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What is TEFL?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or TEFL, as it’s most commonly referred, involves teaching English as a foreign language in countries where English is not the primary language.

It is important to understand that TEFL is different from TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), in that TEFL educators teach English abroad, while English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers educate non-native English Language Learners (ELLs) located within the U.S. However, TEFL educators may find that the acronym TESOL (or versions of it) are often used abroad to describe TEFL.

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Some estimates put the number of people speaking English in the world at more than 1 billion, which means that more people speak English as a second language than there are native English speakers in the world.

Emerging markets all over the world now teach English as a second language, both to school-age children and adults. From Brazil to China to India to France, the world is full of non-native-English speakers, thanks to market and product globalization and the need to communicate with major businesses and industries in the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada.

Further, TEFL educators may also be found in parts of the world where English is widely used, such as Australia. Their work in English-speaking countries often involves specific teaching colloquialisms and idioms.

Where Do TEFL Educators Work?

TEFL educators are, of course, most often found in K-12 classrooms; however, these educators are in high demand in other overseas settings, as well, including:

  • Private language schools
  • Universities
  • Private businesses
  • Government-sponsored programs
  • Charity organizations (e.g., Peace Corps)
  • Religious organizations
  • Private tutoring

The work of TEFL educators varies significantly based on the needs of the people they serve. For example, college students may seek the assistance of TEFL educators to help them prepare for university examinations, while international businesses may call in TEFL teachers to help their employees improve their conversational English.

What Does TEFL Involve?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language involves working abroad; therefore, working as a TEFL teacher involves living in a foreign country, either temporarily, for the completion of a specific job, or permanently, as a freelancer or contracted employee. TEFL may involve private tutoring or working in language and state schools for larger groups.

TEFL does not always require being fluent in another language; however, it is quite typical for foreign employers to request bilingual educators for TESL work. In addition, most educators find that being fluent in another language helps them while living or working abroad.

Teaching English as a foreign language involves being able to convey the English language in an articulate and interesting manner. TEFL educators encourage students to improve their English skills through listening, speaking, reading, and writing. TEFL is often facilitated through the use of course books, audio-visual aids, and technology-based materials. In addition to formal instruction, informal exercises, such as role playing and language games, are often used.

Typical activities for TEFL teachers include:

  • Planning, preparing and delivering lessons
  • Providing feedback on oral and written work
  • Administering examinations and other assessments
  • Creating and writing materials

The Risks and Challenges of Working Abroad

Traveling abroad always involves a certain level of risk, and teaching abroad is no exception. Different cultures, beliefs, and societal norms may all prove challenging for TEFL educators, and threats such as terrorism, civil war, or military disturbances must all be taken into consideration by anyone considering TEFL.

Further, TEFL educators should be aware of unscrupulous language schools that exploit inexperienced TEFL teachers and tutors and the economic stability of many developing countries.

For many TEFL educators, the excitement of working abroad and exploring new cultures and ways of life outweigh the challenges; however, educators teaching abroad are always best served by thoroughly researching destinations before accepting employment.

TEFL Requirements

TEFL requirements vary from one country and one employer to the next; therefore, TEFL instructors should always check with the department of ministry in the country where they desire to teach.

Bilingual educators and/or those who possess master’s degrees in another language or in teaching English as a second/foreign language are always in demand. Individuals without these post-secondary credentials may choose to complete a TEFL or TESOL certification program through an accredited organization. However, not all certification programs are recognized internationally, and there is no single accrediting agency or recognized body for TEFL certification.

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TEFL certification courses may be completed online, over the course of a weekend, or on a part-time basis, and many programs are offered through regionally accredited colleges and universities.

Many overseas jobs in TEFL require candidates to possess a degree in education, although it is also common for professionals in areas such as business, math, or science to teach TEFL in business/industry settings. In addition to demonstrating native fluency in English, candidates may be required to show proof of a post-secondary education or specific training and/or experience in TEFL.

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