach.

ESL teachers experience cultures in an illuminating way. They connect ESL students around the world with a language that may be beneficial to their future. Teachers often learn as much as their students, getting a rare glimpse into cultures they may have only seen on TV.

So pack your bags and join thousands of ESL teachers in your home country, abroad or even online.

Why Become an ESL teacher?

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) is an experience that can be both rewarding and challenging. If you think teaching a class of more than 20 students at the 5th grade level is easy, you may be mistaken. Needless to say, it can serve up a few challenges.

This may not seem so encouraging at first, but once you have honed your ESL teaching skills, the world of teaching English opens up to greener pastures. You can explore teaching at all levels of education, from elementary school to university, in your home country. It could offer opportunities for you to travel the world or open the door for you to take a break from the 9 to 9 corporate grind.

In many ways, teaching ESL is synonymous with travel. The demand for qualified teachers is actually quite high around the world. You may find yourself in Korea, Vietnam, China, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Peru and even Ireland, among other countries. The more ESL teaching you do around the world, the more you will find yourself exposed to rich and inviting cultures.

Sharing the experience of language and culture with your students is not a one-way street. You will get intimate views into cultures that many other professionals simply never get exposed to. However, you can also teach ESL in other capacities as well, including online, in your home country and on the corporate level.

And of course, teaching ESL opens you up to all kinds of professional opportunities online. Remote work comes with tons of unique benefits. 

The most successful online ESL teachers will tell you it’s both freeing and lucrative. Just look at Jack Askew of Teaching ESL Online. Not only has he had brilliant success with teaching ESL online, he even offers an affordable Teaching English Online Course that can get you up and running with your very own online ESL teaching business. It guides you through creating your own teaching website, finding students, growing your professional reputation online and filling your schedule with high-paying teaching sessions.

Becoming an ESL Teacher: 8 Navigation Points to Map Your Journey

1. Common Questions Aspiring ESL Teachers Confront

There are a couple of common questions that can be found far and wide on ESL teaching forums on the Internet.

Many aspiring ESL teachers have a nose for research, and they want to make sure that they are on the right path. It can be a frightening prospect to leave your present life for another career abroad. Especially if you have never taught before, don’t speak the local language or aren’t sure how good your English needs to be in order to teach.

It is human to be apprehensive, especially when making career decisions. Let’s examine a few common questions aspiring ESL teachers often ponder.

Is it necessary for me to speak the native language where I plan to teach?

This may be one of the most common questions associated with teaching abroad. Anxiety over being able to communicate with students or simply being able to navigate the day is perfectly normal.

This is a good practice for understanding some of your students’ anxieties too. Although knowing enough of a language to get by is important, it is certainly not essential. In the classroom, you can operate in English and English alone.

Most ESL teachers use their teaching abroad experience as an opportunity to learn a new language. Download a translation app or purchase a bilingual dictionary, and you will be all set.

How much English grammar do I really need to be qualified to teach English?

Let’s face it, the English language is slowly eroding into tweets and short cryptic text messages with emojis and acronyms. If you are worried about your grammar level, there are plenty of websites that you can use to practice. Brushing up on grammar may also give you a few great ideas for future classes.

Do I need to be a native English speaker?

Native speakers are in higher demand, and they may get paid a bit more money, but you definitely do not need to be one in order to teach ESL. If you have a strong command of the English language, you can begin the process of taking the required TOEFL tests and obtaining TEFL certification.

What is teaching an ESL class like?

An ESL class is only as good as the teacher and his or her materials. If you are prepared and have developed an informative, fun and interactive lesson plan for your class, than that is what your classroom atmosphere will encompass.

Should I teach children or adults?

Most TEFL certification courses will offer guided, in-class teaching hours toward the end of the course. These students are normally children, since most adults learning English get training via their employer, or are paying for professionally aimed classes.

You may find that teaching children is your niche, or you may find it absolutely frightening. If you have a business background, you may find a niche in teaching business English to adults as well. Or you can always diversify your students and do both.

2. Global ESL Teaching Requirements

The requirements for teaching ESL can be challenging to pin down. It may depend on where you wish to teach, what company or language school you wish to teach for and/or the type of ESL teaching journey you have plotted. If you plan on teaching ESL in a native English-speaking country, you will need a teaching degree and a specialty in ESL. If you plan on going abroad, there is more teaching wiggle room, so to speak.

Requirements for teaching ESL in USA. Getting your very own classroom in the United States requires a bit of time in someone else’s classroom as a student. You will need a degree from an accredited university, as well as a teacher preparation program under your belt. You will also need to be licensed by your state and the government. There are specific teaching programs offered by universities that groom undergraduates for a career in teaching. They often include a teacher preparation program and preparation for state and federal licensure. If you already have a degree, but it is not specific to teaching, there are various programs to help you obtain licensure within one to two years.

The TEFL requirement. Most international language schools require any degree and a TEFL certification of their teachers. However, this varies among schools and countries. They may post an advertisement for ESL teachers with a degree and TEFL, but fail to check the requirements if you are a native English speaker. If you plan on teaching privately, you really only need your knowledge of English.

TEFL programs to kick-start your career. There is a wealth of TEFL programs online, at local community colleges and universities, as well as in-class TEFL instruction abroad. Obtaining your TEFL certification abroad is optimal, since you will get in-class experience with ESL students and begin your networking for future positions. There is also a variety of TEFL certifications available to you.

Training institutes offer varied certificates based on hours too. The two standard TEFL certificates most language schools require are the 140-hour and 120-hour certificate, both with in class experience.

In addition to all-online options, Premier TEFL gives you the opportunity to go all-out with a “blended” 180-hour certified course, which includes both online training and real in-person teaching practice while living abroad in a European country.

If you’re looking for something a little faster and more straightforward, myTEFL offers a 120-hour accredited online course as well as options for teaching abroad following the course.

Getting certified can be costly, but it is a lifetime certificate. Depending on which course and course delivery you choose can greatly affect your potential job market. It is essential to ensure the certifying institute is accredited. If you want to make the big bucks in ESL teaching, the corporate market is where it’s at. Oil companies in the Middle East shell out big salaries for ESL teachers. However, you will need a CELTA certificate to get by the HR gatekeepers for those high salary positions.

3. Bridging Your Experience with ESL Teaching

Finding your specialty within ESL can benefit you and your students.

Your foundation may be simply teaching wherever the jobs take you, but you will soon find that you enjoy teaching a specific type of class, to a specific group of students.

There are a few specialties that could be useful for your ESL teaching career. Business English, English for young learners and academic English are all great ESL specialties most language schools are in need of.

Teaching Business English. If you have spent a few years in the corporate realm, no matter your title or position, you may want to give business English a try. Business English is needed in nearly all parts of the non-native English speaking world, mainly because English has become the universal language of business. From corporate executives to budding marketing professionals, English is a valuable asset for them to have. There is also a bit of extra pay involved in teaching Business English. As mentioned before, you can do fairly well teaching English in the Middle East.

There is even a business English certificate you can add to your ESL teaching resume. Some TEFL programs will toss these certifications in as bonus courses, so be sure to check it out. You can get a business English certificate in class at a TEFL academy or online. Most certification programs for business will be roughly 20 hours with great resources to carry with you in your ESL teaching tool kit.

Teaching English for Young Learners. This is another specialty needed around the world, simply because not all ESL teachers can handle a classroom filled with chaos. Teaching young learners is indeed an art. It can be challenging to keep young learners engaged in material, and they are quick to revert to their native tongue. This makes teaching them a valuable and lucrative specialty. In many countries, foreign diplomats and expats alike will hire a native English speaker to manage their child’s early language development.

There are also ESL Young Learners certificates available for padding your resume if you find this field of teaching a fun and rewarding experience. There are certifying programs that are quick and easy, but some can be quite extensive. Trinity College London offers a Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate (TYLEC) that will prepare you for students between 7 to 16 years of age. You will develop and hone your young learners teaching skills with lesson plans, tutorials and valuable classroom experience.

Teaching Academic English. This is for the no-nonsense classroom. If you have taught English, literature, creative writing or even history in your home country, academic English may be your specialty. You can find most of these ESL positions in public and private schools abroad. Teaching academic English will often require a university degree in English or a parallel major. This is definitely the case when teaching English in a native English-speaking country. However, if you plan on going abroad, you may be able to get by with an Associates or an English minor.

4. Teaching ESL at Home

If packing your suitcases and heading out of the country is not so appealing, or you just want to make a difference in your home country or local community, then you may want to look into teaching ESL in a country of people who speak English natively.

The English language in its native countries may appear to be declining with short and obscure social media messaging, but English is still taught in classrooms everywhere.

Obtaining an English degree or language teaching degree will allow you to mold the English minds of elementary, middle and high school students practically anywhere in your home country. Teaching jobs may be far and few between around your city, state or province, but substitute teachers are always in demand. There is also a demand for kindergarten and pre-school teachers in most cities, which may not necessarily require a four-year degree.

There are plenty of grassroots, non-profit, state and federal organizations in need of English teachers. There are ESL programs offered at universities for exchange and foreign students as well as immigration assimilation programs in every major English-speaking city around the world. If you are a native English speaker, you will most likely find a program in or around your city, state or province.

Positives and negatives of teaching in your home country.

Teaching at home offers a few perks. You won’t need a passport, there is no need to say goodbye to family and friends for a lengthy amount of time and the pay is better. However, the requirements to teach ESL at home are much higher. There are FBI fingerprints to get processed, background checks, a higher level of education is required and jobs may be more challenging to come across.

5. Going Abroad

If you are in search of adventure, teaching ESL abroad may be just what the doctor ordered.

Going abroad and experiencing new and beautiful cultures firsthand is a wonderful way to see the world. Sure, you could just travel instead, but you may miss out on gaining a new cultural perspective.

Well-rounded cultural experience. Teaching abroad allows you to meet students and their families, attend cultural functions and truly immerse yourself in your surroundings. You may even find yourself taking a few years traveling the world as you hop from classroom to classroom.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of negatives that follow you abroad. With the exception of a few countries, teaching abroad doesn’t always pay that well. You may accept a position with a language school and find yourself spending more time commuting around a city than actually teaching students. And commute time is not necessarily paid. Teaching abroad is also difficult for those you have left at home. Dangers can be found anywhere in the world, but your family and friends will worry for your safety and you may miss them as time passes.

So it pays to educate yourself about what you’ll actually be dealing with before you make a long-term commitment. Teach English Abroad offers a “taster” TEFL course that only lasts a weekend and is designed to give you a taste of what teaching English in another country is like, so you can decide if it’s right for you. They also offer several other options and resources for job placement and internships, so if you are determined to go ahead with it, they can help you take the next step!

If you want to experience teaching overseas but aren’t ready to commit to being away from your friends and family for too long, see if you qualify for the paid TEFL internship offered by SEE TEFL. It involves two weeks of training and just a 4-5 month job assignment. No further commitment required!

6. Online ESL Classes

A trending platform for ESL teachers to strut their stuff is online.

The rise in online English teaching is meeting the demands of students around the world ready to study. Connecting with students virtually is cost effective for the students and the teachers in various ways. It also gives teachers access to a bigger spectrum of students.

Benefits of teaching online. Online ESL classes are great for teachers who want to make a few extra bucks from their home or teachers traveling abroad with computer in hand. The virtual classroom of choice is Skype, an easy-to-use platform for teachers and students. The message box acts as your white board with the ability to share articles, exercises and culture in real time. There are also no long commutes to reach students at language schools, making teaching online more efficient as well.

However, teaching English online does have a few pitfalls. The capabilities of Skype and similar online video chat platforms are optimal for one-to-one teaching. It can be challenging to have an engaging and informative lesson with multiple students online. Unless you are teaching online for a language school or institute with the tech to support group classes. Teaching online can also prove frustrating depending on the Internet connection of you and your students. Often times, you will only get paid for a completed class, despite if the Internet outage is on your end or not.

7. Teaching ESL in a Classroom

Putting your ESL teaching skills to the test in a real classroom can be a rewarding cultural experience. You will have the opportunity to engage with students in a meaningful way as you teach them a language that could have big implications on their futures.

The experience you gain when teaching in a classroom is invaluable. You will experience elements of classroom control, confronting classes comprised of different levels, developing lesson plans with researched material and building connections with your students and their friends and family. You will also be able to bounce your ideas off colleagues or possibly find yourself a mentor.

Live and in-person classroom teaching does serve up a few negatives. Language classes can vary in size, but it normally leans toward overcrowded when teaching kids. It is important to ask the class size before agreeing to teach for a language school abroad. Teachers often get paid a flat rate, so they may pack a class to the ceiling for profit while you get paid the same whether there are 4 or 40 students in class.

You will also have the pleasure of dealing with parents. In some countries, parents want to see results with an irrational time-frame in mind. You may also find yourself teaching in-company classes where English class is held during lunch. This causes issues with staying on syllabus as absences amass over the length of the course.

8. Diversify Your Teaching Income

Being an ESL teacher has benefits of freedom, travel and the ability to make your own schedule. You can diversify your teaching options just as much as your career. Many teachers that are abroad will teach online and in the classroom. The typical salary for an ESL teacher is just enough to cover what you need to live and eat, unless you land one of the more coveted teaching positions. Diversifying your classroom platforms will allow you to make more money while still having wiggle room to enjoy your time abroad without starving or living in a hostel for months at a time.

The public and private teaching conundrum. You may also have trouble deciding whether to teach in the public or private sectors. Teaching in the public sector will lead you to language schools and institutes. There are both positive and negatives associated with teaching in the public sector. You will have students ready to go, available resources, classroom or in-company experience and colleagues to network with. However, teaching in the public sector can also equate to huge class sizes, less pay and long commute times if you need to travel to a company or a student’s home.

Overall, teaching privately is more appealing when it comes down to money, and you also get to choose your student base. However, you will need to hunt down your students and you may find yourself browsing Craigslist for jobs more than actually teaching.


All in all, becoming an ESL teacher is rewarding, both culturally and professionally. It can take you to corners of the world you never dreamed of traveling to.

You may not get rich in money but you will surely get rich in experiences.

Teaching English does not need to be a complete career change. It can simply be a way to travel for a few years before beginning a career or returning to university for postgraduate studies.

Getting the skills you need to begin your journey is the first step toward a life abroad, connecting your native language to students around the world.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe