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A Woman's Guide to Choosing the Best TEFL Course

More than half of all teachers of English abroad are... women. We love to travel, but getting paid to live abroad is even better.

In some countries, experience can be enough to get you a job but in others, good credentials are a 'must', especially if you want some of the higher paying jobs.

In some countries, like South Korea, TEFL certification is almost a 'must' - and there are 24,000 native English speakers teaching in the country

If you're curious about living in another country, or if you're traveling long term and are serious about making money along the way, teaching English is a great way to do it. It's a profession with huge need - China alone has some 100,000 native English teachers - and huge turnover. Most teachers stay in their jobs a year or two so each time one teacher moves on, there's a potential spot for you.

It's also an ideal way for women to earn a living abroad. School environments are safe and predictable, and the structure and institutional surroundings make sure you'll be well taken care of. Living abroad, at least for me, has been the best part of travel. It allows you to immerse yourself in a culture and make local friends rather than constantly hanging out with other expats.

And in some countries, particularly in Asia, it can be quite lucrative, allowing you to save much of your salary - and use it to travel.

Let's face it - English is the dominant language of business, tourism, science - wherever you are, so people want to learn it.

As a native English speaker, you have something millions want - and are willing to pay for.

Whoa - but what is TEFL? It's all so confusing...

Here's what the British Council has to say about it:

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is often used to mean the same thing as TEFL, but it is also used to describe English language teaching to people living in an English speaking country who are not native English speakers – such as refugees and first generation immigrants. In the UK, ESOL courses provide students with a level of English that will allow them to integrate into the country’s educational, work and cultural environment. There may be a need to teach basic literacy and other life skills as well.

TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) is different again. English is spoken as a common second language in the context of official communication and administration in many countries where several other language groups co-exist – such as Nigeria, Kenya, India and Singapore. Another term that may be used in this context is TEAL (Teaching English as an Additional Language).

Or here's another way to look at it.

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is the certification for those who want to teach in a country where English is not the native language. For example, an American would use TEFL to teach English in Brazil. Since most English teaching jobs are in countries that don't speak English - Asia, Latin America, the Middle East - TEFL is probably the most widely used.

TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language. It is the certification for those to want to teach non-English speaking students in an English-speaking country. For example, a Brit would use TESL to teach refugees or immigrants in Great Britain. This is what you'll need if you want to teach English but in your own (or another English-speaking) country.

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It is the certification for those who want to teach English to students both in English and in non-English speaking countries, a sort of combination of TEFL and TESL. There are a few drawbacks, however. It's a broader certification so it won't go into as much detail as the other two. Also, it's newer, which means that sometimes it's not recognized as much. Still, if you don't know where you're going to teach, it's a good compromise.

CELTA stands for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and stands with the TESOL crowd. It's specific to Cambridge University so if you're going in this direction, it's well-respected. 

So how do you choose the best TEFL course?

Here are some key things to look out for when choosing a teaching English course:

  • Start by doing plenty of research, online, with blogs and with anyone you know who has ever taught English abroad.
  • Talk to the various schools on your shortlist. Email or call them and ask plenty of questions. See how responsive they are.
  • Job placement: obviously a course that helps you find a job is better than one that doesn't...
  • Where will the school place you? Is their placement in a country you actually want to live in?
  • There's cost - you don't necessarily want to choose the cheapest but you do want the most for your money
  • How long will it take to get certified? How well does that fit within your own timeframe?
  • The location of the course might be an issue: Is it near you? Or is it available online?
  • What about other graduates? Are they accessible? Can you contact them? Did they have a good experience?
  • Always read the small print. Is there an age limit? A nationality restriction?

A chat with MyTEFL, a highly recommended school

There are plenty of excellent schools out there and MyTEFL qualifies among the top. I chatted with their head of operations, a gentleman called Tyler, to find out more about the school and why anyone should study there. Here's what he had to say.

Women on the Road: Why does MyTEFL have a good reputation?
Tyler: MyTEFL doesn’t get bogged down in theory or educational history - it focusses on the practical skills you absolutely need in order to teach English effectively. Because people are busy, this is an easy-to-use 120-hour online course that offers the flexibility future EFL teachers need. Not to mention MyTEFL will help you secure a job before or upon completion of the course. That alone is worth the time and financial cost, because job-searching (especially in a foreign country!) can be stressful and unnerving.

WOTR: What makes your course special?
Tyler: First, it's practical. Our course was developed in the classroom and used to intensively train new teachers without any classroom experience. In developing our course, we avoided wasting precious training time on theories that might not yet make sense or help a new teacher out. Second, our job placement service, free for our grads, follows along the lines of "practicality". How often do we read about people spending a fortune on their education, only to find out that employment prospects are slim to dismal at best? We want our grads to have solid, high-paying, vetted and sustainable contracts available for them as soon as they complete the course. We've even had students apply while halfway through their course, getting on a plane to their new destination within a couple of weeks of completion.

WOTR: What about older women? Don't most teachers tend to be young?
Tyler
: It is a tougher market for older travelers. So far, China and Vietnam are two destinations where candidates over 40 have had a decent success rate. Another option that has worked quite well for older candidates has been our online job placements. You would simply need a computer and a reliable internet connection. This minimizes restrictions that come with work visa procurement, insurance etc and allows for travel, hobbies and freedom for those who are semi-retired or simply looking for a change later on in life.

WOTR: Is a TEFL certification really that important? Can't you teach without one?
Tyler
: A few years ago a TEFL was a credential that simply gave you a leg up on competing candidates. However, that isn't the case anymore. Countries like Korea, Vietnam and China are demanding all new teachers be TEFL certified. In China you must have a TEFL in order to gain a legal work permit (in lieu of 2 years of actual teaching experience). In Korea a TEFL is the bare minimum to even apply for positions. While there are exceptions here and there, they are becoming less common.

WOTR: Once you're certified, what are the top three countries for finding work teaching English?
Tyler
: China, Taiwan and Korea. These three destinations will hire candidates from overseas, they offer amazing salary and benefit packages (you will be in the top 15% income earning tier in the first two), and they provide full support and legal work visas. Many people ask "why not Western Europe or Latin America?" Typically the pay is low and the contracts are not sustainable in our opinion. Sure, you can scrounge and save pennies, take buses everywhere, only treat yourself occasionally but the moment you want to travel or buy a car or spontaneously go for a weekend out of town you'll find it's difficult to do. Also legal visa support in these regions is minimal; meaning you either obtain your own visa (in Europe) or you work for cash under the table. Asia is fun! It's affordable. Plenty of candidates pay off student loans completely, have a great standard of living, and find peace and comfort amongst the friendly and welcoming locals.

WOTR: Are there any downsides to teaching English?
Tyler
: I think as with anything in life there are tradeoffs. Living abroad means stretching your comfort and belief zones dramatically. If you don't stretch them, you'll have a difficult time. Most people think they are "open minded" but it's only when you step out of your comfort zone that you can truly test this notion. Some people also believe it is a "dead end" career. Maybe 20 years ago teaching abroad was just a gap year solution or an experience to spruce up your resume. These days it's a viable career path. Stable, high-paying jobs are becoming rarer by the day in our home countries. Underemployment is widespread and with technology and outsourcing, it's unlikely to magically change. The English language learning industry is growing by leaps and bounds and demand is strong worldwide. Finally it's difficult to take the leap and set out on a road which takes you away from your friends and family. It's the unknown. However, you will forge new friendships, new relationships while growing and developing along the way.

Have a look at the MyTEFL course and if you decide to join, use my code - SCRIBE35 - and you'll get 35% off.

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