Some English centers pride themselves on exclusively providing instruction from native speakers. Nationals from the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa usually fall into this category. But if you are a fluent English speaker of another nationality, don’t let this deter you. If you know your grammar and are able to speak idiomatically, how well you learned English may outshine when you learned it.
There are countries that do not automatically count as English-speaking countries in the world of ESL instruction even though English is registered as one of their official languages. These countries include, India, the Philippines and quite a few African and Caribbean countries. This grouping is largely due to accents and regional differences. But if you grew up speaking English there’s definitely a case to be made for your eligibility.
If you love language, teaching and traveling but don’t think that TEFL is for you because you are a non-native speaker, don’t give up just yet! The English teaching market is both global and diverse. There’s definitely a place for you somewhere. Remember that the demand for English teachers is high so if your fluency is also high, many schools will be willing to hire you. Some even seek to develop diversity amongst their instructional staff. English is spoken all over the world and every manifestation of the language is a valid and valuable dialect.
Besides, having been a language learner yourself, you could have an empathetic advantage. You know what your students are struggling with. And native speakers aren’t necessarily grammar gurus. A lot of English teachers struggle in their first months of teaching to field student questions about grammar rules. When asked why we say “at 6 o’clock” rather than “on 6 o’clock,” they aren’t sure what to say. Because it sounds right? As a non-native speaker with conversational fluency you are qualified to teach English and you may even be more aware of the why behind correct answers.
But despite these potential advantages, some schools and institutes are still more comfortable assuring customers that they only employ native speakers. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try but you’ll have to prove your competency. So here are some suggestions for how you can become a more attractive prospect for future employers:
Get TEFL Certified
Whether you’re a native speaker or not, completing a TEFL certification program will always be the best way to get your foot in the door. You’ll want to choose an accredited TEFL course that aligns with international standards. So do your due diligence online before moving to another country or reserving your spot. Any quality certification course will make you a more confident teacher and strengthen your resume. Having an internationally recognized qualification also makes you less of a gamble for credible employers because you’ll have completed a month of standardized practice.
Earn a Degree
Having a university degree is not necessary to succeed in the world of ESL instruction. However, if you’re a non-native speaker and you complete your bachelor’s in the language you’ll be teaching, this may be the edge you need. In some cases, this could even make you a more competitive candidate than your English-speaking peers who have less education on their resumes. But this isn’t TEFL specific. Like in any job field, having further credentials widens your range of opportunities. More school never hurts!
Teach, Tutor, Coach
Practical experience can also boost employers’ confidence in your capabilities. See if you can get paid teaching, tutoring or coaching experience. Of course, Teaching ESL would be ideal, whether at home or abroad, but there are lots of related things you can do in your community that qualify as experience in education. If you can’t find a paid position right away, consider volunteering at your local library or community center. There are often afterschool programs that provide reading or even ESL support to elementary school students. If you live in an area that has a high population of immigrants, there will also be opportunities to practice with adult clients.
Take the TOEFL or IELTS
If you’re struggling to convince employers of your English fluency, having standardized exam results as proof could go a long way. Scoring well on the TOEFL or IELTS test is a reliable way to assure your future school of your English competency. Duolingo has also recently developed an online English aptitude test, which is being used by more and more businesses and universities. However, the true test will be how you interact in person and how you perform in your classroom.
Schedule a Live Interview
Speaking to your potential employer could pacify their reservations about your English comprehension. If you are applying to positions remotely, perhaps the best way to demonstrate your qualification is to request a phone or video interview. This is an excellent way to authentically showcase your level of English in real time and in an everyday context. Being well spoken and professional during your interview process is often more important than how you look on paper. They’ll be working with you every day, not your resume.
Don’t Prioritize “Native Only” Applications
As long as you’re honest about your qualifications, you can apply to any teaching position you would like. However, don’t waste your energy on positions that explicitly ask for native English speakers when there are plenty of other options out there! Filter your job hunt based on application requirements. Oftentimes, “native only” positions are concentrated in certain areas of the world.
Be Strategic About Your Destination
Some countries are stricter than others about their job requirements for English teachers. Many countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe are quite welcoming to non-native speakers. And even though Europe tends to prefer teachers whose first language is English, if you have an EU passport that might make up for it.
Though it’s true that more lucrative ESL markets such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia almost exclusively employ native speakers, there are many more countries that don’t. Start by building up your experience and training in ways that you can. And when you’re ready to apply, filter your job search according to your qualifications and you might be surprised by what you find!