Beyond Words - Language Blog

Teaching English Abroad: Taking Advantage of ESL Programs to Traverse the Globe

Many young Americans experience their first taste of foreign cultures and distant lands while in college, taking a semester or year abroad to hone their foreign-language skills, broaden their cultural understanding, and, more often than not, party with the locals. Now, faced with a dearth of jobs at home and the prospect of moving in with mom and dad, many American youth are turning their skill-sets and desire to travel the world to teaching English abroad.

Being one of those young Americans, I have spoken with many college graduates who have decided to forgo grad school or the daunting recession-era job search, opting instead to teach English abroad. Whether through international placement programs, TEFL/TESOL certification courses, or their own initiatives, these students are finding a wealth of opportunities teaching their mother tongue to children and adults. Below you will find some helpful information about getting started in ESL teaching.

Organizations and agencies like the Peace Corps, the State Department (which administers the Boren Fellowship), and the Institute of International Exchange (which sponsors the Fulbright Fellowship) have given young people the opportunity to conduct research and provide international assistance for several decades. More recently, however, multitudes of language-driven programs have cropped up, some global and others country-specific, that help connect potential ESL teachers and their students. One such company, Oxford Seminars, provides a handy inventory of the introspection and preparation required to begin teaching abroad. Doing the sort of preliminary research suggested on their site is the best safeguard against succumbing to the initial difficulty and discomfort inherent in living and working abroad.

While many ESL jobs do not require certification, others demand either TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) credentials. As the market for qualified native speakers becomes more competitive, many agencies supplant hands-on teaching experience with training and certification programs in which the teacher is granted certification through either online classes or in the course of teaching abroad.

The options for teaching abroad have expanded rapidly in the past few years, giving more Americans the opportunity to immerse themselves in foreign cultures and languages while providing non-native English-language learners with invaluable skills and knowledge. More information for potential ESL teachers is available on the U.S. State Department website, as well as through most major university sites.


Pupils with counting-frames in classroom, about 1930. Courtesy of Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo