Teaching English as a Foreign Language
Around the world, English is widely studied as an important language.   Abroad, many foreign-language speakers learn English in order to communicate professionally in science, the humanities, or government.  Here in the United States, non-English-speaking immigrants must also learn English.  Both at home and abroad, there are many job opportunities for people who can teach English to speakers of other languages.   This is a specialized task; most  TEFL ("Teaching English as a Foreign Language") jobs require some certification, though you don't necessarily have to know another language.  And if you're one of those people who has accomplished the task of mastering English as a second or third language, you may have a particular advantage as a teacher!

There are two basic TEFL tracks:  teaching in the United States or teaching in a foreign country.  To find out more about TEFL in general, check out our TEFL  links.

TEFL in the United States

There's an increasing demand, especially in the public-school system, for teachers who are bilingual and can teach English to nonnative speakers, especially those who speak Spanish or Asian languages (Chinese dialects, Hmong, Vietnamese, Thai, etc.).  In addition, if you are multilingual, you may have opportunities to work as a translator or teacher in health care or government.

What skills and credentials do I need to teach EFL in the U.S.?
To become an ESL/EFL teacher, you should be bilingual and should attain state certification in elementary or secondary education.  While completing your education certification, you should  take special courses in teaching English as a foreign language.

Where are the jobs?
The demand is greatest in the far west and the coastal northeast, areas that have the largest populations of recent immigrants.  TEFL teachers who speak Spanish, east Asian languages, or Eastern European languages are particularly sought-after.  However, there are opportunities in almost every major metropolitan community.

TEFL Abroad
To teach English abroad, you must be willing to move temporarily to a foreign country, and you must be knowledgeable in teaching English to foreigners.  This can be a wonderful first job for English majors who want to travel and get some experience teaching before they settle down in the United States.  For many young Americans, living and working abroad can be an unforgettable, life-changing experience. 
What credentials do I need to teach English abroad? 
You don't need to know a foreign language, though that is certainly helpful.  There are many short-term (1- or 2-month) certification programs, mostly offered on the west and east coasts, that will teach you TEFL and help you find a job abroad.  Certification from one of these programs is not mandatory, but it is usually essential for obtaining work permits that will allow you to earn the maximum legitimate wage in a foreign country.

Where are the jobs?
Demand abroad for English teachers is heaviest in Asia (especially China and Japan), Spanish-speaking countries, and Eastern Europe, though positions are available nearly everywhere. The best job opportunities are available to teachers who will accept a wide range of assignments.

How can I find out more about TEFL?

  • Dave's ESL Cafe provides an overview, a FAQ, job listings, quizzes that let you know how well you're doing, and a listing of TEFL certification programs.
  • The EFL Journal sponsors a page of useful links for students and teachers.  Classroom exercises, jokes - they have it all.

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Last updated Wednesday, October 22, 2008. Web design and maintenance by Prof. Lisa Jadwin.