Teaching as a foreign language (TEFL) is a popular option for graduates wishing to spend time living and working abroad before returning home to establish an alternative career. It can also be a fulfilling career in its own right.
Experienced TEFL teachers can progress on to roles including teacher training, school management and publishing.
Most TEFL teachers work overseas on short-term contracts of up to one or two years. Demand for native English-speakers tends to be consistently high in South East Asia, parts of Eastern Europe, Spain, Italy and Germany, but opportunities exist in most parts of the world.
Opportunities in the UK have traditionally been more limited but are now expanding. UK based roles may require previous experience.
A wide range of TEFL qualifications are available and you should research qualifications carefully before selecting one. Some graduate programmes including the British Council and JET do not require a qualification, but most employers do.
The Careers Service held a ‘Day in the life of a TEFL/ESOL teacher’ event in April 2018. Our speakers were Damien Marwood, TEFL teacher at International House in Newcastle; Becky Goodfellow, ESOL and EFL lecturer in the UK and China; and Ala’a Otain, Project Manager at N.E.S.T (North East Solidarity & Teaching) They talked frankly about their careers including what a typical day looks like, the skills required, and the highlights and challenges of working in this field.
Listen to our ReCap recording to help you find out whether this is a career path you’d be interested in.
Reference books available in the Careers Service
Teaching English Abroad (16th edition, 2017) by Susan Griffiths
These represent and promote the interests of people working in the sector, providing services such as training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates and development for people already working in the sector.
Follow professional associations on LinkedIn, or visit their websites for useful sources of news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.
The main professional associations for this sector include:
- British Council
- International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language
- National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
- English UK – national association of accredited English language centres in the UK
Making contacts is essential for success in this sector. Many jobs in this field are gained through networking and speculative applications.
We've compiled a few places you could start:
Our online database, Graduate Connections, contains information about graduates who are happy to give you information and advice about the kind of work they do.
You can also find out what alumni did after graduation, how they got there, and contact them for advice and inspiration through Newcastle alumni on LinkedIn.
Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other sector events give valuable insights and the opportunity to make useful contacts.
The annual Careers Service event, Routes into Teaching, often includes a representative from a TEFL provider. Event details can be found in Careers Workshops. We also organise employer presentations on campus.
For more events for this sector see our full list of Careers Service events.
You may also be interested in:
See our Sector-specific pages for more options.
Roles & Skills
Find out about what the role of English as a foreign language teacher entails and the skills employers look for.
We've included links to external websites that provide further information about this career:
English as a foreign language teacher
Skills employers look for
- excellent standard of written and spoken English
- good interpersonal skills and the ability to get on well with people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures
- good listening skills
- ability to plan and deliver interesting lessons
- flexibility and the ability to adapt lessons to suit the needs of pupils
- ability to work under pressure
An effective teacher also needs to be confident, patient and have a good sense of humour!
Here you'll find links to further information about gaining experience in the sector.
Most employers will require TEFL and TESL teachers to have some classroom experience. This can be gained in a school or community setting, as a teacher, teaching assistant, language assistant, or private tutor.
Some vacancies will specify the number of hours of teaching experience needed. You can build up your teaching experience, through the practical teaching experience included in your TEFL/TESL course.
Non-teaching roles in UK based language schools, would also give you an insight into this sector.
For opportunities, see:
Newcastle University Students’ Union: Go Volunteer offer a range of voluntary opportunities including an English Conversation Class. Call in and speak to them to see what relevant opportunities they have.
Explore Learning lists paid, part-time and English teaching roles. These would usually be to native English speakers.
Teaching in schools has information on gaining school based work experience.
The majority of TEFL jobs are based outside the UK, in a range of organisations including private language schools, development agencies and voluntary organisations. In the UK opportunities are mainly found in commercial language schools, Further Education colleges and in community settings often run by charities.
Schools with high numbers of pupils whose first language is not English also recruit 'English as an additional language' teachers, on a permanent and freelance basis.
The qualifications required to work as a TEFL or TESL teacher vary depending on the country. Vacancies in many countries require native English speaking graduates, with a TEFL/TESL qualification and classroom experience. Some employers may also require applicants to hold Qualified Teacher Status.
Careers Service: Vacancies Online advertises vacancies.
The following external websites also advertise opportunities:
- Dave’s ESL Cafe
- Guardian Jobs
- ESL Job Project
- British Council – language assistant roles overseas and in the UK
- Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) – Assistant Language Teacher roles in Japan. Programme is supported by the Japanese government.
- China Teaching Fellowship - train to teach in China on a government sponsored programme.
Look into the British Council's Accredited centres, and check individual schools' websites for vacancies. This is useful for speculative applications.
teflsearch has a useful employer directory.
Read Teaching English Abroad (2013 edition) by Susan Griffiths. It includes details of language schools and recruitment sites. A reference copy is available in the Careers Service.
Train as a teacher in China on a unique government-sponsored programme
There are a wide range of courses lasting from a weekend to six weeks.
The most widely recognised qualifications are the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) and the Trinity CertTESOL (Certificate of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL are externally assessed and accredited by an examination board. They generally take four to six weeks full-time but can be taken part-time.
Many other courses offer a similar structure but are known simply as TEFL courses and provide trainees with the school's own TEFL certificate.
Prices for courses depend on:
- the level of qualification
- length of course
- prestige of the school or course provider.
It is also possible to study for a TEFL qualification outside of the UK.
Before you choose a course make sure you have done some research into the type of qualification needed for the role you want, in the country you want. For those considering a longer-term career in TEFL, a course involving at least 100 hours of input and a minimum of six hours of teaching practice is recommended for most countries.
See Prospects: English as a foreign language teacher for information on the qualifications needed to be a TEFL/TESL in state schools, further education colleges and universities in the UK.
Choosing a TEFL qualification
The following websites provide information on choosing a TEFL qualification:
- Cactus - Choosing the right TEFL course
- TEFL.net: Basic TEFL qualifications and Teacher Training FAQs
- Trinity College London – see their 'guide to choosing your 1st TESOL or TEFL course'
- eslbase: 6 Questions to Ask When Choosing a TEFL Course
Finding TEFL courses in the UK
Use the following resources to find TEFL courses in the UK:
- English UK – directory of accredited language centres in the UK
- Cactus - course information, jobs and advice
- Trinity College London - information on the CertTESOL and database of courses
- eslbase – directory of TEFL and TESOL courses
- British Council – CELTA courses offered by the British Council in the UK and overseas
If you want to study in Newcastle, International House is a British Council accredited English language school.
Work for Yourself
Being self-employed or working as a freelancer is common in the teaching sector.
Schools and colleges employ teachers/tutors to cover specific specialisms or cover staff absence. This may be on a long term basis over an academic year, or for occasional sessions.
The Work for Yourself section of our website provides information on the range of activities and support available to Newcastle students and eligible graduates interested in starting their own business or self-employment.
See COBRA for factsheets and reports on starting up and running a business, including a TEFL factsheet. COBRA can only be accessed through a University computer on the Newcastle campus.
GOV.UK: DBS checks has information on applying for a DBS check which is usually required if you are going to work closely with children