CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

The world is your oyster

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

As the demand for English continues to grow around the world, so, too, does the demand for English as a Second language (ESL) instructors. For those with a sense of adventure, teaching abroad offers a world of opportunity.
George Brown college TESL co-ordinator Irene McKay encourages new TESL graduates to consider teaching at home before going abroad

"The demand in Asia, Korea, Japan, China and South America is pretty high," says Katarina Ohisso, director of studies at International House Toronto.

"There's slightly less demand in Europe, where many ESL teachers are from England. But Canadians have an advantage because our accent is so neutral. It's often preferred."

Have you got what it takes to teach abroad?

"A love of language and cultures is a common thread among ESL teachers," Ohisso says. "You must have a good command of the English language and be open to new experiences, cultures and meeting new people.

"You must also have a certain amount of resourcefulness, because not every school is going to be as well equipped as another."

The job is a challenging one. "You spend a lot of time preparing your lessons," Ohisso says.

"A lot of people assume that because you speak English you can teach English, but English grammar is difficult and is difficult to explain."

Most reputable ESL schools want only teachers with a university degree and TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certification.

In Canada, a university degree is a prerequisite for both TESL Canada ( and TESL Ontario ( certification.
George Brown College

Typically, those interested in teaching abroad want a national certificate, while those planning on teaching in Ontario seek provincial certification.

To obtain TESL Canada certification, students must complete at least 100 hours of theory and methodology and at least 20 hours of supervised practicum with a minimum of 10 hours practice teaching at an approved school.

"When choosing a TESL course, make sure your teaching practicum is in-house so you don't need to find your own students to complete your certification," Ohisso says.

Many students seeking TESL certification are fresh out of university, eager to explore the world before settling into an office environment. Others are newly retired and want to travel and remain productive.

For Suzanne O'Connor, teaching ESL was a chance to see a part of the world she had not yet visited. She spent six months living in Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan.

"Part-time work was easy to find," O'Connor says. "I was working with schools that were so grateful to have an ESL teacher. It's not a place to make a lot of money, but it has an interesting culture."

George Brown College TESL coordinator Irene McKay encourages new TESL graduates to consider teaching at home before going abroad. "That gives you a chance to gain experience in a secure place that is familiar, where you have lots of resources and support," McKay says.

When applying for a contract overseas, do your homework. "My advice for students going abroad is to be really cautious," McKay says. "Talk to other teachers who've gone abroad about their experiences ...The glamour of teaching abroad seduces people, but you really need to do your homework before you go."

ESL teachers are typically paid in the currency of the country in which they're teaching, which makes it especially important to understand up front how much you'll be earning. The salary can range from one school to another and from one country to another.

According to an ad posted on the TESL Canada website, you can earn $1,650 to $1,850 a month teaching at a school in South Korea. The contract also covers round-trip airfare, single furnished housing, 10 paid vacation days a year and a bonus equal to your monthly salary upon completion of a one-year contract.

Learn as much as you can about the country you want to teach in and about potential employers. "Some schools in different parts of China are affiliated with our college, so we know they're reputable," McKay says.

The demand for ESL teachers is especially high in China as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympics. There are also many opportunities to teach ESL in Canada, including the LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada), offered by boards of education and community agencies.

"I've been teaching ESL for 30 years and don't see the demand getting any less," McKay says. "If anything, there's more of a need for English and even sector specific English, such as business and nursing. The field for ESL teachers is strong and broad and deep in Ontario and abroad."

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