The Horror of Teaching English Abroad...

This request came in via email - is there anyone out there who would like to help answer it?

I always wanted to teach English abroad but I heard some horror stories.
Can you tell me the real deal about teaching English outside of the US?
Which companies are good to obtain the TEFL and which companies should I avoid?

What a minefield... not really sure where to even try giving good advice  (after all, he's right - there's the good side of teaching overseas and there's the bad side... in abundance) so if you've got some tips to share on shifting wheat from chaff,  avoiding parasitic chains, finding a good school, getting a qualification that turns into a liveable wage... then please don't hesitate to tell them below in the comments and/or if you're a blogger (not a commercial TEFL enterprise selling any of the above),  and you've already written a useful post on this very subject then please don't hesitate to add the URL and I'll be sure to email it on.


11 Responses to “The Horror of Teaching English Abroad...”

    February 03, 2011


    Unfortunately I don't know what you are doing right now and nto sure what your other life-skills, qualifications are...

    My best tip on avoiding "horror stories" is to be a freelancer and to specialize in a specific area, i.e. teaching adults medical English will pay anywhere from 3x to 10x what an institute pays.

    My best tip regarding certificates is to do a certified one - I'm afraid I don't know the American system is do either a Trinity cTESOL

    or the Cambridge CELTA.


  • Melissa says:
    February 03, 2011

    On the other hand, being a freelancer would be incredibly difficult if the poster has no knowledge of the language or culture of the country he ends up in. In that respect, it may be better to start of with an institute to 'learn the ropes' and, if he wants to progress to become a successful freelancer, to network with other teachers who can help him with the legal stuff. (When I was recently explaining tax legislation to the financial department of a company I work for, I realised exactly how much legal stuff I have actually had to learn since starting here)

    If the poster is just planning a 'year abroad', he would certainly be better off with an institute.

    My personal tips for checking out that a place is trustworthy (saying nothing of payment here)

    -all correspondence is written in good, clear English. If an institute send out e-mails like "we search good englis Teecher for important VIP costumas" run a mile.

    -The institute has a clear idea and understanding of the qualifications it requires of the teacher (this should include at least one of the following: CELTA, TESOL, Guildhall). On the same note, avoid institutes who accept TEFL qualifications done by long distance learning / online. Teaching is a practical skill and theory only helps so far

    -The institute doesn't seem too desperate to hire you, and makes you go through at least one face to face interview and asks for and checks up on references. If it all seems to go very quickly, alarm bells should start ringing.

    -The institute has a professional web presence and is easy to contact through a number of media (I would be very suspicious of an ancient website and a mobile number)

    -There are some accolades you can look out for - one biggie in GB is "British Council accredited". There are good places without this, though, and documents should be checked for anyone claiming to have it.

    -There are also a couple of websites where some of the cowboys can be weeded out - craigs black list is one such site (although not exhaustive).

    As far as qualifications are concerned, something like the CELTA is an absolute must, also from a personal perspective. You get a very good foundation in teaching your own language (which includes recognising, understanding and explaining grammar), course planning, dealing with different-sized (and ability) groups and experience in standing in front of a group of people who may well be older than you.

    None of this covers payment, which is an issue in TEFL, regardless of country. The tips - which are by no means exhaustive - should however help you stay safe.

  • Andy says:
    February 03, 2011

    The one thing I'd add here is that from a US perspective (and US availability) the best one month starter qualification is the SIT TESOL Certificate.

    It is a CELTA equivalent and many employers treat it as such. (Indeed for a while there were even moves to have a qualification in which participants could get both the SIT TC and the CELTA)

  • walton says:
    February 07, 2011

    Melissa already has a lot of good advice up here. I would add that it's a good idea to talk to teachers and sit in on a class or two.

    Issues I have had in Kazakhstan include not being paid my promised wage (and a friend of mine who came here directly from the UK was promised a stipend for apt that never materialized), being overburdened (60 hours a week, including nights, weekends, and early morn) because everyone wants the native speaker, schools that take any student regardless of level so your "intermediate" class includes students who can't put together a complete sentence in English, and uncaring staff who don't fix any of those problems or even let you know if a class is cancelled or the time changed or whatever.

    Now that stuff happens everywhere, in every industry of course. But I do wish I had chatted with some of the current teachers before I worked with certain companies.

    February 07, 2011

    Thank you so much for spending the time to write out your very helpful advice, Melissa, and I agree, working with a reputable institute when starting off is actually important, also from the point of getting continuous professional development and attending workshops. No course in and of itself covers enough ground once we're actually in the classroom. Thanks again!

    February 07, 2011

    Thanks for that, Andy - very useful! I knew there must be an American version but had never investigated into what it was called. It's actually surprising to realize how few "accredited" options there are out there in the world!

    February 07, 2011

    Hey Walton, yup. Sigh... All of what you've listed is a part of our reality. Somehow we manage anyway, getting more careful, after each burn so your tip is especially important: Anthony when applying for overseas jobs, ask if you can have email addresses of one or two teachers already working there and then ask them about the conditions, benefits and the problems. But unless the problems are serious, don't let this stop you from going off to have an adventure. Life is full of pot holes, no matter where we go or even if we stay!

  • Tara Benwell says:
    February 08, 2011

    Alex Case just wrote an amazing FAQ on TEFL courses if you want to share it.

  • Unknown says:
    February 08, 2011

    Hello. My name is Claritza Basabe, and I am a Resource and Research Center in an American-Venezuelan center. I have to tell you; many different people from many countries have come by and had different experiences. We've had Russians, Mexicans, Indian, Irish, to name a few. Most of them loved being here and traveling through the beautiful parts of the country like beaches, the Llanos, the amazon, the Andean state of Merida, etc. I guess it's all about your reason for traveling and the country you pick as your destination. A plus would be learning Spanish, which most of them do by receiving free classes from the hosting institution. I'm still in contact with many of them! They mostly come contracted through a company called AIESEC (see link below). This company serves as a placement agency and they can arrange everything for you.

    Regarding the certification; I'm already taking part of an on-line TEFL certification course in my institution. Once you finish 4 modules, you receive an international certification by Hunter College in NY. There are two more modules and the last one prepares you for the TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test), after which you can take a test in the US and receive another certification. The test is available in many other countries. For more info on that, visit link below as well.

    If you'd like to contact me directly, you can do so at or follow me @Mrs_CsEnglish.

    I hope my info was useful.

    AISEC Page:


  • Carlton says:
    February 14, 2011

    There is no sure-fire approach to this topic. It is almost like asking about how to avoid the horror of dating.

    I worked at a chain school in Japan 13 years ago (ECC) and had an awesome experience. They were more trustworthy than an owner-managed school. If the chain is paying teachers- they are paying them all. Nothing sneaky in that!

    Some countries are more reliable than others. Japan more so than Korea, for example. Some Japanese schools recruit and interview in the States and Canada, and line up your visa and housing before you even leave home. That's nice. I got my job while in Japan, which is no longer possible with that school.

    I more recently was in Taiwan, and tried to pick up an English job, and the market was saturated. The only offers I got were too low to maintain my lifestyle. I left.

    Sometimes the best way to get insider knowledge is to read expat forums for the specific countries that you have in mind. Typically the expats will be honest in their complaints. And, they often have control over hiring for the schools that they work for.

    Best of luck!

  • Phil Dawson says:
    October 29, 2013

    I've also read a lot of horror stories mostly in China. Because the government is lax there. The language barrier doesn't help either. Teachers should really research about the schools. They should also network with other teachers and maybe ask for referrals. That would help them avoid these school scams.


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