Non-Native Speakers Teaching English Abroad?

What about Non-Native speakers teaching English? Know that around the world, there are far MORE non-native speakers of English teaching English than native speakers.

Some are extra-ordinarily well skilled and they KNOW how difficult it is to learn a foreign language well. Some are quite poor and perpetuate poor usage and poor pronunciation characteristic of their native tongue. (Their L1 is interfering with their L2).

This post is about a skilled and fluent non-native speaker, experienced teaching in his own country and he wrote to me the following:

I spent my last weekend looking for opportunities for teaching abroad, but I got disappointed when I found out that all the schools require native speakers!

You are right, most schools are looking for native speakers. You will, to some degree, have to educate them that YOU and many others have excellent fluency in English. We will talk about that in a bit . . .

Come on, I’m graduated in English and have been teaching people from 4 to 50 years old in language and regular schools for 5 years!

You are quite right! Schools are missing out. But that doesn’t change the reality of how you might need to adapt your job search, especially as you are hitting brick walls, right?

Then I tried to look for volunteer work, but the results of my search were disappointing again: if I want to teach in Malaysia, for instance, I have to pay my flight, my accommodation, etc. That is, in addition to not being paid for working, I have to pay for it!

It is better to get PAID for a skill that you have developed over the years. I might volunteer some day, but TEFL has been my profession and I don’t want to give away the skills I have worked hard to obtain. It’s that simple. Frankly, my TEFL skills are what I have to sell to a school.

I was about to give up, when I came to the idea of Googling “teach abroad for non-native speakers”, and then I came across your website! I have a question, though: is it mandatory to have CELTA or any other kind of ESLT certificate to be accepted or is my curriculum enough?

Well . . . I think you have seen from your job search that you have a bit of a disadvantage in terms of how employers might see you. Fairly or unfairly – and probably unfairly in your case, right? Yes, keep adding to your resume.  Additional TEFL training can only help improve your situation.

But, fair or unfair, that doesn’t change the reality of what you personally need to do to land a good job ( and equally so do many other non-native speakers, older people, people of color AND anyone else who doesn’t fit in the box that foreign employers want you to fit you into . . . )

Just as an aside: I am 59 years old and already most places won’t even reply when I apply for a job via email. In spite of working and living overseas since 1989, a master’s degree in education, a PGCE in TEFL and many other qualifications – excellent references – just too damn old!

So – there are a LOT of us in the same box you are in – just for different reasons.

What to do about it? That’s the number one issue . . . and I am going to propose numerous things you can do to improve your chances. These are all things I would if I needed to find a job tomorrow.

First, research which countries might be more liberal, more adaptable. In my experience, for example, Thailand is one of the most flexible countries about non-native speakers, older people, black brown or green people – or anything. The need is there for teachers, they hire who they can get.

BUT – Thailand generally doesn’t hire from abroad. You would need to go there and apply in person. But Thailand is just an example. There are other countries that are open to you and me.

Personally – I wouldn’t bang my head against the wall of countries that absolutely can not or would not hire me. Indonesia and South Korea are two countries that have very specific lists of the countries from which their English teachers must come. Don’t have that passport? You can’t get legal working papers there. Period.

Don’t fight an impossible-to-win battle. For me, I wouldn’t apply to work in Saudi Arabia. Retirement is mandatory at 60 and schools will not hire you unless you can work at least two years. But I would apply to countries where I can find success.

What are those countries? I don’t know all of them and they vary by the issue of non-native, age or whatever. Thailand and Cambodia are two of the best options that I know of. The rest you might want to ask on various forums on the internet (always taking what is said with a bit of salt!).

So back to the list of things to do . . .

1. Research what countries are most flexible about your issue.

2. Go there – yes, APPLY IN PERSON. Then they can see that you are fluent and it is much more difficult to say NO to a skilled person sitting in your office when you need a teacher and you don’t know when you are going to find one. Well . . . here is one NOW.

Let your potential employer see in person that you are energetic, positive, fluent, flexible, skilled and everything else they are looking for. For us older folks they are worried that we will be tired, grumpy, sick . . . and many of us are! Show them you aren’t. For non-native speakers they are afraid that you are not fluent. Show them you are!

And – I shouldn’t have to say it – but I will – when you show up in person, dress professionally. First class all the way. From the hair to the freshly shined shoes. To the clean fingernails to the absence of or hidden tattoos, piercings and other things teachers should not be flashing about.

3. Get a professional passport type photo with you dressed professionally, groomed immaculately and with a friendly smile on your face. Attach it to your resume.

4. Make sure your resume reflects your qualifications – put those at the TOP of your resume – don’t make people search for your qualifications and relevant experience. I do some placement in China and you would be surprised how well many people hide their skills, qualifications and experience. It is sad that people sabotage themselves!

5. Make sure you have some TEFL training on that resume. If you don’t you are helping a potential employer ignore you.

6. If, against my advice, you want to try to apply from abroad, make a video of you doing an exceptionally successful class. Put it on YouTube and give links to potential employers. Tantalize them with it. Make it a great video. I have had people send me terrible videos of boring classes with them demonstrating quite well that they have NO teaching skills at all! Make yours a good one!

Do those things and I think you will be on the job soon.

TED’s Tips™ #1: When the deck is stacked against you, take every opportunity to improve your odds. Most people are a bit careless about their job search, make yours an exceptional effort and you WILL find what you want.

2 thoughts on “Non-Native Speakers Teaching English Abroad?”

  1. I am also 59yrs old and have lots energy. I am thinking of getting my TEFL certificate. I want to teach somewhere. I dont care where, I just want to teach. What is the best paying countries for English teachers in Central and South America. I am afraid of Cambodia because of the language barriers, and Thailand I know have a lot of English speaking people already. I need the best pay but I think teaching is interesting because I teach music already, and technicians where I work. What do you think if I get a TEFL Certificate.

  2. Hello Ed,
    If – as you say – you need the “best pay” then Latin America is a losing proposition where you will make enough to live well or at least survive on the local economy, but Korea is the place to go if you need to sock away the dollars for the elder years. You would do better even in Thailand where wages are modest but still better than in Latin America. Should you get a TEFL certificate? Of course! You are asking poor people in developed countries to give you money to teach them. At least give them the courtesy of having some knowledge and training about how to teach. That’s only fair, isn’t it?
    If you can’t afford an expensive program, try TEFL Boot Camp at
    I hope that helps!

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