If you're fluent in English, want to travel the world and have creative planning skills, consider a career teaching English as a foreign language

As an English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher, you'll teach English to adults and children whose first or main language is not English.

You'll use a range of course books and materials, plus a variety of audio-visual aids, to encourage students to communicate with each other using the structures and vocabulary they've learnt and to improve the four basic language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. A strong emphasis is placed on dialogue and role-playing, but more formal exercises language games and literature are also used.

You can work in a variety of settings, including commercial language schools, schools and institutions of further and higher education throughout the UK and overseas. You can also teach in industry or become self-employed. Classes are usually taught in English, even with beginners.

Types of English as a foreign language teacher

Common terms used for English as a foreign language teaching are:

  • Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) - traditionally used for teaching English to people who want to learn English for work or leisure reasons. TEFL can be done in the UK or abroad and usually involves short-term study.
  • Teaching English as a second language (TESL) - more commonly used for people who live in an English-speaking country, but who don't speak English as a first language. These students may be refugees or immigrants, and need to learn the language in order to help them settle into society.
  • Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) - an umbrella term that commonly incorporates both TEFL and TESL (and variations such as ESOL and ESL).

Responsibilities

As an English as a foreign language teacher, you'll need to:

  • plan, prepare and deliver lessons to a range of classes and age groups
  • prepare and set tests, examination papers and exercises
  • mark and provide appropriate feedback on oral and written work
  • devise, write and produce new materials, including audio and visual resources
  • organise and get involved in social and cultural activities such as sports competitions, school parties, dinners and excursions
  • attend and contribute to training sessions
  • participate in marketing events for the language school
  • prepare information for inspection visits and other quality assurance exercises
  • undertake administrative tasks, such as keeping student registers and attendance records.

Salary

  • Starting salaries vary considerably, depending on the country you're working in and your employer - they range from £14,000 to £25,000.
  • With experience, and usually further qualifications, salaries can range from £27,000 to £33,000.
  • For those with considerable experience and expertise, salaries can be in excess of £35,000. Higher-end salaries are usually for those who work in further and higher education institutions.

You'll also need to take into account the cost of living in the country where you're working and extra costs, including visa fees and health insurance. Some TEFL contracts include return flights, accommodation and extra bonuses. See websites such as TEFL.org for ideas on what salaries to expect in different countries.

Contracts in the UK are often short term or sessional and you may be paid hourly or weekly.

It's also possible to work on a voluntary basis in some countries in exchange for board and lodging.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary considerably between employers and may include evening and weekend work. You'll spend a lot of time planning lessons, which may not be included in your normal working hours.

A lot of short-term contracts are available and part-time or part-year work is possible.

What to expect

  • The majority of EFL teachers work overseas, many on fixed-term contracts of between nine months and two years. You may get permanent employment, but will usually work for several employers on a succession of contracts. Many teachers work overseas for the academic year (September to June) and then teach English in the UK peak season in July and August. Summer courses may provide free or subsidised board and lodging. Check contracts closely for details of holiday and sickness pay.
  • You'll be based in a classroom for most of the time but may take part in social activities, sometimes in the evenings and at weekends, especially on summer courses for teenagers.
  • Self-employment and freelance work is possible. You may be able to supplement your salary by offering one-to-one tuition after school hours, but check with your school first.
  • Many posts in further, adult and community education settings are temporary, hourly-paid contracts. Permanent posts are more difficult to find and therefore competition for these is high.
  • You can work in a range of countries where there's an interest in learning English. There are also opportunities across the UK, particularly in towns and cities with high proportions of residents whose first language is not English.

Qualifications

A degree in education, English, linguistics or modern languages may be particularly useful, but not essential. However, most employers will expect you to have a recognised teaching English as a foreign language qualification validated by a reputable examination body or university, such as:

Qualifications are available at approved centres across the UK and around the world on a full or part-time basis. Full-time courses are usually four to five weeks long, and part-time courses can last anywhere from three months to over a year. Cambridge English offers an online blended learning course, which combines self-study with hands-on teaching practice.

To secure a place, you'll usually need to be 18 or over (20 or 21 in some cases), have qualifications that would allow you to enter higher education in your home country (A-levels or equivalent in the UK) and an excellent standard of English. Courses run at different times throughout the year and you must apply directly to course providers. As part of these courses you'll get hands-on teaching practice, so you can apply your classroom learning to real life situations.

If you want to specialise in teaching younger learners, consider taking either the CELT-P (6 to 12 year olds) or the CELT-S (11 to 18 year olds) awarded by Cambridge Assessment English or the Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate (TYLEC) awarded by Trinity College London.

Your choice of qualification may depend on the length of time you plan to work in TEFL. If you're only interested in short-term work, rather than TEFL as a long-term career, you may prefer one of the shorter, cheaper courses, with organisations such as:

If you choose a distance learning course, you may need to arrange your own teaching experience. Make sure you research courses thoroughly to check they match your career needs.

To work in a state school in the UK, you'll usually need qualified teacher status (QTS). Visit our primary school teacher and secondary school teacher job profiles for more information. If you want to work in a further education college, it's often recommended you gain qualified teacher learning and skills (QTLS) status (see further education teacher). You may need further qualifications such as advanced diplomas, and substantial experience, to work in universities.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent spoken and written communication skills
  • effective listening skills
  • creative skills and ideas for planning practical and interesting lessons
  • excellent planning and organisation skills
  • a friendly and confident manner
  • the ability to work well under pressure
  • a flexible approach to work
  • cultural sensitivity, tolerance and patience.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience, for example as a language assistant in a summer school, home tutor, or voluntary work abroad, is useful. Some short-term TEFL jobs are available even if you have little or no experience.

Employers

A lot of TEFL work takes place overseas. Employers include:

  • British Council
  • commercial language schools
  • education and development organisations
  • government departments
  • multinational companies
  • volunteer organisations.

The demand for teachers and the ease of finding work varies considerably from country to country. There are usually opportunities in Japan, China and other East Asian countries, the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe and Spain, Italy and Germany.

In the UK, there are opportunities with commercial language schools, which are found in most large cities. There is a concentration, however, in London, the south coast of England, Oxford and Cambridge. Work tends to be seasonal with summer being an especially busy time.

Opportunities for teaching English to UK residents who don’t speak English as their first language are available with:

  • maintained and independent schools
  • further education colleges
  • training centres
  • community language centres
  • centres run by voluntary agencies
  • religious institutions frequented by minority groups.

Look for job vacancies at:

Check terms and conditions of jobs thoroughly before accepting a position.

Professional development

If you want to stay in the career and progress you'll need to take further qualifications, typically at diploma level. The most common are:

  • Delta (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), offered by Cambridge Assessment English
  • DipTESOL (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), offered by Trinity College London.

The Distance DELTA is offered through International House London and the British Council and is validated by Cambridge Assessment English.

You can also go on to study for an MA in subjects, such as teaching English as a foreign language or applied linguistics, or take a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).

Professional bodies such as NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults) and NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum) produce newsletters and journals and run conferences and events, all of which can help with continuing professional development.

Career prospects

Higher-level qualifications, combined with relevant experience, can lead to senior positions in schools in both the UK and abroad, such as subject leader or director of studies. However, most UK schools are quite small, so opportunities for career progression and promotion may be limited.

As more foreign students choose to study in the UK, the number of language teaching opportunities in colleges and universities also increases. These positions can offer greater stability and better pay, although competition is fierce. You'll typically need QTLS status or further Masters courses or PhDs for these roles.

Promotion to managerial roles usually involves additional responsibilities, such as course development, administration, marketing and promotion, and less direct involvement with learners.

There's scope for experienced teachers to go freelance, both in the UK and abroad, and to combine some of the following activities:

  • teaching part time in a school, college or university
  • giving private tuition on a one-to-one basis
  • writing course books and other material
  • teacher training and delivery and marking of examinations
  • training in business English
  • academic and general management
  • marketing and publishing.