Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a varied industry. You have the freedom to decide whether you want to teach English online or teach English abroad. Are you more acclimated for exotic environments, or must you be near your comfy duvet and sofa while you work? Do you get homesick easily, or are you a seasoned globetrotter?
Finally, when you make a decision, you can then choose whether you want to teach adults or children. But what will you teach them? General English or ESP (English for Specific Purposes). If you’re teaching English abroad, would you rather go to Vietnam, South Korea, or Germany? There are many aspects that you need to consider to get the most out of TEFL.
There are a range of benefits (and drawbacks) which means that one form of TEFL isn’t objectively better than the other. Rather, these benefits offered by TEFL can mean that one person is more suited to one form than the other.
The Benefits of Teaching English Abroad
When you think of the term Teaching English as a Foreign Language, you typically think of teaching English abroad. The TEFL industry is incredibly desirable because it allows people to gain work experience while traveling the world. So, let’s look at the benefits of teaching English abroad.
Travel the World
English is a highly desired skill. It’s also a skill that we sometimes forget that we have. Having grown up in an English speaking country, we take it for granted that what we have is highly desirable for students around the globe. Students from Argentina, Italy, China, and more want to perfect their English with native and proficient teachers.
Because English is the business language of the world, or lingua franca, it allows you to travel the world. Students from all corners of the world want to perfect their skills, and you can cater to their needs by teaching English abroad. English proficiency, along with the TEFL certificate, can act as a passport for you to navigate the world tasting different cultures.
Gain Valuable Work Experience
While traveling the world is a huge part of teaching English abroad, it isn’t all about partying and sunbathing. Teaching English abroad is a fantastic way to gain valuable work experience. It is true that many people who do TEFL for the short term worry that it may affect their long term career progression, however, the opposite is true. By demonstrating that you have the initiative and independence to thrive abroad in a foreign environment, you become more employable.
Think about it. If you are treating TEFL as a short term job, as many do, it will still benefit you massively. If a job comes down to two people who have the same qualifications and experience, however, one has spent a year working and living abroad, I’d say that the one with TEFL experience is the likely candidate. This is because teaching English abroad requires independence, cultural adaptability and sensitivity, personal skills, sociability, and more.
On the other hand, if you treat TEFL as a long term career, you can make significant progress. Many TEFL graduates progress to become TEFL trainers, curriculum developers, head of department, and so on. If you are considering becoming a teacher back home, teaching English abroad is an excellent way to gain valuable experience but in a foreign environment.
Cultural Immersion & Learning New Languages
Yes, you’ll see the beaches and attractions which makes a country desirable to visit. However, one of the biggest benefits of teaching English abroad is the cultural immersion you’ll experience. Not only are you traveling, you are working and living in a country, being an active participant in the community. Teaching English abroad is an ethical way to travel, as you can give back to the community by teaching students English.
Students will celebrate your arrival at school and locals will show much more interest in you when they learn that you are an English teacher. Rather than being a mere passerby in the community, you are there to stay and embrace their cultural etiquettes, try their cuisine, and facilitate language development.
Not only will you be helping others learn English, but you’ll also have the opportunity to learn another language. TEFL doesn’t require that you speak another language in order to teach English abroad. However, by learning the language of the land you will upgrade basic interactions into meaningful encounters.
Even if you just order your favorite coffee or you tell your students well done in their language, they will appreciate it greatly. Locals will be pleased to see that you are learning their native tongue and making an active effort to communicate with them. Remember, you are visiting their country, they have no obligation to accommodate you by speaking English to you.
Potential Drawbacks of Teaching English Abroad
Teaching English sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? It is certainly a way to inject excitement in your life if you’re bored of the 9-5 life. However, just like with any other job, it isn’t without its faults.
Culture Shock & Homesickness
It is unhealthy to sell teaching English abroad like how we sell ourselves on Instagram. It isn’t all just ‘vibes’ and positivity. Teaching English abroad will have its lows just as it will have its highs.
Regardless of whether you love to travel or you’re doing TEFL to break out of your comfort zone, you are likely to be struck by culture shock at some point. Some days will leave you feeling frustrated because things don’t operate like they do back home. You may have tough days at school, or you may begin to miss your family and your dog (who doesn’t know why you’re not at home, which is the worst part).
It’s important to be realistic and realize that not everything will go your way while you’re teaching English abroad. However, you have your bad days at home, too, and culture shock is a natural part of the process. It is an obstacle which will leave you feeling more capable and independent than ever once you do overcome it.
Start-Up Costs & Stress
Making the decision to do TEFL is difficult in itself. But now, you must navigate the logistical maze in order to make sure that you actually arrive in-country. The visa and document legalization process can be long and tedious, vaccine jabs can be expensive, and when you start feeling the inevitable pre-departure anxiety, you’ll start to wonder why you’re even leaving home in the first place. But ultimately, these costs and headaches are necessary for you to have the experience of a lifetime.
Teaching Might Not Be for You
It’s also a possibility that you come to realize that teaching just isn’t for you. Some people may plan to teach English abroad for years, but realize that what they want to do just isn’t fulfilling enough, or that teaching is just a necessary evil to facilitate their traveling. However, it’s better to know that teaching English abroad isn’t for you, than to wonder what it would have been like.
Even if teaching isn’t for you, you will still meet plenty of people, immerse in foreign environments, and you’ll be in an ideal position if you want to sustain your travels after your contract is up. Teaching isn’t for everyone, but really, it’s not the end of the world if this is the case.
The Benefits of Teaching English Online
To teach English online seems to be worlds apart from teaching abroad, however, it’s still TEFL. There are many benefits of teaching English online which will appeal to those who want to teach English without committing to traveling across the world to do so.
Teach English Online From Anywhere You Want
As an online English teacher, you will have the complete freedom to teach from wherever you want. Whether you want to remain in your humble abode next to your coffee cup or you want to go interrailing while teaching English, the choice is entirely yours. The only thing that you need to consider is that you have a stable internet connection in a quiet environment to facilitate your lessons.
Those who teach English online can boast of having a flexible profession. You will have the freedom to set your own schedule and establish your own holidays in order to accommodate other interests or academic or occupational goals.
While some online ESL companies will require that you fulfill a certain number of hours, or teach at a specific time, there are platforms which can offer you the freedom to choose yourself. Cambly, for example, is one of those platforms. However, if you want to go beyond and work without compromising to anyone, you can become an independent online English teacher.
Freelance or independent online English teachers can set their own schedules, deliver their own curriculum and lessons, set their own rates, and more to establish complete independence. While it may require a little more work, it will yield a better teaching experience and a higher salary. Otherwise, if you want some structure provided, you can opt to work for a platform with a set schedule where students are provided for you.
Additionally, you have the freedom to choose to teach general English or English for Specific Purposes. If you have experience or an academic background in engineering, law, or cooking, for example, you can teach English within the contexts of these professions or interests. Because it is a niche skill which very few teachers offer, you will maximize your value to students.
To teach English online, you will need very few of the things that you’ll need to teach English abroad. All you’ll need is a stable connection, IT equipment, English proficiency, a TEFL certificate, and the desire to teach. You won’t have to undergo a tedious visa process or document legalization. The hiring process is incredibly straightforward, and the most extreme thing that will be asked of you is that you obtain a criminal background check.
A Safe Introduction to TEFL
Teaching English online is a great way to test the waters without having to fully commit. You can begin by teaching only a few hours a week to see if teaching really is for you. Whether you are considering teaching online as a long-term profession or you want to build up your resume before teaching English abroad, it is a viable way to gain insight into the TEFL industry before making a commitment.
Potential Drawbacks of Teaching English Online
A Competitive Market
Since the pandemic, many people have sought work remotely. Although many students moved to online platforms in order to seek education, so did many teachers. Additionally, closure of online Chinese ESL companies, formerly a huge market, has meant that remaining teachers have been compressed into an even smaller and oversaturated market.
This means that not only is work harder to find these days, but your salary may be lower than it was previously. This is because the amount of teachers per student is higher than ever, and most teachers tend to offer general English. If you want to maximize your experience when you teach English online, it is worth upskilling with a reputable TEFL qualification and specializing in a particular subject, such as teaching Business English, or English for interview preparation, for example.
It Requires Patience
Teaching English online also requires patience. You can’t just hop into the industry and expect 50 students to spawn in your schedule. Instead, you need to acquire your students, slowly but surely, and maintain this level of work. The more students you are provided, the more you are able to not only teach but develop a rapport with which will then increase the likelihood of you retaining students.
Initially, you may be working far fewer hours than you would have hoped. Because of this, it is often recommended that you apply for multiple online ESL platforms in order to maximize your student acquisition. Then, you can begin to work full-time hours.
Because your hours of work may fluctuate, so will your salary. There are many factors which will have a say on your monthly salary. Maybe it is a national holiday for your students, and you won’t see them for a week. It’s possible that a student has found another tutor who is better suited for their learning style. Maybe your students have discontinued their learning package on their platform. There are many reasons which will determine how much your salary fluctuates.
Tech and IT Issues
The silent killer of the online ESL world. Just when you’re ready to teach your lessons, your microphone may stop working. Or, the internet in your neighborhood is down. Or maybe your online ESL platform has crashed. Although teaching English online can offer plenty of convenience, relying on the virtual classroom can also present many issues.
Define Your Priorities Before Teaching English
If you are someone who wants to see the world, all while gaining valuable work experience, then teaching English abroad is for you. Teaching English abroad will expand your comfort zone as you’ll be able to thrive in a foreign environment, meet new people, widen your perspective, and generate a wholly unique experience.
However, if you are someone who thrives from the comfort of your own home, or you have responsibilities to tend to, whether you have a dog, a child, another job, or you’re studying, teaching English online is a very viable option. It offers the same experience of teaching and developing a rapport with foreign students without the hassle of relocating.
Ultimately, it is for you to decide which form of teaching is best for you. Only you can decide which will benefit you the most. One form of teaching isn’t inherently better than the other. However, one can certainly be more suitable. You will need to define your priorities in order to understand which form of English teaching will benefit you most.