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The BridgeTEFL Guide to Teaching English Abroad

All the ins and outs of teaching English as a foreign language


Are you confused about TEFL? Let us guide you!

With over 20 years experience training students and teachers worldwide, Bridge is an established leader in the language training industry. Our staff around the world trains more than 4,000 teachers a year to teach English overseas, so we know a thing or two about it. Let us share with you some of the ins and outs of teaching English as a foreign language.

What is TEFL?

Teaching English Abroad - Everyone Smiles in the Same Language button

Lost in Acronym Land? You’re not alone! The world of TEFL has many different acronyms for similar teaching situations, and it can get a little confusing. Let us clarify:

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language:
This term applies to teaching English in countries where English is not the native language. This would be the case with a Korean student studying English in his home country.

TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language:
This term applies to teaching English in countries where English is the native language. This would be the case with a Brazilian student studying English in the United States of America.

TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages:
This catch-all term applies in both cases, whether English is or is not the native language of the country. It is commonly used to refer to certification courses that are more specifically TEFL courses, however, and is generally only significantly different from TEFL when used by universities in reference to their Masters degree programs on the subject.

TLD – Teaching the Linguistically Diverse:
This term applies to teaching situations in which students come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds, including those who’ve never spoken English, those with some English knowledge, and native speakers. TLD is often found in the American public school systems.

Bilingual Education:
This term applies to teaching in two languages using translation support. Bilingual education is also found in the American public school systems.


Travel, money, experience – why not?! There are many good reasons for teaching English overseas.

Travel the world and earn money:
A recognized TEFL certification is your passport to the world. Live in another country rather than just pass through as a tourist. As a TEFL teacher, you can gain deeper insight into your host culture and get paid at the same time.

Improve your resume:
Employers everywhere prefer candidates that are flexible, take initiative, and can adapt to new situations – all skills that you will develop while teaching English abroad.

Develop a career:
Teaching English can lead to a career in education abroad or at home. It can also give you important intercultural experience and contacts to help you set up new businesses or work with international companies.

Change your life:
Whether you want to see the world before entering the workforce, take a break from the rat race, or simply experience another culture, TEFL makes it possible. With the new insights into yourself and the world, you’ll broaden your perspectives and your future opportunities.

Change the world:
Lastly, TEFL enables you to help other cultures promote themselves and participate more effectively in the global community. By giving speakers of other languages a tool to express their opinions in an international forum, you’ll contribute to a multicultural global community and the spread of cultural tolerance.

Who can TEFL?

YOU can TEFL! Anyone who speaks English and is prepared to be responsible in the classroom can be a TEFL teacher.

Recent high school graduates:
A year or two out in the world before going to university or starting work is a useful “gap” experience. This practice is very popular in Europe and is gaining popularity elsewhere.

University graduates:
A “gap” experience in another country before starting a career at home provides memories for a lifetime and may even change the direction of your career path.

Mid-career change:
Tired of a 9-to-5 desk job that’s not going anywhere? Most TEFL employers are happy to hire new teachers who have more life experience.

You’ve finished your conventional career and are ready for something completely new. You’ve always dreamed of living abroad and TEFL is your chance to do just that.

Non-native speakers of English:
Very often, non-native speakers have a deeper insight into the nature of learning a foreign language and can use this to their advantage to become excellent teachers of English as a Foreign Language.

Choosing a certificate

Why do you need a certificate?
In an increasingly competitive market, many employers select only qualified TEFL teachers. Employers around the world know that a certificate indicates professional integrity and reliability. A TEFL certificate helps you be competitive, marketable, and to stand out in the hiring process.

What kinds of courses are available?
Courses fall into two general categories: Four-week courses at a training center and online courses.

• Four-week courses:

The primary options for on-site, four-week teacher preparation programs include the Cambridge CELTA and the Bridge IDELT. These intensive courses run five days a week for a month, for a total of 120-140 hours of training. They also involve several hours of homework most days. Four-week courses feature daily informational sessions and at least 6 hours of observed teaching practice with real EFL/ESL learners.

CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). The CELTA certificate, accredited by Cambridge University in the UK, is the most internationally recognized TEFL qualification available. CELTA is a standardized teacher preparation program, so your training will be similar no matter where you take the course.

IDELT™ (International Diploma in English Language Teaching). The IDELT™ program has been approved by ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training), an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and is recommended for up to 6 graduate level credits at over 1,500 universities by National CCRS (National College Credit Recommendation Service). This means that the IDELT was evaluated by a team of subject matter experts and found comparable to college instruction.

Other TEFL Certificate Courses. TEFL teacher preparation courses are offered by a variety of program providers around the world. TEFL courses are not universally standardized and therefore content and duration may vary by provider. BridgeTEFL, recognized for its high quality TEFL certificate program, is accredited by ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training), an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

• Online courses:

These courses deliver the fundamental knowledge necessary to be a TEFL teacher. Online course advantages include convenience and affordability: most are self-paced, accessible anywhere in the world, and cost less than on-site courses. Online programs test comprehension of course content through online quizzes and/or written assignments. The best online courses provide trainees with their own personal tutor, who gives personal feedback on written assignments. Our IDELT Online program is a quality course that provides a recognized and accredited TEFL certification, while our TEFLOnline courses offer TEFL certification in a flexible self-study format.

How important is accreditation?
Because TEFL courses, both online and on-site, are not universally standardized, they may vary greatly from one program to the next. It is important to check for references from program graduates as well as external recognition of the organization providing your course.

Questions to ask the certificate provider:

  • Are you accredited? If so, by whom?
  • Is the accrediting agency recognized by a major university, government department, or government approved body?
  • Can you direct me to a government or university website that details this recognition?
  • Can you provide a street mailing address in the US, UK, Australia or other English-speaking country for your company?
  • Can you give me an email list of referrals of graduates from this course?
  • Can you show me the qualifications of your trainers?
  • How long have you been running TEFL training courses?

Where can you work?


Private language schools.
Most countries have a private language school industry. At these schools, you would teach English conversation to people who want to develop their English skills, maintain the English they’ve learned previously, or experience another culture. Your responsibilities could range from teaching Business English to company executives to leading summer day camps for elementary school kids.

Public schools.
Public school systems in many countries hire native English speakers to work as assistant language teachers at junior and senior high schools.

For more qualified and experienced TEFL teachers, university teaching jobs offer prestige and a very comfortable lifestyle.

Government/Non-governmental organizations.
The Peace Corps in the US, Volunteer Service Overseas in the UK, and other NGOs offer great volunteer teaching opportunities.

Mission programs.
Many church and mission-based organizations sponsor TEFL teachers to go abroad.

At home:

Private language schools.
There are many language schools that offer ESL classes to visiting business executives, groups from foreign schools or individuals studying to go to college. Private language schools also hire qualified ESL/EFL teachers for short-term summer programs.

Public schools.
More and more public school systems and departments of education are prepared to accept a TEFL qualification as partial credit towards an Alternative Teacher License Program or a Teacher in Residence License Program.

Universities. More highly qualified and experienced TEFL teachers can find work in intensive English programs affiliated with universities and community colleges.

Government/Non-governmental organizations.
There are plenty of volunteer ESL programs aimed at helping immigrants and refugees that hire qualified and experienced TEFL teachers.

Mission programs.
Many churches also run ESL programs that rely on qualified TEFL teachers.

What does a TEFL course look like?

Basic concepts
TEFL courses usually cover similar fundamental concepts, including the following:

  • classroom management,
  • error correction,
  • eliciting information,
  • lesson planning,
  • teaching receptive and productive skills,
  • phonology,
  • vocabulary,
  • analyzing and teaching grammar,
  • developing fluency activities,
  • language testing and professional development.

Teaching practice
4-week courses will usually feature at least 6 hours of observed teaching practice. This may mean 6 1-hour classes or 10 shorter classes spread over 6 hours. Trainees prepare and give lessons which are observed, critiqued and graded. Employers often prefer and may require this kind of teaching practice.

Written assignments
4-week courses test trainees’ comprehension in short assignments that might ask them to analyze a part of speech, justify their choice of activities for a lesson plan, or reflect on other aspects of the course’s content.

Job placement assistance
Many courses include a module or presentation on getting a teaching job abroad. After graduation, course providers also often offer job placement assistance. Check with them about their success rate in placing graduates.

Strategies for getting your first job

Choosing a country
Where do you want to go? What country has always inspired and intrigued you? Get online and start searching for more information about that country. For additional information about teaching abroad, you can view our Jobs at a Glance page, which provides details on living and working abroad to help you choose the best country and teaching position for you.

Doing research
Find out more about the teaching environment in your chosen country. What is the market like? What types of students are taking English classes? What level of TEFL qualification will you need to be competitive and marketable? In what cities or regions are most jobs available?

Responding to advertisements
Many employers post available positions on the Internet. Your success depends upon making yourself more appealing than the others who respond to the same advertisement. Realistically, your chances of success are lower with this method, as the same ad will be seen and responded to by hundreds of other similarly qualified TEFL teachers. Also, be aware that people who make hiring decisions usually spend 20 seconds skimming over a resume before deciding whether or not to short-list that person.

Direct mailing
You could take the initiative and target a particular set of schools in a particular location. For this approach to be successful, you’ll need to do your research beforehand. It is often difficult to tell the reputable schools from the less reputable ones, especially if you are on the other side of the world and unfamiliar with the hiring practices of that country. Also, direct mailing can be a hit-or-miss approach since each particular school may or may not be hiring at that particular time.

This is a much more productive way of getting a job. It usually means you have to be on the ground, at your location, talking to other TEFL teachers about where the jobs are and how you can get one. You need to be prepared to market yourself to potential employers by hitting the streets, knocking on doors, and presenting yourself for hire. You stand a much better chance if you have a recognized TEFL qualification, can apply in-person, and come prepared with your resume, references, and lesson plan portfolio. This approach typically works best in South America, Europe and parts of Asia outside of Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan.

Using a job placement service
This is the quickest and most effective way of getting a job. Working with a TEFL jobs recruiter will save you the frustration, time, energy and money you will spend looking for a job abroad. These companies will find a suitable position and place you with an established employer in the country of your choice, often with the best available pay and conditions.

Preparing your resume

Your resume presents you to the potential employer. It has to stand out above the other resumes competing for the same job.

What to put:

  • Name, contact details, gender, age, marital status, passport photo
  • Education detailing TEFL / CELTA / IDELT certificate and college degree
  • Work experience emphasizing teaching, training, guiding or mentoring
  • Volunteer or pro-bono work emphasizing teaching, training, or mentoring
  • References with email and phone details

What to do:

  • Spell check – Any spelling, grammar or formatting mistakes will be viewed as a lack of professionalism, especially for an English teacher!
  • Use bullet points rather than wordy paragraphs
  • Use conventional fonts and format
  • Combine your resume with a 1-2 page cover letter that details your ability to teach English, your flexibility and professionalism, and your desire to work with that school in that country

BridgeTEFL Jobs Advisors will help you prepare your resume after you’ve completed a TEFL certification course.

Preparing for an interview

First impressions are everything. Be punctual, polite, and presentable in business-casual attire. Prepare your questions. They will indicate that you want to be treated as a professional. Also, remember that hiring practices vary from country to country and may be different than what you are used to at home. Some requirements that may seem unusual to you (such as passport photos and questions about marital status) may be standard practice in other countries.

Do whatever you can to research the country and the company before your interview, and remember to be flexible and adaptable throughout the process.

Check out these helpful blog posts:

Living in another culture

Developing your comfort zone
You are going to live in another culture. It is likely to be difficult before it gets easy. The following are different phases of adjusting to a new culture:

Honeymoon Phase:
For the first few weeks, you are fascinated by the exotic differences in the new culture.

Hostile Phase:
You begin to feel handicapped doing normal everyday functions (e.g. posting a letter, getting a bus, making arrangements). You don’t understand why it is so difficult to do these simple things. You begin to blame the host culture for not doing things “right.”

Grin and Bear It Phase:
You begin to get some knowledge of the language and can get around by yourself. Your sense of humor returns and instead of criticizing, you now joke about difficulties.

Effective Adjustment Phase:
You begin to accept the customs of the country as just another way of living. You can function without feeling anxiety, although there are still moments of strain. When you leave the country, you genuinely miss it and the people.

How to succeed
Use these tips to be a successful TEFL teacher abroad:

  • Be curious. The more you seek out and participate in a new culture, the more quickly you will adapt to it.
  • Communicate. Learn to listen, observe and respond. A perceptive, insightful person will generally adjust to a new culture more quickly.
  • Be non-judgmental. Tolerate the differences and roll with the punches. It’s not “wrong” or “right,” it’s just different from what you are used to.
  • Tolerate ambiguity. Your host culture will have different ideas about communication and social interaction. People from some countries value vague and nonconfrontational answers to questions while others are more direct. Some cultures emphasize efficient problem solving, whereas others give more importance to relationships. Be flexible.
  • Have a sense of humor. People who can laugh at difficult situations can usually cope with them better.
  • Be ready to fail. You will make many mistakes living abroad but you can learn from them and build on your successes.