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10 Common Teach Abroad Myths Debunked

teach abroad myths

If you’re looking into teaching English abroad, you’ll probably spend some time surfing the internet and are likely to come across some of the scary stories and inaccurate information floating around. Let’s take a look at some of the most common teach abroad myths so that you don’t let misinformation stop you from seeking golden opportunities overseas!

Myth #1: English teachers don’t make enough money.

“Enough” money is dependent on so many variables. Where are you living in the world? What kind of financial needs do you have? Do you intend to live on savings for a time while working a job that’s more about helping a community? Ask yourself these and other questions when you’re considering teaching abroad.

It’s actually quite doable to make a good TEFL salary. Many times, the local exchange rate and/or cost of living will be favorable to you, and you may be able to save a considerable amount of money while teaching, depending on your preferences and lifestyle. Some people also teach English online for extra income.

Myth #2: It’s easy to teach English if you speak it.

This teach abroad myth is so strong that it sometimes makes it into training materials! It’s true that a native or fluent English speaker may find aspects of ESL, such as pronunciation or vocabulary, “easy,” but language learning is complicated and can involve a lot of work.

Teaching English will inevitably reveal all the bizarre things that English does in terms of grammar, pronunciation, spelling, and more. What will you say to learners the first time they ask you, “But why do you pronounce the -gh in through and cough differently?”

The best way to prepare yourself to teach effectively and to build confidence in the ESL classroom is to get TEFL certified before you begin teaching. Many teaching positions require you to have a teaching certificate of at least 120 hours, anyway!

Not yet certified? Browse online TEFL courses to get started.

Alan Tomko EFL teacher in China

Retiree Alan Tomko teaches English in China.

Myth #3: You must be young to teach English abroad.

This is a persistent myth about teaching English abroad that just won’t go away! Being a teacher is not something that is limited to a certain period of life, and in fact, as people age, they often bring more to the table in terms of life experiences that they can use to help their students.

Many people even pursue teaching ESL abroad in retirement. You really are never too old to teach English!

Myth #4: You have to speak your students’ language.

This teach English abroad myth is also very common. The truth is, most TEFL teachers who travel abroad to teach English in a foreign country, such as Japan, Brazil, or Hungary, don’t speak the language of that country (at least not fluently). Being bilingual, although certainly helpful for the teacher’s day-to-day life in the country, is not required to teach English.

Why not? The fact is, many schools and English language institutes use the “immersion method,” which requirees only English to be used by the teacher and students, thereby turning the classroom into the equivalent of an English-speaking country or environment. That means that translation into the students’ first language(s) may be banned in lessons. Therefore, even if you do happen to speak the local language, you’d be prohibited from using it during lessons.

However, you can show your students how to be great language learners by remaining curious about the local language and studying it in your spare time. This will also give you more appreciation for what aspects of language learning your students might struggle with.

Learn about the most popular ESL teaching methods.

Myth #5: You can’t teach abroad if you have a family.

I’m living proof that this is a false myth about teaching abroad! Having a family is a goal for many people, and for some reason, there are taboos about travelers being able to have these things in many societies. There’s a strong idea that you must “settle down” in your home country to have access to familial life.

This thinking is wrong. People around the world get married, have children, live with extended family… It’s not like families only exist in your country of origin, right? Teachers who go abroad often go with their family members, and many people have also found a partner abroad while teaching! Many third-culture children grow up with parents who come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, or races. The world itself grows more inclusive as a result.

Some ESL teachers also move to a country where their family originally came from as immigrants and use a TEFL career as a way to be closer to grandparents or family members who live in that place. If you want to teach abroad and you want to do so while having a family, it’s definitely possible!

freelance ESL teacher to adults

Chris, from the U.S., teaches an adult student in Japan, where he met his wife.

Myth #6: You’ll be teaching young learners.

Most of the content on Instagram and other social media about teaching English abroad perpetuates this myth. Videos of young learners are cute and get a lot of engagement, so this sample of English learners tends to be over-represented online.

The truth is that you can teach all ages — young children, teens, and adults. It’s true that sometimes having a job with young learners can get your foot in the door of teaching abroad, but this isn’t always the case. More people are trying to learn English right now than ever before, so the level of demand is high for competent, compassionate, teachers for all ages.

Many ESL teachers find jobs at universities, take contracts with corporations to help employees improve their business English, or volunteer with people in need to help them with English. Don’t forget that there are also more migrant and immigrant workers worldwide (pandemic notwithstanding) than there have ever been! That means that there are many adults who may want English training to help with immigration applications and work searches.

Here’s how to get a job teaching adults English!

Myth #7: Teaching ESL is short-term; it’s not a career.

This comes up so often for some reason. You can certainly choose to teach abroad temporarily, as a way to travel and experience someplace new, but you can also make a career out of teaching English. A lot of people go into teaching ESL abroad thinking they’ll do it for a couple of years and then fall in love with it, deciding to stick with it for many years to come.

There are plenty of ways to move up within organizations or schools if you want to have a career in EFL. For example, you can become a head teacher, curriculum designer, or even a teacher recruiter.

Most people who stay in the industry go on to get additional teaching qualifications, like a master’s in TESOL.

Learn about the jobs you can qualify for with an MA in TESOL.

online English teacher

Online English teacher Juicy Mae uses Total Physical Response (TPR) with her student.

Myth #8: You have to be a native English-speaking teacher.

This one’s a huge teach abroad myth! People get discouraged because they may see old blog posts about ESL in the early 2000s or in specific countries that say “Hiring Only Native Speakers.” You may even run into the term “native speaker” being applied only to people of specific nationalities or excluding certain speakers of English, such as those who grew up bilingual.

However, although there are sometimes immigration matters to consider, in most places, a non-native speaker who has a high level of English can teach ESL. In fact, being a non-native English speaking teacher has its advantages because you already know what grammar and spelling learners will struggle with, and you know the strategies that you employed yourself to get the better of these difficult concepts.

Whether English is your first language or you’re a non-native English-speaking teacher, make sure you get certified to teach ESL, and you may also need/want to pass an English proficiency exam (such as Cambridge, TOEFL, or IELTS) to be more competitive in the job market.

Find out more here: Where Can I Teach English as a Non-Native Speaker?

Myth #9: Teaching grammar is impossible.

You are using your knowledge of English grammar to read this article right now! In the present continuous tense, you are reading this sentence and processing its subject, verb, object, and syntax. Congratulations, you can do grammar!

Yes, you might not know the names of the tenses or the meaning of words like “conjugation” just yet, but if you grew up speaking English or went to school in English, you likely have what linguists call intuitive grammar. You know, for example, which of these sentences is incorrect, even if not exactly why:

I can speak English.
I speak English.
I’m speaking English.
I can speaking English. X

This is the baseline that you will need to do most English teaching at the start. For the rest, you can take a course like this Specialization in Teaching English Grammar to learn relevant grammatical terms and gain confidence when it comes to creating ESL grammar lesson plans. And, in a pinch, you can always Google something when it comes up last minute!

Read this next: How to Teach English Grammar – Even If You’re Terrible at It!

Erin CoyIe, English teacher in Oman

Erin Coyle, an English teacher in Oman

Myth #10: You can only teach abroad in East Asia.

Although there are many jobs in East Asia, and in the past, many people who wanted to get into teaching ESL worked in Japan, China, and South Korea, there is demand for English teachers all over the world!

An article by BBC News mentions that The World Economic Forum estimates about 1.5 billion people around the world speak English — but fewer than 400 million have it as their first language. That number does not include those who know a small amount of English or who can understand it but not use it for business or educational purposes.

In many parts of the world, governments are opening programs to place native English speakers into public schools. Some of these programs are well-established, such as the Programa Inglés Abre Puertas in Chile. However, you don’t have to go through a government program to teach abroad in the country of your choice. Simply search for open TEFL positions on job boards or look through local online publications where you’d like to teach.

Meet Brandon, an English teacher in Prague, who found his job on the local Czech website Expats.cz.

Don’t forget about your own area as well. Many places where English is widely spoken have large immigrant populations who need ESL assistance, and volunteering or teaching English in your own backyard is a great way to get TEFL experience you’ll be able to use one day abroad.

If you want to teach ESL overseas, you have to avoid falling prey to the many teach abroad myths. Stick to the facts, and know that teaching English abroad is a unique and rewarding experience that is well worth pursuing!

Ready to start your TEFL journey? Browse the Bridge Job Board for English teaching positions abroad and online!

Coleen Monroe is a Colorado native who has left a trail of new homes for herself around the world. She's set foot in 30 countries and lived on four continents in the last eleven years. Her nomad homes have been in Chilean Patagonia, France, Italy, Switzerland, South Korea, England, and Iceland. Her latest travel adventures took her to Yunnan, Beijing, Jiangxi, and Southern China, where she's currently teaching.