When I first started teaching English as a foreign language in the early 2000s, it never occurred to me it could take me to different places in the world. Now I know it is not only possible, it is quite common.
Teaching abroad means different things to different people. My take on it is based on my personal experience as someone who has been living and teaching abroad for the past 8 years.
Where is abroad?
While we all agree that abroad is any country other than your own, for the purpose of this article, abroad will be used to refer to either of the following:
- countries whose first language is not English
- countries whose first language is English
The reason for the distinction is that requirements, workload, students, cultures do differ from country to country and, while it might seem obvious, it is not.
Teaching in Asia, Europe (except the UK and Malta) and Latin America
English is taught as a foreign language (EFL) in countries where English is not an official language. This means students’ contact with the target language might be restricted to a few of hours a week within the classroom setting.
Usually, English is an extra-curricular activity and learners might frequent classes before or after work, for example. Evening and weekend classes are quite popular among adult students. Practice, like I said, may be restricted to the classroom only, which might not rate high on the motivation scale.
Another thing to consider is that learners likely belong to the same cultural group and to share the same mother tongue. In such contexts, translation or the use of the students’ L1 is not uncommon.
Teaching in English-speaking countries
In English speaking countries, English is taught to speakers of other languages as a second language (ESL) rather than a foreign one. This means the language spoken outside of the classroom is English.
The learner profile may also vary in these countries: from immigrants to international students. And this translates into a multicultural classroom with speakers of different languages whose common denominator is English. In this context, translation or the use of the students’ L1 is less common and, likely, impractical.
On the flip side, practice is constant and it may be highly motivating, as students can put their learning to the test simply by doing everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, asking and giving instructions, taking public transport, watching TV and so forth.
Now that we know where abroad is and who the students are, we can discuss the minimum requirements for anyone who’d like to teach abroad.