Training to Teach English as a Foreign Language

Teaching students in high scool.

Want to live in Japan? Poland? How about Ecuador? If you want to see another country up close, as well as get the opportunity to work abroad, you have probably given some thought to teaching English to non-native speakers -- a wide-open field for those seeking an international adventure.

And while the credentials for teaching English abroad remain somewhat flexible, many schools now require teachers to have training or certification in teaching English to those who speak foreign languages. Such requirements have led to a flourishing industry devoted to training people to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL).

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"It's become an important prerequisite," says Dave Sperling, founder of Dave's ESL Cafe, a popular online destination for those interested in what's also known as English as a second language (ESL).

The number of TEFL programs has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, presenting students with plenty of choices as well as the task of sorting through and making sense of them. "They really have to do their research carefully and make sure they're getting into a legitimate program," says Sperling.

Keep in mind that a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language does not substitute for a degree. Schools hiring English teachers typically require a bachelor's degree. Immigration requirements also may prevent people without a four-year degree from teaching or otherwise working in the country.

Consider these issues as you research such an opportunity:

  • Look for programs with a teaching component, allowing you to gain practical teaching experience under an experienced instructor's observation. Many positions require this.
  • Ask to speak to graduates. "Don't trust a school that won't give contacts, like current or former students," says Sperling. "It's important to get firsthand feedback."
  • Be wary when operations guarantee job placement. "You have to be careful of schools that promise the world," says Sperling.

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Training Programs

  • American Language Institute amTEFL Graduate-Level Certificate: An offering of the American Language Institute at San Diego State University, the amTEFL program is a 120-hour, graduate-level certification course for people hoping to teach abroad. The program's emphasis is on practical classroom teaching and includes mentoring by veteran teachers and observed practice teaching. The Institute provides graduates lifetime job-placement assistance.
  • School for International Training TESOL Certificate: A 130-hour course, the Brattleboro, Vermont-based School of International Training's (SIT) TESOL certificate focuses on teaching demonstrations, practice teaching and learning theory, covering everything from second-language acquisition to lesson planning. Typically a four-week course, the program is offered internationally through SIT partnerships.
  • TEFL International TESOL Certificate: TEFL International, based in Thailand and Woodburn, Oregon, offers intensive four-week training in locations such as Seville, Spain and Alexandria, Egypt. The learning experience includes training in a foreign language to help teachers in training reflect on the experience of learning a new language. The course covers various language learning approaches, lesson planning and other areas, and includes teaching practice and observation.
  • Cambridge ESOL Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA): Cambridge ESOL is part of the UK-based University of Cambridge. Offered in more than 50 countries, the CELTA is designed for people with little or no teaching experience. CELTA courses are typically four or five weeks if taken full-time, and include practical skills for teachers, as well as hands-on teaching practice.

If you're wondering whether this is the right job for you, visit Dave's ESL Cafe, as well as other resources such as ESL Magazine and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

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