8 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Becoming an ESL Teacher Overseas

November 5, 2011

I’m going to do something I don’t do very much on this here blog.

I’m going to write about a subject I am actually qualified to write about.

Just don’t get too used to it, okay?

After all, I’d hate to ruin my reputation as a totally unreliable source of information on the Internet.

I mean, not to brag or anything, but I’m currently the number one Google search result for the search term, advice you shouldn’t follow. Do you know how much crappy advice I’ve had to give out to reach that status? (Honestly, do you? Because, uh, yeah, I don’t really. I mean, I can vaguely remember telling you all that you shouldn’t bother learning any of the language of the country you’re in as it will totally ruin the surprise. But all the other crappy advice I’ve given on this blog has kind of blended together into one big “don’t,” if you know what I mean.)

But, this week, I thought I might change things up a bit.

Don’t worry. This is not a sign that I’m turning over a new leaf or anything. Especially since I seem to be doing so well with my old leaf. I mean, bad advice is kind of my thing. It’s my niche, if you will. Even Google agrees! And Google hardly ever agrees with me on anything!

Instead, you should probably take this as a sign that I’m not entirely with it this week.

You see, I’m suffering from yet another bout of Black Lung, and my head is all woozy from some questionable medicine I picked up at the pharmacy. It may be cold medicine, or it may, judging from the illustration on the package, be used for the treatment of Radioactively Glowing Forehead, Nose and Throat Disease.

Which I totally think I have, by the way.

Plus, I’ve just spent the last three days participating in my very own one-woman, research-paper-grading marathon because, apparently, my students actually expect me to grade those papers they handed in to me two weeks ago and I stuck into the back of my locker at work and tried to forget about while I was using my free time to catch up on the last season of Project Runway.

Sheez, kids these days.

So, yeah, given my general wooziness and grading fatigue, my brain is not exactly up to the task of making up imaginary tips you really shouldn’t follow. (Even if Google is all, “But bad advice is totally your thing.” And I’m all, “Yeah, I know, Google. But I have Radioactively Glowing Forehead Disease and thirty more essays to grade by Monday.” And Google is all, “Okay, whatever. Fine. That’s the last time I agree with you on anything.” And I’m all, “Great, I’m having another imaginary conversation with Google. Clearly I’ve lost it.” And Google is all, “Yep, pretty much.”)


Where was I again?

Oh, yeah, no bad advice this week.


Instead, I’m just going to write about what I know.

And, well, I know a thing or two about being an ESL teacher. I’ve had my fair share of ESL teaching jobs over the past thirteen years. I even have my Master’s degree in this stuff! (I know. It still kind of floors me that I have a degree in something useful. After all, I never really fancied myself the useful type.)

As I do occasionally mention my job on my blog (you know, in between talk of cookies and pants and my couch), I get quite a few emails from people asking me for advice about teaching English overseas.

Sure, I’m a bit surprised that anyone would ask me for job advice. (I mean, do these people even read my blog?)

But, I’m more than happy to dish out advice – even the occasional bit of good advice.

And, while I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, I thought I’d ask you a few questions. Because, really, how are you ever going to learn anything if I just go ahead and tell you all the answers. (See? I told you I had a degree in this teaching stuff. That’s exactly the kind of annoying thing they teach you how to say in teacher school.)

This is kind of like a pop quiz, if you will– except there are no right or wrong answers.

Ha, ha, just kidding.

There are totally wrong answers.

So, yeah, I hope you studied.

1.    Do you like people?

The requirements for getting an English teaching job vary greatly depending on the job you’re applying for and the country you want to work in. Some jobs require an advanced degree or a TEFL Certificate or some kind of teaching experience. Other jobs require little more than an ability to speak English at a somewhat native-level and, well, a heartbeat.

But, there’s one requirement that is kind of universal: you have to like people.

Or, at least, you have to be really good at pretending to like people.

The thing is with teaching you have to deal with people all the time. Like, lots and lots of people – sometimes as many as twenty or thirty people all at once.

And, depending on your teaching schedule, you may even have to deal with these people before noon. On a Monday.

I know.

Some jobs may even require you to deal with coworkers.

I know.

And, at most places I’ve worked, all of the teachers share one big common teacher’s room, so you don’t have an office to hide in or a cubicle wall to duck behind.

This means it’s really hard to ignore your coworker who clips his fingernails at his desk or eats his lunch so loudly you suspect he has some kind of weird jaw condition.

This also means your coworkers can totally see you when you’re rolling your eyes at them. (Not that I would ever do that, mind you. And, should any of my former or current colleagues be reading this blog, I’ll have you know I wasn’t rolling my eyes at you. I was rolling my eyes at our other coworker. You know, the guy who chews weird.)

2.    Do you like kids?

Remember back there when I gave you all that bad news about how you had to like people to be a teacher?

Well, don’t give up hope just yet!

I’ve got some good news!

You don’t have to like all people – or at least you don’t have to like little people.

(No, I’m not talking about leprechauns. Besides, who doesn’t like leprechauns? They know where all the gold is and they have adorable Irish accents. Seriously. What is not to love?)

The good thing about the teaching ESL, unlike teaching most other subjects, is that you can pretty much work with any age group of people you like.

Personally, I prefer working with older students, so most of my experience has been teaching classes for adults or college-aged students.

Not, that I don’t just adore children.

Really, they’re angels. All of them.

But, to be honest, I’m just not cut out to teach kids.

I have a tendency to swear a lot under my breath.

The only child-appropriate game I can remember how to play is Duck-Duck-Goose. (And even then I’m a bit fuzzy on all the rules. I mean, is there some rule that limits the amount of time you can be “it”? Because there really should be. Plus, how does that game even make sense? It’s obvious that whoever invented that game did not grow up on a farm. Because anyone who has grown up on a farm knows you really shouldn’t provoke geese in any way. Trust me on this.)

And, well, children kind of scare me – especially when they’re all assembled together in one big group – you know, like they tend to do in school.

The few times that I’ve had to teach kids the experience has been pretty painful for both me and all the children involved.

You see, kids can sense fear.

They can also sense when they’re going to be stuck playing Duck-Duck-Goose for two hours.

3.    What about surprises? Do you like surprises?

Aren’t surprises the funnest?

Working in another country, you get to experience all kinds of fun on-the-job surprises.

Like, for example, last week I was informed that the class I’m currently teaching ends a whole week earlier than I had originally planned, which means I had to cram two weeks of teaching into one week. This also means that I only have one week to grade five kabillion final research papers (in addition to the five kabillion papers that I’ve been hiding in my locker for two weeks). Oh, yeah, and that new class that I’ve never taught before that I thought I wouldn’t have to teach for another week so I didn’t really bother planning? It starts on Monday. Yep, as in this Monday.

See, the funnest, right?

Granted, sometimes these on-the-job surprises are actually fun.

In Japan, the university I worked for would regularly forget to inform us when the school was closed for a public holiday. So on more than a few occasions, I showed up at work to discover the entire campus was locked up and I had the day off from work. Sure, I would have appreciated getting this news a little earlier – like before I went through all the trouble of getting out of bed and putting my pants on. But, hey, it was still a day off from work!

When I was teaching in Brazil, I was informed that instead of my scheduled two-week vacation for Carnival, I was going to have to go substitute teach in a small city in the jungle for two weeks. When I was first informed of this little change, I can’t say I was particularly thrilled. After all, you put the words “substitute teach” and “jungle” and “no vacation” into one sentence, and it’s never going to sound like a good idea, is it?

But those two weeks ended up being the best two weeks out of my entire year in Brazil – I stayed with an amazing host family, met some really great people and got to dance on top of a truck at the town’s Carnival parade.

Sure, dealing with these surprises on a regular basis can be frustrating and stressful at times, but, hey, it may end up with you dancing on top of a truck.

You just never know. (That’s why it’s called a surprise! See? Fun!)

 4.    Do you know what you’re doing?

Probably one of the most common questions I get asked about teaching ESL overseas is if you should get a TEFL certificate or do some kind of training before going overseas.

When I first started teaching I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a teaching degree, a TEFL certificate or any real teaching experience. (Somehow I have a feeling being a teacher’s aid at vacation Bible school in the eighth grade didn’t count as “real teaching experience.” Although, this didn’t really stop me from putting it on my résumé.) And, despite having a degree in English, I was woefully unprepared to teach anyone anything about English grammar. (I mean, who knew there was something called the Future Perfect Continuous tense in English? I mean, seriously, who knew about this?)

And while I can’t say I was the best teacher ever during my first couple years of teaching, I won’t say I was the worst teacher either. (In fact, I usually just thought I was a really awesome teacher since I had no idea what I was doing… so I really had no way of knowing that everything I was doing was wrong.)

I ended up learning a lot of things the hard way. (Like, umm, don’t make five-year-olds play Duck-Duck-Goose for two hours or they will get vicious. Oh, and don’t even try to trick them and tell them that you’re going to play a “new game” called Dog-Dog-Cat. Because they will totally see right through your lies.)

And, there were a few things that I learned in grad school that I really wish I had learned a lot earlier in my career. (Like, seriously, about this Future Perfect Continuous tense thing, who knew about this? And why was it kept a secret from me for so long?)

So, yeah, get the training before you go if you can afford it. Or, at least, for the love of verb tenses, bring a grammar book along with you. And maybe brush up on a few games that are appropriate to play with five year olds. Even if you’re not planning on teaching any five year olds. Because, really, you just never know. And that old Dog-Dog-Cat lie isn’t going to fool anyone — least of all, five year olds. Trust me on this.

5.    How important is it to you for people to take your job seriously?

Let’s just say that being an English teacher overseas has something of a reputation for being, well, not the most serious job on the planet. In fact, judging from the reactions I get from people when I tell them what I do for a living, I’d say ESL teacher ranks somewhere between underwater basket weaver and professional hamster trainer.

Once while on a flight home from Japan, the guy next to me asked me why I lived in Japan. When I told him that I taught English there, he responded by saying, “I thought about teaching English for a while, but then I got a real job.”

When I tried to explain to him that this was, in fact, my real job, he just snorted and rolled his eyes at me. (And he didn’t even have the decency to pretend he was rolling his eyes at someone else – you know, like a polite person would do.)

Finally I gave up and asked him what he did for a living.

He informed me he was a graphic novelist.

Yes, the guy who drew cartoons for a living was making fun of my job.


6. Define the Future Perfect Continuous tense and use it in a sentence.


Trick question.

But, seriously, did you know this even existed?

Like, really? 

7. Are you ready for a commitment?

I originally applied for my current job because it offered something most places don’t: a six-month contract. Most schools, no matter where they are, will require teachers to sign either a one or two-year contract.

After a year of traveling through Asia, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to sign up for a whole year. I was all like, “I can’t be tied down. I’m a rolling stone, baby.”

And then I discovered my university offers another something most places don’t offer.

A couch like this:

So, yeah, that was ten months ago.

Let’s just say this rolling stone has gathered a little moss. (And, yes, by “moss” I totally mean “cookie crumbs”, what did you think I meant?)

8. Do you want a real job? Like, really?

I’m sure you’re all like, “This is another trick question, right? Right? Because who really wants a real job? Real jobs are for suckers… and for people who actually like to wear pants on a regular basis.”

Well, remember back there when I was dishing out all the bad news about teaching, like you have to like people and actually know a thing or two about grammar (or at least be really good at pretending to like people and know a thing or two about grammar)?

Well, the bad news isn’t over, folks.

You see, when you teach ESL you have to do all those annoying things that people have to do when they have a real job.

Mostly, because, well, teaching ESL is a real job.

And, like most real jobs out there, teaching English is a lot of hard work.

I know.

When I first started teaching ESL, I never imagined that this would become my real job. I just wanted to live overseas and travel and not be forced to sell one of my kidneys in order to do so.

To be perfectly honest, I’m still not entirely sure I want this to be my real job.

There are days I really love it, but there are other days when I’m stressed out and frustrated and, you know, forced to wear pants.

Plus, I never really fancied myself the real job type. (I did, however, always fancy myself the lady of leisure type. But, apparently, in order to become a lady of leisure you actually need to find someone willing to support you and your leisurely ways. And, apparently, in order to find someone willing to support you, you have to actually leave your couch. I know. It’s like I totally can’t catch a break here.)

But, at least for now, teaching ESL is my real job.

No matter what my airplane seatmates think.

Although, next time I get on a flight, I’m totally telling everyone I’m a hamster trainer.



I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On November 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm Joseph said:

    So yes, I’ve totally considered teaching English in Asia….but, apparently I have to get that TEFL certificate…teaching experience? check…and just so that you shudder in horror, I have a class on Monday, from 8 o’clock…I know, insanity, right? My work schedule is terrible, however I do have a nice couch I can come home to. As for English grammar, I’ve studied it so many times that it’s not even funny, and forgotten it just as many times. I mean do you know how frustrating for me not to be able to explain why something is correct? “Because it is” just don’t cut it…just like Dog-Dog-Cat. So while I consider my current job a real one, I do dream about another real teaching job, just with a different scenery – hopefully Chinese, Thai or any other Asian country!
    Joseph recently posted..The Italian adventure – part 2

    • On November 6, 2011 at 12:17 am Sally said:

      My favorite explanation (when people ask “Why?”) is to first ask my students how old they think I look and then to inform them that I wasn’t around when English was invented so I don’t know “why”. That usually shuts them up… for all of two minutes when they start asking me “Why?” again. To which I usually reply, “Because English is hard, people.” That also shuts them up… for another two minutes. And so the cycle continues.

      • On May 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm Mike said:

        Hahaha my favourite thing to do with Chinese students is ask them why you say yi gi liang gi san gi but not yi gi er gi san gi.
        This usually makes them think about the complexity of languages.

        • On May 18, 2013 at 11:27 am Sally said:

          Yeah, I have no idea what any of that just meant. 🙂

          • On August 9, 2017 at 12:32 am V said:

            yi (一), er (二) and san (三) are the numbers 1-3 in Chinese respectively. So for example, the year ‘1233’ would be read as ‘yi er er san’.

            However, when talking about the number of quantity of things, er (二) changes to liang (两). So for example, to say ‘one book’, you would say ‘yi ge shu’ (一个书). For clarity, ge (个) is a measure word (not important in the point I am trying to make) and shu (书) means book. Likewise, to say ‘three books’, you would say ‘san ge shu’ (三个书). But, when saying ‘two books’, you would actually say ‘liang ge shu’ (两个书) rather than the incorrect ‘er ge shu’.

            As OP mentioned, this is just a given of the Chinese language (although I’ve never actually looked into whether there is a reason behind this) that native speakers just know, even if it doesn’t make sense to foreigners learning the language.

  2. On November 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm 50+ and on the Run said:

    I missed you; glad you didn’t stab your eyeballs…and I’ve been thinking: hamster training isn’t all that much sillier than being an attorney–and the hamsters probably don’t whine as much.
    Feel better soon.
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..What IS This?

    • On November 6, 2011 at 12:14 am Sally said:

      Aww, thank you, Nancy. I’ve missed everyone, too. I’m hoping I’ll actually be able to keep up a decent blogging schedule this month — October was really not a good month for me, unfortunately. You know, all those hamsters to train. 🙂

  3. On November 6, 2011 at 12:43 am jill said:

    Having actually learned English from an ESL teacher -pretty sure I know what a Future Perfect Continuous is, or at least I used to. Then I moved to live in the states – and all of that grammar stuff went out of the window 🙂

    Seriously, I think ESL teachers are so under-appreciated. I was lucky to have a good one as a tutor. She used to bribe me with home made cookies!
    jill recently posted..Mexico City – All the Fun You Can Have in 10 Hours

    • On November 6, 2011 at 12:47 am Sally said:

      That IS a good tutor. Homemade cookies? WOW.
      Yeah, whenever I’m teaching obscure grammar tenses or rules, I’m always telling my students, “Native speakers don’t know anything about this.” And it’s so true. I had no idea about most rules of English grammar until I started teaching it. And, man, did I have to learn FAST!

  4. On November 6, 2011 at 1:55 am Jarrad said:

    My wife has considered doing this so that we can travel overseas. Is it hard to break in to the job market to start off with?

    • On November 6, 2011 at 2:07 am Sally said:

      It really depends on the country you’re interested in & kind of job you’re looking for. Right now, there seem to be tons of jobs in China and they seem to be a bit more lenient on their requirements here (although, depending on the city and/or job, some places are requiring at least 2 years experience but many accept people without any experience just a bachelor’s degree & high level of English fluency). Whereas, jobs in Japan and Korea are a bit more stringent with their requirements and tend to be a lot more competitive (especially where university teaching is concerned).
      I don’t think it’s that hard to break into the job market. But I do think it’s definitely harder than it was 13 years ago when I first started — especially in Asia where the birth rate has decreased dramatically and there are a lot of native speakers with experience vying for jobs. A TEFL Certificate would definitely help open a few doors. There are a lot of TEFL certification companies abroad that will even help you find a job after you finish the training. I’d also suggest maybe getting a little experience beforehand — maybe volunteering with a local school or Literacy Volunteers.
      Good luck!

  5. On November 6, 2011 at 1:59 am Amy said:

    Ha, I don’t think I’d cope much with dog-dog-cat (I mean, duck-duck-goose) for two hours either. Maybe I could just take my own kids and tell them all to go play?

    Seriously though, other than actually having a grasp on English grammar (gasp – that nearly killed me going to high school in France and having to do ESL there), does having a qualification in it actually help?

    • On November 6, 2011 at 2:21 am Sally said:

      Yes, definitely. I think things are much more competitive in the ESL teaching world now than when I first started out. I’m seeing a lot of job listings these days that are requiring teacher’s to have a TEFL certification (and even if they don’t require it they definitely prefer it). I’ve even had potential employers tell me that I should really get m certification (even though I have a Master’s in TESOL and lots of experience).
      I would be careful, though, about which certification course you do. Many employers clearly state in their listings that they won’t hire people who did an online course or that you must have done a certification course that required some practicum teaching. And, depending on which country you are they may prefer you to have a certain TEFL certification (such as DELTA, CELTA, etc). I would look at the job listings for the country you’re interested in applying to and the kind of jobs you’re interested in doing to see what they’re requiring before signing up for a course.

      • On November 6, 2011 at 2:25 am Amy said:

        Oh, I would have thought the Masters of TESOL would have covered certification! Glad to find that out now!

        • On November 6, 2011 at 2:33 am Sally said:

          I know! Me too! And, frankly, when they’ve told me that, I’ve been like, “WHAT? But I’m still paying off my Master’s!” It really all depends on the country you’re looking into working in, though. From my experience, both Japan and Korea and lots of countries in the Middle East prefer people with Master’s. Whereas, lots of countries in Southeast Asia and Europe, want people with a DELTA/CELTA. And, then some places (like Taiwan and Hong Kong) want candidates with a teacher’s certification from their home country. Yeah, so, definitely check out the job listings for the country you’re interested in. It will give you a better picture as to what employers are looking for.

  6. On November 6, 2011 at 2:21 am Valerie Hamer said:

    One thing I find useful when asked the dreaded ‘why?’

    Set them homework to find out. Hahahhaa.

  7. On November 6, 2011 at 3:48 am Jenna said:

    You are speaking my language! I have a master’s in linguistics and have been teaching ESL for 13 years (yes, i really am getting old), and my husband is getting his M.A. In TESOL right now. It is TESOL talk all the time in my house! You are so right about learning the grammar rules before starting– I lost private students and made an ass of myself because I couldnt explain the present perfect my first week of teaching overseas. I had no idea what I was doing…2 years later, I went back to school. Forunately, I still enjoy it. The students are the joy.

    • On November 6, 2011 at 3:54 am Sally said:

      Glad you could relate! Omigosh, I totally remember hearing about the perfect tenses for the first time and being like, “What?” Yeah, I did a LOT of studying my first year of teaching grammar and I still messed up all the time… and it’s especially embarrassing with the students catch you on your mistakes (as they always seem to do!).
      Glad to hear you’re enjoying your job. Where are you currently teaching? I have to say China has been a bit frustrating for me, but there are some days when the students are totally awesome and I love it all over again.

      • On November 7, 2011 at 6:12 am Jenna said:

        I teach at a community college in Sacramento, CA. I have lots of students from China, but the population is very diverse. I started teaching in the Czech Republic in 1996 because it was the only job I could get there, and that was when the perfect tenses came up right away and I was mortified. As you said, the students catch our mistakes– they even test us sometimes, don’t they? 😉

        • On November 7, 2011 at 10:14 am Sally said:

          Totally. I’ve had more than a few students question me to make sure I really know what I’m doing. What’s worse is when I’m arguing with them about something & I’m trying to explain why I’m right… and then halfway through my explanation I realize I’m wrong. Whoops. That’s happened a few times.

  8. On November 6, 2011 at 6:18 am Kelly said:

    I hate the “Why?” too – though at an oral English school, I don’t get asked it nearly as often (good thing too, because “Because it sounds right to me” is not a well-thought out answer!).

    One thing I have heard regarding the varying qualifications is that (at least here in China) some of the places with more slack requirements are sometimes not exactly on the up and up (ie – you’ll be expected to work while on a tourist visa as opposed to them getting you a real, legal work visa).

    Good luck with all your essays, Sally!
    Kelly recently posted..Not-So-Undercover in a Chinese Tour Group: The Puzzling

    • On November 6, 2011 at 7:28 am Sally said:

      Good point, Kelly. I’ve heard some scary stories of people being promised a job and a proper working visa by what they assumed to be a well-established school, only to wind up doing something illegal.

  9. On November 6, 2011 at 7:05 am Carolyn said:

    After teaching ESL in Korea, I can relate to everything you say.

    From my experience, I would add that you may be asked to do random things that everyone assumes you should be able to do just because you speak English. My school asked me to write and put on a play of “A Christmas Carol” for 20 grade 4 to 6 students – not any easy task!
    Carolyn recently posted..Staying warm in Sydney

    • On November 6, 2011 at 7:25 am Sally said:

      Hilarious! What? You’re saying that every native speaker is NOT a natural Charles Dickens? 🙂 I guess that would go under the category of “fun on-the-job surprises”, huh?

  10. On November 6, 2011 at 8:32 am Sarah said:

    So wait, what you’re saying is that whole future perfect continuous tense is an actual real thing?

    And not just a fairy tale story my TEFL instructor would tell me to put me to sleep at the end of class?

    Sally, Google has got it ALL wrong. You are FULL of USELESS advice.
    Sarah recently posted..The Time at Talad Rot Fai in Bangkok (Or maybe, Reasons Why Abandoned Stuff is the Coolest)

    • On November 6, 2011 at 9:47 pm Sally said:

      It is not spotted much in the wild, but Future Perfect Continuous tense is, in fact, a thing. But Past Perfect Continuous tense? That’s totally made up. 🙂

  11. On November 6, 2011 at 10:02 pm Paige said:

    I love your writing! I taught English in Slovakia about 20 years ago right out of college and had no idea what I was doing. Thinking now about doing a TEFL course before heading out on a family adventure next fall. This is helpful. Do you have any suggestions of good and not-too-expensive places to get certified?
    Paige recently posted..Jacques in the Land of Tintin

    • On November 7, 2011 at 5:17 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Paige. As for TEFL courses, to be honest, I don’t know that much about them as I’ve never taken one. I’d check out the online forums on websites like Dave’s ESL Cafe & see what people are saying about the different courses. I’d also check out some job listings to see what kind of certificates the employers prefer. For example, I’ve seen some listings state that they won’t accept someone with a certificate from an online program. Whereas, a lot of listings state explicitly that they want someone with a DELTA or CELTA certification (these programs tend to be a bit pricier & more intensive but are highly regarded). I’d also suggest you try to find a program that will allow you to do some practicum teaching — either in a real-live classroom or demonstration teaching with your fellow trainees.
      Anyway, good luck!

  12. On November 7, 2011 at 12:29 am Alouise said:

    Great post. All the useful advice here is blowing my mind. I’ve never taught English abroad, but I totally understand you on the grammar front. I’m taking an advance grammar class in University, and there’s a lot of grammar information I never knew about – like form class and structure class words, and tree diagrams. And it isn’t like I’m just learning English, actually I will have been a English speaker for almost 27 years. So if the grammar in the esl curriculum starts getting really advance I’d probably rather teach kids. Sentences like “The dog barked” seems easy enough to explain.
    Alouise recently posted..Goals, Embracing Change, Music, Mistakes and Kindness

    • On November 7, 2011 at 5:08 am Sally said:

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Alouise. Not to worry, the grammar I’ve had to explain in class is usually a lot less complex than the grammar I had to learn in grad school. I’ve never had to teach anyone how to diagram a sentence (which is too bad as I totally ROCK at that… yes, I am the nerd who ENJOYED diagramming sentences). But it does really help to have that knowledge so you can rattle off lots of fancy terms like “participial adjective” and “object of the preposition” and students will totally believe that you know everything that you’re talking about.

      • On January 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm Ariadne said:

        Hey Sally,
        Wow – you’re the only other person I know that’s even heard of diagramming sentences! I too used to rock at that! I’m studying TEFL online with Masters & PhD instructors, and it requires a practicum. Hope it’s sufficient. Heading to Mexico in April to live and planning on finding a job in San Cristobal de la Casas, Chiapas. I’m excited and nervous.

        Okay question – Does anyone know what the heck teachers wear in Mexico to teach class? I have limited luggage. Thanks for your great blog! I’ll be back…Ari

        • On January 19, 2014 at 11:50 am Sally said:

          I’m not sure about teachers in Mexico, but I’ve found that for most countries I’ve worked business casual seems to be the standard uniform. In hotter countries, I usually wear a long or knee-length skirt or light-weight pants (such as linen) and a light-weight top. Even a nice t-shirt works. In countries with a change in season, I usually go the same route but add some cardigans or more heavier weight pants and maybe some tights to go with my skirts in the winter. I’d say pack a couple nice bottoms and twice as many nice tops and you should be good to go. You can always have stuff made there if you get bored of what you have or need more clothes. Good luck!

          • On January 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm Ariadne said:

            Hi Sally,
            Thanks for your reply on business casual for teaching. Meant to ask if you or anyone could recommend a good ESL teacher’s reference ‘bible’?

            You Rock!

            Ariadne recently posted..The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step is admitting you’re a car.

          • On January 20, 2014 at 12:17 pm Sally said:

            Hmmm… good question. Are you looking for a book on teaching or more like living abroad/finding a job stuff? And is there a particular age or grade level you’re planning to teach?
            For teaching tips and practices, I’ve used a lot of Penny Ur’s books — “5 Minute Activities” and “Grammar Practice Activities” are two that I’ve used frequently. She also has a book called “A Course in English Language Teaching” that’s a good primer on the different methods. Plus, her books tend to be really thin and lightweight, so they’re easy to travel with.
            Hope that helps!

  13. On November 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm Roy Marvelous said:

    Seems like ESL teaching is on the minds of lots of people lately. I did it for a year in Prague and enjoyed it. I taught adults however (but later children in summer camps).

    Also, doing a TEFL course is invaluable for those without a teaching degree – mainly for teaching methodology, experience and networking.

    Hmm, sometimes I miss it. How’s the money in China? In Prague, it wasn’t really a long-term career as it was relatively low-paid.
    Roy Marvelous recently posted..My Visit To The Ancient City Of Pompeii. WOW!

    • On November 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm Sally said:

      It all depends on the job in China. I know quite a few people who have high-paying university or international school jobs. And, since, the cost of living is so low here (and often accommodation is taken care of) they can save quite a bit. I am, unfortunately, not one of those people. Most of the better jobs are long-term. As I was being all “I’m a rolling stone” I opted to sign a short-term contract with a school that pays a lot less… but does outfit me with a pretty sweet sofa. So I guess I can’t complain. 🙂

  14. On November 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm enjirux said:

    “I’d say ESL teacher ranks somewhere between underwater basket weaver and professional hamster trainer.”

    Amen to that and you can replace ESL teacher with just language teacher 😉

    I would also say, that a bit of cultural awareness doesn’t hurt when it comes to dealing work colleagues (and students). In the UK you have to be able to read between the lines, in Germany people are very outspoken… it can make for quite interesting staff meetings.

    • On November 7, 2011 at 10:37 pm Sally said:

      Definitely. In Japan and China, it’s also very much about reading between the lines and being passive aggressive (which frankly I LOVE as I’m not a confrontational person at all). But, to be honest, usually my biggest difficulties have come from dealing with my fellow foreign faculty members. When they do stuff that annoys me I can’t simply chalk it up to cultural differences. I just have to chalk it up to them being annoying. (Of course, I never do anything annoying. EVER. 🙂 )

  15. On November 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm donna morang said:

    Love, love, love this! I’m betting your students have more fun in your class than any others. Wonderful sense of humor.
    Yes, I’m an ESL teacher and wrote Big Backpack–Little World. http://www.amazon.com/Big-Backpack-Little-Donna-Morang/dp/1461146674/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320680769&sr=1-1

    My stories of teaching ESL and traveling for twelve years. It has been the best twelve years of my very long life. I started teaching at age fifty-seven, and was by far the oldest in my ESL certification class, even older than the instructors. Strangely, I think my age was an advantage in many countries. I would never trade my teaching ESL experience for a real job anywhere in the world. My only wish is that the pay was better in some parts of the world.
    To anyone who is thinking of changing their lives and teaching abroad I say, “GO FOR IT! It’s an incredible, beautiful life.”
    donna morang recently posted..Amazing Review

    • On November 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm Sally said:

      Wow, thanks, Donna, you’re an inspiration!

    • On September 10, 2013 at 10:51 am martha said:

      I am 61 and considering doing a TEFL certification at Georgia State for 2 semesters. I have an English degree and Master’s in Education. I am not certified. I taught in China for one year. I wanted to get your feedback. I got into trouble in China when I went back and the embassy brought me home. Do you think it would be foolish of me to try to continue to pursue ESL overseas? I am interested in teaching GED and prisoners and ESL in the USA.

      • On September 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm Sally said:

        I don’t think it would be foolish at all. In fact, I think TEFL/TESL is a really practical career — or second career. (It’s kind of my second career.) Good luck!

    • On August 13, 2015 at 10:56 pm Teresa Meredith said:

      hi. Thanks for your comments. I am in my mid fifties and want to do what you’ve done! I have an undergraduate degree but lack formal teaching qualifications. Last year I volunteered at our lical language school teaching adults and I loved it. I’m unsure of the way forward qualifivation-wise. CELTA is so expensive…plus I still work full time. I’ve enrolled to do an online course and am looking for another volunteering role to get the classroom experience. I definitely need grammar lessons too. What qualifications do you think are needed to be succesdgul…and at age 50 plus how did you make the first steps to changing careers? I really admire what you’ve done. Thank you!

      • On August 15, 2015 at 11:06 am Sally said:

        Hi Terese,
        Congratulations on deciding to change careers — I know this is a big (scary!) leap to make! I think what you’re doing right now (volunteering & taking online classes) is totally a step in the right direction. Next, I’d suggest looking at job boards for overseas teaching jobs to see what qualifications are needed for the countries you’re interested in and the type of schools you’re interested in working in because what qualifications you need will depend on those two things.
        For example, in Japan, you usually only need a bachelor’s degree in any area to teach at most schools, including private language schools, middle/high schools, “cram” schools, etc. However, if you want to work at the university level, you usually need a master’s degree in TESOL or linguistics and 5-6 years of experience. However, in China, you rarely need more than a bachelor’s degree for most jobs (including university jobs.) Although things are starting to get a bit more competitive now, and some schools in China are requiring a few years of experience beforehand.
        As far as being over 50, you may actually find your age to be an asset in some countries — especially in Asia where age is respected. In addition, you might find your current work experience to be an asset as well. Especially if you’re working in business or engineering or hospitality or another specialized field — you might be able to get a job teaching content classes in that area.
        Best of luck!

  16. On November 8, 2011 at 12:14 am Maria said:

    This post was shared w/me via Stumble and thoroughly enjoyed reading it because it’s a fun read and I’m in the midst of TEFL cert class right now!

    Not as I type this comment. Rather, I mean to say presently – so why didn’t I say presently? *looks around nervously* Gotta be a flash card in arms reach w/ THAT answer on it.

    I digress. I’m thrilled to see TEFL will bring me such fortune as you’re enjoying. Do you think I can negotiate a couch like that in my first contract? I don’t currently have a couch, or any furniture. Food delivery guy asked yesterday if I’d just moved in – should seen his face when I told him I’ve lived here for 7 months.

    Bonus Points:
    I’ve always envied the power of the RED pen!
    *maniacal laugh*
    Is the red pen as good as I’m imagining it to be?
    *crosses fingers and squints in anticipation*
    Maria recently posted..When a Stranger Calls

    • On November 8, 2011 at 12:19 am Sally said:

      It’s every bit as fantastic as you dream it to be! (Spoken by someone who has gone through an entire package of red pens this week.)
      Good luck with your TEFL course! Where are you thinking of teaching?

      • On November 8, 2011 at 12:31 am Maria said:

        Sally, undecided at this time.

        Czech Republic could be cool (have visited and have expat friend there) but I’ve not visited Japan or S.Korea and am a bit dazzled (think cat w/a laser pointer) by tales of those two Asian countries/cultures.

        Any place you feel strongly about NOT going to, especially during a first contract?
        Maria recently posted..When a Stranger Calls

        • On November 8, 2011 at 12:58 am Sally said:

          I did my first contract in Japan with JET and had a really good time. In fact, I’d really suggest the JET program for any new teachers. It’s very well structured and has a good support system of foreign teachers. They also offer training while you are there and most places have you work in a team-teaching situation so you’re not totally thrust into the classroom on your own. I was stuck out in the boonies, though. They usually just place you wherever they need teachers — and that usually isn’t any place too exciting. So if you’d rather live in a city, you might not want to take your chances with JET.
          I have heard some horror stories out of South Korea from a few friends — but mostly it had to do with the places they worked for doing dodgy stuff (one friend had her wages garnished by her boss who was pocketing the extra change and have heard a few stories of people having their passports or other important documents “held” for them… and then having them lost). But there are dodgy schools everywhere. I’d just make sure to be careful about where you apply & try to go with a school that has a good name or is recommended to you by someone (but I’d say that about any country really). Personally, I think South Korea would be great. I’ve been there a few times & have loved it. I was even thinking about applying for a job there for next semester, but I really want to go home for a bit before I sign up for anything long term.
          To be honest, I don’t think there is any one place I wouldn’t suggest working. But, then again, I’m the kind of person who looks at the ESL job listings and I’m like, “Ooo, Somalia, I could move there! Ooo, Iraq! I hear Iraq is lovely this time of year.” So, yeah, I may not be the best judge of these kind of things.

  17. On November 8, 2011 at 8:33 pm Laura said:

    Hilarious as always, and very helpful since I’ve been recently considering teaching ESL here in Mexico. Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    Laura recently posted..A visit to the Xochimilco market

    • On November 9, 2011 at 11:44 am Sally said:

      Keep me updated if you end up teaching in Mexico. I’d love to know what’s it like. I’ve looked at a few jobs there, but haven’t applied. It would be nice to be in a country that’s a bit closer to home & one that people would actually come visit. I can’t say I’ve had any luck at persuading people to come visit me in China. 🙂

  18. On November 9, 2011 at 1:09 am Heather said:

    Many folks (including you!) have suggested teaching to me based on its popularity and my experience in higher education, and I always appreciate the thought and recommendation. But for some reason, it’s never felt right — like something I actually *should* do — and I think it’s because I’ve asked myself if I’d actually enjoy it. I love working one-on-one with people, but standing in front of a group and presenting, speaking, and teaching doesn’t come naturally. If I *had* to do it, I could (and do for work), but saying “I’ll do it if I have to” isn’t a good reason for me to think about.

    Thinking about you and NaNoWriMo and wishing you happy writing amidst all the grading!

    • On November 9, 2011 at 11:58 am Sally said:

      I think it’s a wise choice not to teach if you don’t feel like you’d like it. I’ve met so many people who teach ESL who really don’t like teaching but they wanted to go overseas and teaching was an easy way to do it. They only end up making themselves & their students miserable. (Not to mention their coworkers or fellow expats who have to listen to them whine and moan all the time!)
      That being said, there are so many diverse jobs in ESL out there that I think there’s almost something for anyone (as long as you actually do like people… I really do think liking people is the key… you’d be surprised how many teachers I’ve met who don’t really like people, though). I know a lot of people who teach one-on-one English lessons to students (this is especially popular among adult, business English students). So teaching is not always about standing up in front of a crowd and jumping around trying to make English “fun” (which I think is what most people figure they’ll have to do if they teach ESL).
      Being a performer myself, I, personally, love the performance aspect of teaching. I get really bored if I have to teach one-on-one lessons. Plus, it helps that in China my classroom comes equipped with a stage! It’s like the Sally show EVERY SINGLE DAY. 🙂
      But, yeah, I wouldn’t push yourself into doing it if you really think you wouldn’t like it. (But don’t sign off on it entirely… I mean, you could come teach in China and hang out with me! Wouldn’t that be fun?)

  19. On November 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm Kyle said:

    You could teach ESL to hamsters. Just a thought 🙂

    And yeaaaah, teaching English sounds SO tough. I have done approximately one class in my life. And I hated it/was terrible at it. Mad respect to you for being a good teacher!

  20. On November 10, 2011 at 2:37 am Ken C. said:

    Well, I did truly ask myself those 8 questions, but the answering silence was [if not deafening] awkward, at best.
    But when it comes to “teaching-English-overseas” YOU are the iconic itinerant. You’ve “been there, done that,” and are still “doing it”…different continents, a variety of cultural settings, and diverse students. Some readers [like me] read your blog because you are hilarious, and your travels & teaching experiences are educational and, well, hilarious. And, well written.
    But, you are also a highly qualified and experienced language/ESL teacher & professor, with valuable advice & wisdom to pass on. Many active and prospective ESL teachers probably read your blog to get your real-world insights [and the belly laughs just help relieve the tedium of grading research papers].
    Also, weren’t you once captured by bandits? See, you also have expertise on how NOT to do some things…except for the time you accidentally spilled ice water onto the lap of that conceited & egotistical artist-novelist seatmate [something you didn’t do, but should have]. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah…anyone can train hamsters [if that is even a REAL job], but teaching ESL in foreign lands—your real job—is not for the timid or faint-hearted, but for the committed adverturer/educator.

    • On November 10, 2011 at 10:10 am Sally said:

      I didn’t accidentally spill any water on my jerky seatmate, but I did make him get up a LOT. He had the misfortune of being in the aisle seat while I was in the middle. And I try to get out of my seat every hour to stretch and walk around the plane because I freak out about blood clots and stuff. (Yes, I am that neurotic.)
      So, yeah, I got even.

  21. On November 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm Nomadic Samuel said:

    This is a great post Sally. As an experienced ESL teacher, I’ve found that having a great attitude and willingness to embrace just about every situation you encounter are almost more important than initial teaching skills. It’s the cultural difference (both inside and outside of the classroom) that a newbie teacher is going to face during their first year abroad that will often define their experience.
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Faces of Asia | Part 3 | Travel Video

    • On November 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm Sally said:

      Thanks, Samuel. I’m glad you enjoyed the post & definitely agree with you. Flexibility will often get you farther in the classroom than any amount of training or degrees!

  22. On November 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm choi kum Fook said:

    Miss Sally, being a teacher is easy, to be a ESL teacher even harder. But however, I think the job is just nice for you because you just get use of it and suitable for your characteristic, and not at the farm! Ha! Ha! Miss Sally, may you write out the actual words for TEFL, ESL, DELDA, CELTA instead. Merci beacou!

  23. On November 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm Patricia GW said:

    Sally, this has been so helpful! I’m applying to JET next year, but I’m going to get a TEFL certification in the summer because I think it would make me more prepared for the job (and possibly more likely to be accepted into JET?). I’ve heard that other countries, particularly in Europe, have much stiffer competition for ESL jobs than in southeast Asia. Have you tried for an ESL job outside of Asia yourself?
    Patricia GW recently posted..I Kissed a Bear and I Liked It

    • On November 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm Sally said:

      So glad you found the post helpful! I haven’t applied for jobs in Europe, but I have heard it’s pretty hard to get a job there unless you have an EU passport especially if you want to work in Western Europe. I imagine it’s even stiffer competition these days given the economy.
      Good luck with JET! My first ESL job was with JET. It’s a great program!

    • On November 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm Kelsey said:

      It’s less that there’s stiffer competition and more that to teach in an EU country, you almost always have to have an EU passport. On top of that hurdle is the fact that most of Europe only accepts the CELTA certification, which is more expensive and more difficult to obtain.

      • On November 18, 2011 at 12:26 am Sally said:

        The EU passport thing is definitely the biggest hurdle for working in Europe. I know a lot of North Americans who were able to work in Eastern Europe (although things might have changed recently… I don’t know) but getting a job in Western Europe is pretty much impossible unless you have a EU passport.

  24. On November 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm Kelsey said:

    The hardest part of ESL teaching was, for me, the fact that I’m not a big fan of kids. As an ESL teacher in the USA, I mostly worked with adults, and I just wasn’t very inspired by the kids I taught in Korea. I found them frustratingly unmotivated (a problem I encounter as a substitute teacher in an urban district back here in the states) and it was very hard to avoid having an attitude of “if you don’t want to learn, I don’t want to teach you”.

    So yes, I think all potential ESL teachers should think about how well they can deal with kids.

    • On November 18, 2011 at 12:24 am Sally said:

      Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people tell me they wouldn’t want to teach English as they don’t want to work with kids. I think a lot of people just assume the only teaching jobs out there are for teaching kids. I think one of the best things about teaching ESL is that there really are so many options & you can pick and choose who you want to work with. Frankly, I’d love to go back to teaching adults again. I loved working with adult students when I was in the States as I found them to be super motivated and I could be a bit more relaxed with my interaction with them.

  25. On November 20, 2011 at 4:47 am Tom said:

    EURGH the grammar thing. I always get so offended when my Korean teachers ask me to explain difficult grammar points. I’m like, “shouldn’t YOU know this, you’re a teacher?”…then I realise that I’m the native teacher hired specifically for situations such as this. And also to be a source of “edutainment.”

    Creativity is also key…”oh so you finished the whole lesson in….10 minutes’…*thinking* there’s forty minutes to go…. “I know kids…hangman!”

    Twenty minutes later when they’ve exhausted their entire vocabulary…”who wants to watch me play Angry Birds?” “YAYYYYY! We love you Thomas Teacher!”

    This totally never happened…
    Tom recently posted..Getting Ready to Go

    • On November 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm Sally said:

      Totally agree with you on the creativity thing — just being able to think on your feet & coming up with activities for those last 10 minutes of class is so essential. I’m so glad I trained as an improv actor — I’m super good at making crap up. (Including grammar rules. Not that I would ever do that. Now. That is.)

  26. On November 22, 2011 at 12:06 am Rachel said:

    Great post! – Just discovered your site (should have found it earlier!). I just arrived in Japan on August 1 to teach English with the JET programme! Fortunately, I LOVE (thats mostly sarcasm) surprises, so I manage to stumble my way through pretending to know what Future Present Continuous tense is. Another thing I have found myself adjusting to while being here – nothing embarasses me anymore. Literally, things happen on a daily basis where people will be laughing at me and looking at me like “poor girl” and I am just smiling thinking to myself “Yeah, you’d think I’d be embarassed by that… but I’m not. Happens everyday”… haha

    • On November 22, 2011 at 5:36 am Sally said:

      Oh yes, embarrassment. Once, I accidentally mooned my students. Another time I totally wiped out down the stone steps in front of a huge group of students. While I was a little bit embarrassed by both of these events, I have to say I wasn’t nearly as mortified as I probably should have been. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be the freaky foreigner — people just kind of expect that behavior from you. It would be like you’re almost letting them down if you didn’t do something totally embarrassing on a regular basis!
      Hope you’re enjoying the JET Program. My first teaching job was with JET. It was a great way to start teaching English. I wish all programs were so well structured!

  27. On November 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm 50+ and on the Run said:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Unbrave Girl!
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..The One Book You Absolutely Must Have

  28. On November 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm Ceri said:

    Love this, hun. 😀

    I’m 3/4 of a way through doing my CELTA certificate in Mexico and I’m heading to Mexico City in 2 weeks to start teaching. I don’t know *what* I would have done without this course – I knew NOTHING about teaching beforehand. Wow. In only 3 weeks I’ve learned so much. Haha.

    And I do love the points you’ve made. So true!
    Ceri recently posted..Hola from Mexico!

  29. On November 28, 2011 at 3:42 am Lu said:

    It seems that a lot of people don’t realize that teaching also requires writing daily lesson plans, creating tests, and GRADING. The teaching job doesn’t end when you go home for the day. Add on top of that a crazy, obnoxious, or crazily obnoxious student or two, or God forbid boss. ESL teaching is not fun & games, it is a serious, but unfortunately highly underpaid and misrepresented, profession. At least that’s the case if you teach domestically, in the US. I can’t imagine even finding time to explore the native culture in a country of employment if the job was as demanding as my current university position. Forget also about saving for retirement or supporting a family. And if that’s the trend that will continue in future, I will have been doing anything I can to find a “real” job by the age of 40. Just a little reality check for the naive or misinformed 🙂

    • On November 29, 2011 at 9:22 am Sally said:

      Yeah, I definitely don’t get out and about enough in China. In the past year, I’ve only taken a handful of short trips during the school terms. Partly because I’m lazy (and I love my couch) and partly because my weekends are often occupied by grading (or recovering from a week of teaching & grading). It’s definitely an exhausting job. Thank god for all the vacation time or I’d definitely be dead by now!

  30. On November 29, 2011 at 8:14 am Kate Wiseman Reuterswärd said:

    Amen, amen, amen!!! I teach ESL in Sweden, mostly adults, mostly Business English, and yes, it’s a real job. Yes, I have to do lots of “real job” type work. You know, like write syllabi, design courses, create advertising materials… these courses aren’t selling themselves! And then get put on the spot by someone who wants me to explain Past Perfect in Swedish. Oh, lordy. Nice post!
    Kate Wiseman Reuterswärd recently posted..Photoblog: Stockholm’s Chocolate Factory

  31. On December 12, 2011 at 1:56 am Lisa Wood said:

    Love your style of writing, and how you shared about what you need to do to be an ESL teacher overseas!
    I love kids, but not sure I could teach a whole class room! So funny how you had put the papers in your locker, and now you have to mark them!
    The jungle experience sounds like so much fun, even if its for the two weeks you were meant to have off!
    Lisa Wood recently posted..Thanking Nuffnang For Making My Dream Come True

  32. On February 5, 2012 at 2:14 am Shannon said:

    We all know (or so I’d like to think) English is not easy; and I should know being almost deaf just makes it that much harder.

    I know English quite well, I’d like to try a TEFL course and the ones I could find were online mostly with 1 or 2 8hr class sessions to end it. But I also read that people say teaching ESL isn’t easy, that being said I’d rather assist a teacher and get paid less than them (or earn half what they earn, etc) of course I’m sure most schools aren’t going to pay for an assistant anyway.

    • On February 8, 2012 at 3:57 am Sally said:

      My first job teaching ESL was with the JET program as an Assistant Language Teacher, that meant I got to team teach with a Japanese English teacher. It was a great way to start out teaching and learn the ropes. Plus it was nice because the Japanese teacher usually assumed the role of disciplinarian while I got to be the “fun teacher.” 🙂
      I’m sure there are other jobs out there that allow you to assist a teacher.

      • On February 8, 2012 at 4:01 am Shannon said:

        but do you need to be certified to assist in JET? Or certified for any assisting?

        • On February 8, 2012 at 4:09 am Sally said:

          No, you don’t have to be certified. I got the job right out of undergrad without any certification (just my bachelor’s degree). They do have a pretty rigorous interview process, though. And I think it’s gotten a lot more competitive since I did it 15 years ago. So I’d check out the website for more details.

  33. On February 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm Summer School Jobs said:

    Sally this is probably the best posts I’ve read on the pros and cons of becoming an ESL teacher! It should be given to everyone to read who’s thinking of doing this as a lot of people think this option is one in which they can slack off and zone out! Which is doing a great disservice to their (potential) Students.

    Summer School Jobs recently posted..Teach English in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales this Summer!

  34. On June 7, 2012 at 2:42 am Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    “Duck Duck Goose? Must be a British thing.

    Then there’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors” – shoot I can’t even figure out how they play it (I mean, what idiot decided that paper somehow beats ROCK?)

    Guess I had a deprived childhood. Never learned either, and now my little Vietnamese rugrats have to endure 2 hours of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”

    (seriously, do you have any IDEA how many variations you can do with it? “Esophagus, Spleen, Knees and Toes”… the list is ENDLESS!)
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..My Passport is now a TOME!

    • On June 8, 2012 at 1:03 am Sally said:

      Oh, I love “Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.” I used to make my Japanese university students do that & the Hokey Pokey if they didn’t do their homework. Until they complained that there was too much dancing in their writing class…. that was a bit hard to explain to the administration.

  35. On June 8, 2012 at 6:39 am Candy said:

    I love the honesty in your post. I’ve considered teaching English abroad. I haven’t yet decided if I can actually do it.
    Candy recently posted..Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez: Part I

    • On June 8, 2012 at 8:40 am Sally said:

      Aww, thanks, Candy. Well, the good thing about teaching English abroad is that you can find relatively short posts so you can kind of “test it out” a bit before you commit. I signed up for my current job because they offered semester-long contracts. Seeing as I wasn’t sure if I’d like China, I decided to do it this way rather than signing up for a whole year or longer.

  36. On September 18, 2012 at 11:58 am India Backpack Motorbike said:

    Future Continuous perfect tense!! I applied for CELTA and one of the questions in the pre interview assignment was this! And then had to borrow the school books of my teenage neighbour to brush up my grammar and all that I had comfortably left behind after high school. 🙁

    And today I had my interview and I somehow managed to make it through!

    But despite all that am excited to go ahead and give my best to become an ESL teacher.

    The post was honest,funny and informative.

    Happy Teaching!

  37. On November 6, 2012 at 4:16 am Jenny said:

    Ah hahahaha!

    Brilliant! All questions I wish I’d considered before getting sucked into ESL teaching.

  38. On February 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm Sadie said:

    I just found this post while I was scouring the internet and trying to figure out how to become and ESL teacher… it’s been interesting. But now that I’ve found an actual person who’s actually been a part of this I would love some advice. You mentioned JET in some of the other comments. Would it be best to contact a group like them and just ask what I need to do and how to do it? Are there any other companies you would suggest? Any questions I should ask them before I dive into all this and get completely lost? Any help would be amazing right now. Thanks!

    • On February 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm Sally said:

      I’ll probably be doing an advice column soon on how to start out in ESL teaching as I’ve been getting LOTS of questions about it. But feel free to send any specific questions my way at unbravegirl at gmail.com
      As for potential programs to do, I did do the JET Program for a year, and I’d strongly recommend it. You don’t get much choice as to where you will be placed (which means you’ll probably end up some place rural and less than glamorous) but the program is very well run and that’s lots of support. It’s definitely a great way to get started teaching ESL and not have to worry about all the nitty-gritty stuff like finding an apartment, etc. But it is highly competitive (especially now!), so I’d suggest applying elsewhere as well.

  39. On June 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm Stephanie Garcia said:

    OK this was the most entertaining thing about teaching abroad I’ve ever read! for real! hahah
    I just have a few questions like, well I’ve been researching a lot about teaching English abroad blablabla and stuff since I am taking a TESOL program in Vancouver Canada this next August, now here’s the tricky part: I am not a native English speaker, yes!! I am not. I was born and raised and currently living in mexico but I’ve been studying English since I was two and I currently use it like about everyday! (I can tell you proudly I did know what a Future Perfect Continuous tense is, I do! I remember it from Elementary school) and well I’ve been reading a lot about how people who are not from English speaking countries have a hard time getting a Job teaching English abroad…is this true? I don’t have a bachelors degree either…I decided I loved puppies way too much and became a groomer instead. oh well. back to the teaching thing..do you have any advice on what to do? should I just give up already or can I use this to my advantage? I also speak an itty bitty of french from highschool. ok honestly I dont remember much is just english and spanish…

    • On June 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm Sally said:

      It can definitely be harder to find a job as an ESL teacher if you’re a non-native speaker — even if you’ve been speaking the stuff your whole life (and you probably know a lot more about the grammar as a second language learner than most native speakers). It really is stupid but there is a prejudice about hiring non-native speakers. That being said, I think having your Spanish background can definitely be an asset — especially if you’re looking for jobs in Latin America or other Spanish-speaking places.
      As for not having a bachelor’s degree — that totally depends on the place you’re looking to teach and their requirements. I know lots of people who’ve managed to get TESOL jobs without a degree, and definitely having gone through a TESOL Certification program will help you. Your best bet is probably going to be somewhere in SE Asia or Latin America and maybe even Eastern Europe, where I hear they’re a bit more lenient about education and just want energetic people with some training and background and near-native fluency.
      I’m sure your TESOL program will be able to help you out as far as finding jobs. Usually they have contacts with English schools and may even be able to help you get hired or at least point you in the right direction.
      Good luck!

  40. On July 3, 2013 at 7:14 am James said:

    How does one get a job if they return to their home country? To be a teacher you need a license and Ed degree. I thought taking 2-3 years overseas that I would be able to start back entry level in a non teaching role but it seems recruiters want to label you a teacher for life just because you did a short stint overseas. How can this be helped? Do you have any experience or advice with this?

    • On July 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm Sally said:

      I’ve returned twice from working overseas and been able to secure non-teaching jobs afterwards without much trouble at all. As I said in my post, the skills that you use to teach English are pretty much the same skills you use to work ANY job. (And I’ve had a LOT of jobs.) I’d suggest playing up any non-teaching duties you might have had on your resume. Did you organize any after-school clubs? Use Excel to calculate grades? Even non-work related duties can help. While I was in Japan the first time, I directed a local charity show. I totally put that on my resume — and it helped me land a job working an administrative role at a theater.

  41. On July 27, 2013 at 2:47 am elizabeth said:

    GREAT BLOG! i enjoyed reading it i found it as i was researching about teaching. i will be starting college next month and i am planing to major in education and i was specifically i wanted to specialized in ESL because ive alway wanted to be a what you called “rolling stone” 🙂 did you sign up to any organization or international school? and one of my concern is not about the income but more about retirement savings plan. do teachers abroad have those regardless how many times they move?

    • On July 27, 2013 at 6:17 am Sally said:

      Umm, what’s this “retirement savings plan” you speak of? 🙂 All kidding aside, that’s not really something that happens with overseas teaching jobs. Some countries do have pension plans you can pay into (like Japan), but you have to actually retire in that country to take advantage of it. So the best thing to do is to start your own retirement investment (stocks, bonds, IRA, what-have-you) that you pay into regularly while working overseas.

  42. On August 18, 2013 at 2:39 am david said:

    im currently in community college and i want to be an esl teacher to teach overseas(vietnam). could u guys tell me whats the major of teaching esl overseas, what classes do i have to take? how long does it take to become an esl teacher? i just came to US 4 years so i still suck at English, is it hard for me to become an esl teacher?

    • On August 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm Sally said:

      I think I’ve answered most of your questions in this post as well as my other post on teaching ESL: http://www.unbravegirl.com/2013/03/teaching-esl-overseas/
      I would say that it will be difficult to get a job teaching English if you are new at English yourself. While many schools do hire non-native speakers (especially if your native language is that of your students), they usually look for someone who has native-like fluency. They often also require a certain TOEFL score. I’d say give yourself a few more years of intensive English training and living in the States — at least until you don’t think your English “sucks” — before applying for jobs.

  43. On September 5, 2013 at 8:20 am esl said:

    tense/aspect/mood/etc. are easy to learn.

    maybe you should do some simple research (hint: google or wikipedia) about basic english grammatical forms instead of complaining about how hard it sounds. it’s not hard at all if you put in the slightest amount of effort.

    • On September 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm Sally said:

      Thanks for the tip, but I actually have my Master’s Degree in TESOL and have completed extensive grammar coursework. (Hint: it takes a lot more effort to get a Master’s degree than it does to use Google.)

  44. On September 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm The50footwoman said:

    What kind of compensation range can one expect when traveling abroad? I’m more interested in Europe. But for those interested in other places, can you suggest the best way to investigate this?

    • On September 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm Sally said:

      It really all depends on the location and the job. Even within a country — like China — salaries range wildly depending on where you’re working and what you’re doing. The best thing to do is to look at a number of job postings for the country you’re interested in and see the salaries being offered — this should give you a good indicator of what to ask for.

  45. On September 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm Ricky said:

    Loved your article, it was both hilarious and with a hint of self deprecating reality to it, just the way i like it!

  46. On October 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm Ingrid said:

    Love your blog. I just came back from a practice teaching class to show my skills as a teacher… I don’t think I had many as I was so nervous and forgot everything…. Maybe TEFL is not for me. I have a Masters Degree in Tesol as well as well as a Masters degree in education – the one which does not qualify my to teach, yet I have no experience and suck. And on my degree – we learnt about the structure of language, but not much about grammar… I have to relearn it all again.

    • On October 17, 2013 at 7:02 pm Sally said:

      Aww, don’t worry, Ingrid. Once you get up in front of a classroom and build a rapport with a class, you’ll be fine. I’m completely convinced after my 10+ years of teaching that being a good teacher comes down to 2 things: preparation and personality. I’m sure you have the 2nd one, so all you have to do is work on the first!

  47. On November 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm Jocelyn said:

    I’m glad to stumble upon this post!
    I have been looking for ways to travel to Spain or Italy, and this has always been an option. But reading your post its clear this isn’t just a getaway job. It’s a real thing that requires studying and actual teaching (yeah, this just dawned upon me). Whenever I try to randomly work somewhere else in the hopes of travel, but dreams are crushed by the reality of having to actually work. For instance, my decision to work at a summer camp without properly researching it before hand.

    So I type all this to ask: In your travels have you stumbled upon ways that people work/live abroad that does not have so many prerequisites? An easier way basically.


    • On November 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm Sally said:

      Unfortunately, most jobs that will supply you with a working visa are going to actually want you to, you know, WORK. Bummer, right? But there are always volunteer gigs which will set up you with free room & board in exchange for your volunteering (WWOOFing is one). It’s still work — but you have a bit more flexibility and you can leave when you want to, unlike with a work contract which usually has a set amount of time you need to work. You might also want to look into being a tour leader or work on a cruise ship or something like that. Again, it’s still work, but you’re at least traveling while you’re doing it — unlike teaching which tends to keep you stuck in one place.

  48. On March 31, 2014 at 4:36 pm Fiona said:

    Reading this post really made me think about ESL teaching, and if it was really something I wanted to pursue. It was insightful, and made me laugh a time or two. Thank you for the effort you put in overseas, and in writing this post.

  49. On June 16, 2014 at 10:50 pm cierra said:

    How old were you when you started ?

  50. On July 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm Tessa said:

    I know this is an old blog post but if you happen to see this, how much take home work do you have? Thanks!

    • On July 4, 2014 at 7:10 am Sally said:

      Really depends on the job, especially the type of school you’re working for. When I worked in the Japanese high school and the Brazilian private school, I didn’t have any take home work really. I was expected to plan lessons and grade small things like tests or journals, but I could usually do this easily in the hour before or after class. Working at the university, I definitely bring home a lot more work, especially because I teach a lot of essay writing and research writing, which takes a lot longer to grade and I usually can’t get it done while I’m at work.

  51. On November 25, 2014 at 12:16 am Vanessa said:

    Hi, I want to teach ESL in Japan and am still working on my BA, but have been looking into online MA in TESOL programs lately. One of the main reasons being that I am a little worried about the salary not being enough to have a secure, fun lifestyle. Not quite luxurious, but still very satisfying. I want to live in the city,and I plan to supplement my teaching salary with translation and possibly private classes as well. I see job postings with monthly salaries of 200,000-240,000 yen way too often, it is disheartening. As a personal goal I want to make 300,000/month from my main teaching gig(I have come across offerings for this salary and above as well, they are however less common), and through supplementation earn another ~100,000 yen elsewhere. I have heard that an MA can help one attain better paying jobs, including university positions, in addition to that graduate school is just a personal goal.

    So in your experience having worked ESL gigs in Japan, how much has your MA (in TESOL, is it? Education?) helped you? Comparatively, how much would it have helped to have the certification both instead of the masters, and in conjunction with the masters?

    I am sure I will love teaching. I love people, communicating, new experiences, bonding. This will be awesome. I am not a very materialistic person, and usually am lighthearted, energetic and spontaneous, but when it comes to serious matters I have excellent self discipline and motivation. I am saying this because I truly intend to teach for the long term, and as such things like retirement money are on my mind. Although I never truly intend to retire, I do want to prepare in case my health affects my ability to work, and I need to take time off in the far off future. I am only 21, but am thinking about my 50s, 60s,70s, however long I can keep this up.

    My goal is to make approximately 40k USD a year. Not immediately, as it will take a couple years to garner experience both teaching and translating, and the more experience I have in these areas the more marketable I and my skills become, the more efficiently I can produce quality work. But within 4, 5 years of living in Japan I want to be making this salary.

    Taking into consideration my plans as mentioned above, do you have any recommendations or helpful advice for me about ESL teaching in Japan for the long term? Opinions on the feasibility of this goal? As of right now I intend to marry eventually(way later) but not have children, of course with time this decision may change. I just want to ensure that whatever form my future family takes (be it a life partner and I, or children as well) that I can fulfill my duties and take care of them. I do anticipate a joint income household, but I want to provide for them well. I enjoy a busy life and am ambitious and dedicated.

    Thanks and sorry for the heavy topics 😀

    • On November 25, 2014 at 8:01 am Sally said:

      Hi Vanessa,
      Ummm, WOW. I can’t believe you’re 21! When I was 21, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. (Heck, I still don’t have a clue!).
      But to try to answer your questions, I worked in Japan twice — the first time with only a BA on the JET Program (teaching in a Japanese high school as an Assistant Language Teacher) and the second time after I’d gotten my M.Ed. in TESOL at a university. Both times, I certainly made more than enough money to live off of, have fun and sock a little away for the future. I also had my housing either partially subsidized (on JET) or fully paid for (when I worked at the university) so that really helped. I never worked any side jobs (technically, this is illegal — or at least it was with the visas that I had — not that anyone really checks on this as many teachers do it), but I knew many people who did and were able to make a lot more money to save away or do whatever they wanted with.
      Of course, the economy has changed a lot since the first time I was there (about 16 years ago), but I’d think with just a BA you should be able to get a good job that pays you enough to save and have fun. Most of the younger English teachers that I met in Japan had BAs and they did just fine. If you qualify for the JET program, I’d definitely recommend applying. It was a great program and has wonderful support — unlike a lot of the private language schools that people end up working for. Although you don’t have as much choice in where they place you.
      As for getting a Master’s, honestly I wouldn’t bother until you have some teaching experience. Yes, having a Master’s will help you get a job at the university-level, but most places in Japan (and Asia) don’t accept online degrees (and will even say in their job listing that they won’t). Plus, most university positions in Japan won’t hire you unless you have a Master’s and at least 5 or 6 years of experience. I’d say go abroad, teach for a few years, and then if you really like it and decide that it’s definitely what you want to do, go back to your home country and get your Master’s (or find a degree program in the country that you’re living in). I found that having a few years of experience under my belt before going to grad school really helped me in my classes as well — I was able to apply my real live experience and get a lot more out of my classes than I would have without the experience. Plus, because I had experience, I was able to get a TAship through my university and get all my grad school classes for free — BONUS.
      Anyway, I hope that helps! Best of luck with your plans!

  52. On December 8, 2014 at 1:38 am Lauren said:

    Thank you for this blog post! You have given me a lot to think about. Also, you are a very engaging writer! You have a really great voice!

  53. On January 23, 2015 at 11:36 am heather said:

    Where do you go when you just can’t find a really good answer to a student’s question?
    I am so tired of trying to find an easy way to describe to lower intermediate students why it is not correct to say “I very like this city”.
    Ideal welcome 😉

    • On January 24, 2015 at 9:45 am Sally said:

      Okay, I’m about to reveal to you my Top Teaching Tip. Are you prepared? So, when students ask me some ridiculous why question like “Why can’t I say this?” and “Why do I have to put this word here and not there?” I respond with this: “Because English is hard.” That’s all. They usually laugh at first and think I’m joking and say something like, “No, but really, WHY?” And then I just keep responding with “Because English is hard.” And after a while, they get so annoyed with my response that they stop asking why questions. It’s kind of like the teacher-equivalent of the parent-response “Because I told you so.”

  54. On May 30, 2015 at 4:37 pm Luke said:

    Hi Sally,

    I really enjoyed this post! I’m a 25 year old with a bachelors in International Affairs. The problem is I graduated two years ago and I still haven’t found what I want to do with my life. I’m working my butt as a waiter during the week and a secretary on weekends. Most jobs within my field require a grad degree and when you’re already paying back loans for your undergrad while also not feeling committed enough to the field to justify making another $50K gamble, it becomes a tough decision.

    My mother recently suggested that I look into the field of ESL. That’s when I began researching and it struck me that I think I would not only be able to bear the work but I think I would love the lifestyle that comes with it. I say this in regards to the “real job” bit you mentioned at the end. I’m just like you in that sense. I love to travel (my undergrad is from an American/International school in Rome, Italy where I spent 3 years) and I’m somewhat of a free spirit (ie no suit & tie daily, ability to wear my earthy bracelets, etc). Also, the idea of having short contracts allows you to travel even more assuming you are successful is finding a job elsewhere. I volunteered as a one-on-one ESL tutor locally for a little less than a year and I mostly enjoyed it (although like I’ve read many times already, the first few years are tough for teachers in general).
    If I decided to give this a go, I think I would enroll in an ESL certification course while keeping my current jobs. If I were to turn this into a career – or at least a career for the foreseeable future – how much can you expect to make early on? I don’t need to be rich – I think that’s implied with the whole rejection of the corporate rat-race – but I would like to make enough to live somewhat comfortably (albeit modestly) when it comes to paying my bills and trying to save a little here and there.
    Also, it seems like working as an ESL teacher by me in NY at a charter school is far more competitive. Do you agree? I would hope that if I taught long enough overseas and built my resume that I’d eventually be competitive enough to come back home and work here if I desired. Do you see this as a possibility?

    Sorry for the long comment! I’m just trying to organize my life, that’s all.. =P

    • On June 1, 2015 at 8:34 pm Sally said:

      Hi Luke,
      Thanks for your message.
      As far as salary, you should be able to make enough to live off and save a bit. But as far as exactly how much, it really all depends on where you’re working. Countries with a higher cost of living pay more (i.e. Japan, Middle East, etc), but you often end up spending a lot of the money you make on food/rent/traveling in the country/etc. Whereas countries with a lower cost of living (i.e. China, SE Asia, Latin America, etc.), pay you a lot less, but you can sometimes save a decent amount as you don’t need to spend so much on your living and traveling expenses. I’d say narrow down your options to a few countries you’d want to work in, and start researching jobs in those countries to see what the going rate is.
      And as for being able to work in the States, you will need state certification (a TESOL certification won’t do) and most likely some kind of degree in Education (either Bachelor’s or Master’s). To work at the university level like I do, you’ll need at least a Master’s in TESOL or Linguistics. I’d suggest getting a few years of overseas teaching experience, where you don’t need those credentials, and see if you like it. Then, if you decide to make it a career, you can go back to school and get the necessary requirements to work in the States if you decide to.
      Best of luck!

  55. On July 8, 2015 at 2:46 pm Jana said:

    Just found your blog today – love it! I work for a Canadian company that offers TESL certification and the thing we advise people interested in teaching abroad about the most is to find a teacher training program that will serve you not only best when you are overseas but when you want to return home. Our program is TESL Canada approved so if graduates decide to return to Canada one day, they are qualified to work as ESL teachers in Canada as well — makes for a nice long-term career strategy. I am sure it is similar in many countries

    • On July 21, 2015 at 11:10 am Sally said:

      Wow, that’s fantastic that your program certifies teachers to teach both overseas and in Canada. Sadly, there is nothing like that in the States that I’m aware of. In order to work here, you need state certification to work at the K-12 level (which usually requires an education degree — depends on your state). And to work at the university level like I do, you need at least a Master’s degree in TESOL or linguistics. With a certificate, you might be able to find a job working at a private language institute (I did that for a few years in DC), but, those jobs are few and far between (and not particularly well compensated).

  56. On July 22, 2015 at 2:02 am Alyssa said:

    Hi Sally, I am currently a college student and am majoring in English. I have just been turned on to the ESL teaching and am excited to pursue a future in this field. I intend on taking the courses offered for ESL this upcoming year to help me a little more in this field. I would absolutely love to start teaching abroad right out of college if possible.
    Any recommendations for me as I begin my journey?
    Or any words of wisdom?
    I noticed that my college advisers do not have much to say regarding this field and am reaching out, hoping to get any advice I possibly can.
    I found your blog to be very informative also, so with that I thank you.

    • On July 22, 2015 at 8:47 am Sally said:

      I really suggest for your first job apply to a well-established program that has a good network of support rather than private or individual schools. I worked with the JET Program, a government run program in Japan, and it was fantastic. They have an orientation when you first arrive along with regular training programs and workshops throughout your time there. You also get to team-teach with a Japanese teacher (usually… all schools were different) so you’re never thrown into a classroom by yourself… at least not in the beginning! There are other similar programs in Korea (GEPIK) and China (Not sure what that one is called) and I’m sure a number of other countries.
      If you do decide to go the private/individual school route, make sure you can talk to some teachers who are currently working for the school so you can get some feedback from them. And then you’ll know that there are other teachers at your school. That may sound silly, but for my job in Brazil I was the only native English teacher in the school and I had absolutely no contact with any other non-Brazilians for my first six months in the country. This was great for my Portuguese skills, but quite the culture shock for me!
      Best of luck in your career path!

  57. On October 12, 2015 at 1:15 pm kpmsprtd said:

    EFL, the best job I ever had. Do it while you’re young, but get out before it’s too late. Everything you learn–and you will learn a massive amount–will prove useful in the career you switch to.

    Regarding the explicit “teaching” of grammar such as the future perfect verb tense, dare to not go there. Isn’t it amazing that every one of you mastered all the fancy verb tenses without them being explicitly “taught.”


    • On October 12, 2015 at 8:29 pm Sally said:

      As someone who has made ESL her career, I’m going to have to disagree with you about getting out “before it’s too late.” Sure, it doesn’t pay a lot (but what teaching gig does?). But I can work anywhere in the world, and I get to do a job that helps people. Plus, I get tons of free presents from my students.
      As for explicit grammar teaching, I’ve read plenty of research for and against. However, the reality is that most teachers don’t have a choice as to if and how they teach grammar in the classroom. All the schools I’ve ever taught for have set their own curriculum and have determined what the teacher teach — whether it be fancy verb tenses or not. Plus, the majority of students I’ve worked with have actually preferred explicit grammar instruction and feel it’s important for their overall understanding and mastery of the language — at least the more academically minded ones seem to feel this way.

  58. On October 14, 2015 at 1:44 am Ian said:

    This is good. Think it over before you decide to jump in………….

    I have in taught in China, Korea and Taiwan. As I was reading along a few thoughts came up………..

    It’s very much a job. The traveling is cool, but the teaching is work. They are not the same thing and just because you like one doesn’t mean you’ll like the other………………

    Teaching can be stressful especially in the beginning. You are going to have to learn how and I wouldn’t count on the school to teach you……………

    It’s true you do usually have to sign a contract for a year. That’s mainly because of the visa the schools will provide you as well as the possible housing. I have also signed a 6 month contract. If you don’t want to teach for a year then you can try sorting out a visa yourself and looking for a part time job…………….

    “Most” jobs in Asia are for teaching kids 5-13. So I’d say if you are teaching kids then you will not need to be able to define grammar for the most part. You will be teaching your students how to use the language…………….

    Kids get motivated by playing games so that’s part of it, yet there’s more to it than that………………….

    You need some structure in your classes, to change things up and you gotta manage your students.

    • On October 14, 2015 at 9:20 pm Sally said:

      Some excellent points! Although I would say it’s entirely possible to never ever teach anyone under the age of 13 while teaching in Asia (or elsewhere). I somehow managed it. The youngest I’ve ever taught is high school, and that only lasted a year. Most of my gigs have been teaching at university or adults at private schools. It did mean teaching lots of future perfect tense, but I’m the kind of weirdo who enjoys that kind of thing. 🙂

  59. On October 20, 2015 at 11:20 am Angel said:

    When it comes to that whole Future Perfect Continuous tense hoopla *which, no one who actually speaks English knows about*…. Just tell them, “don’t worry about that, you’ll never have to use it” 🙂

    • On October 25, 2015 at 9:42 am Sally said:

      Unless you’re talking about things that will have happened in the future at a future date that haven’t yet happened yet… SO MUCH FUN EXPLAINING THAT.

  60. On April 17, 2016 at 12:19 am Sarah said:

    I completed my TEFL certification about a year and a half ago, but I still don’t feel ready to teach abroad… Any advice on when you know/feel ready to make that leap?

    • On April 17, 2016 at 9:58 am Sally said:

      Good question! I guess my big advice is to not worry too much about whether or not you feel ready enough. You’re going to learn so much on the job — you probably honestly won’t be ready until you start teaching! I would say the majority of the stuff that I know about teaching was learned while I was actually teaching, and not during my grad school days.
      If you’re still worried, be sure to find a program that provides some training and orientation beforehand (most programs just throw you in the classroom). Another option: find a program that lets you team teach with a professional teacher (usually from that country). The JET Program in Japan was great for that.
      And if you still really don’t feel ready, try to get some experience while in your home country. Find out if your city has a Literacy Volunteers organization that works with ESL learners. Or contact a local university that offers ESL classes and see if the teachers will let you either observe classes or act as an intern teacher.
      Good luck!

  61. On May 23, 2016 at 4:28 pm Julian said:

    Hi, i recently met a friend who suggested this and over the past month have been researching it. It defiantly give me the chance to adventure and change the world in a small way. Even letting me see my birthplace which has been a longtime goal/regret. I’m thinking aobut taking tesl course this sept and then a celta if i can find one nearby. From what i read alot of people go over with no degrees or teach expercience. I have some college under my belt and a degree in culinary art, but i don’t really consider it a degree. WOuld i still be able to land a job with just a tesl and a technical degree?

    • On May 23, 2016 at 8:10 pm Sally said:

      It really depends on where you want to go. Some places (like Thailand and other SE Asian countries) are a bit more lenient when it comes to having a degree and/or experience. Whereas other countries (like Japan and Korea) require that you have at least a Bachelor’s degree in order to get a visa. And, of course, it also depends on what kind of job you want. Private conversation schools probably won’t be too picky about experience/degrees, but K-12 public schools will probably require a Bachelor’s. And to teach at the university level, you usually need a Master’s.
      I’d suggest checking out some job boards (like Dave’s ESL Cafe). Look at jobs in the countries that interest you and see what they require. That will give you a better idea as to what you’ll need.
      Good luck!

  62. On July 4, 2016 at 3:55 am Jolanda said:

    I am 48, mid life crisis, crying cause I miss and long to be back to the sun and beaches of mexico. Far from rich, how am I to do this. Well heck, i will just teach English, I am fluent, no university, but no brainer right. It will get me where I want to be, dreaming of coronas and margaritas. Simple, no

    Wanting desperately to teach online, because I do not like people, and kids! OMG

    I found your blog, by chance or some divine intervention. I have to say, I have never laughed so hard in my life in a long long time.

    Thanks so much hahaha.

    On a serious note, is learning from scratch as an old fart, can it be done. I mean as in teaching an old dog new tricks. This TESOL, and ESL certifications via online, will it actually get me somewhere, or just a little ways or a few pesos dropped into my payal account which could afford me an apartment on skid row Vallarta. Or am i completely disillusion.

    • On July 10, 2016 at 12:34 pm Sally said:

      Hi Jolanda,
      Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment! Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about online certification courses as I’ve never taken one. I think there’s definitely a possibility of being scammed. If I was going to suggest one — it would either be a CELTA or DELTA course. They’re probably a bit more expensive, but they are both really well known and have good reputations. I don’t know if these courses will actually help you find a job, but they will definitely look good on your resume.
      If you’re interested in teaching online, why not start out now doing it now on the side? There are lots of sites that will let you set up a tutoring profile for free or for a small fee and students will contact you to set up tutoring sessions. As far as I know you don’t need any certifications to do this. I know a friend who used Buddy School with really good results. Just an idea!

  63. On October 3, 2016 at 10:14 pm Jackie Bolen said:

    These are all important questions to ponder. One who is serious about ESL teaching should find answers to these questions. I even asked myself some of these, and I believe they helped to what I already do now.

  64. On February 9, 2017 at 11:15 am Jen said:

    Hi, my name is Jen, and I would love to
    Teach English in Mexico City. However, I have my GED, (general equivalency diploma) from the U.S., but went on to take so many college courses, over six years, because I changed my major so many times I never obtained a degree. I never fulfilled my math or phys. ed. requirementss I decided to take the CLEP exam, to test out/obtain actual college credits in the classes you know you’d ace but have no interest in attending for a whole semester. You’re allowed up to 30 semester credits to be posted to your transcripts, provided you pass. English is, by far, my best subject; however, I dislike it immensely. So I took the test and I tested out of English 1010 and English 1020 which equals six semester credits. I actually took PSYCH1010, and did that by going to class, studying, etc., then tested out of PSYCH1020, the second part of the intro to psych series. I’m not sure what the course number is for abnormal psychology, but I passed that, also. I tested out of child and adolescent development too, which is a PSYCH class. That’s another six credits. I passed three other English courses which consisted of Poetry, literature and a bunch of Shakespeare. Then Biology for science majors, with lab, 1010 and 1020, so with lab included each of those tests gave me 8 credits, together, and finally SOC1010, intro to sociology, obviously, and I can’t remember the last; basically I got to test out of my entire freshman year without having to take any of the boring prerequisites. I took three years of a Japanese and two years of Chinese, and I did that by actually attending class! Imagine that! When I said dislike English classes in no way did I mean to imply that I don’t love teaching it! The closest I’ve come to teaching Emglish in any way was when I volumteered to take take an adult literacy course to teach adults how to read English, and I absolutely loved it! Is there any advice you can give me on what will be asked of me, what credentials I’ll need, and whether it’s even possible to teach English in Mexigo City as a private tutor? Thank you
    So much for your time and hopefully answers to some of my many questions! I’d appreciate any help I can get. Thanks again!

    • On February 13, 2017 at 5:17 pm Sally said:

      Hi Jen,
      I don’t really know anything about teaching in Mexico, as my experience in that part of the world is limited. I will say that most countries require that you have a bachelor’s degree in order to get a visa to teach. They usually don’t care about what classes you took or how many credits you have, but they usually do ask that you have proof of your degree in the form of a transcript or diploma. I’d suggest looking at sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and others that post job listings, look at the postings for Mexico and see what the prerequisites seem to be.

  65. On April 12, 2017 at 9:54 pm Anna B said:

    Hi Sally,

    You’re hilarious. I love your post. You have a unique personality, and your writing shows it!

    How has life been as an ESL teacher for so long? I am currently an undergrad in international studies global development… I am quickly learning how dark my major can be; however, I have been taking many English classes and working at the writing center at my college. I do love people and kids (I work at a summer camp for smart kids in the summers). I have been thinking about whether or not the NGO or policy life is for me (or maybe I would like teaching better!)

    My questions for you:

    – What makes you love your job?
    – What are some cons about your job? (is money an issue? bad management?)
    – Would you change your job if you could?
    – What is the best advice you can give to a confused yet passionate 20 year old?


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