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TEFL | The Careers Service TEFL – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) provides opportunities throughout the world for English teachers, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, China, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Korea and Japan. There are also opportunities to teach English in the UK in private language schools, colleges and universities.The types of clients you work with will shape your experience in the job. Clients can range from young or older children to business professionals and other adults, so, when you are thinking about where you would like to teach, think also about the types of people you would enjoy teaching. Work is often seasonal; in the UK jobs tend to be advertised for the summer vacation months, but if you work abroad in a school, you are likely to be working during term-time. Many jobs require you to work outside normal working hours, particularly if you have business clients. You will also need to find time to prepare your classes.

Types of job

Some people spend just a few months teaching English. Others have longer-term careers teaching English in the UK, or, in the long-term, aim to run their own language schools or go into English Language Teaching (ELT) publishing.

How you teach English will vary depending on the type of clients you have and what they are trying to achieve. Are they aiming to pass examinations? Are they trying to improve their business language? Are they trying to function in a country that doesn’t use their first language? In some schools you may be a ‘language assistant’, working alongside the classroom teacher to enhance spoken English lessons.

There are quite a few Youtube videos about TEFL – it’s worth doing some searches to find clips of classroom teaching to give you a better idea of what it’s like teaching to different audiences.

Entry points

There are various options to get started in this field.  Which option you choose will depend on what your longer-term plans are. If you wish to travel and would like to teach for a while before returning to the UK to undertake a job in a different sector, then you may decide not to invest in in-depth formal training. Try looking at the range of year-long job opportunities in places such as Hong Kong or China – some of which do not require teaching qualifications. If you would feel more comfortable with some formal training, or would value such a training opportunity, then perhaps a short language-teaching course is for you. If you see TEFL as possibly a long-term career, then consider undertaking a longer language-teaching course such as the CELTA or TESOL (see below).

Finally, if you know this is for you and have plans to run your own language school in the future, you may wish to consider a Masters course, DELTA or even longer language-teaching course. This will help you to develop the right skills and qualifications to eventually apply for the limited number of permanent, full-time opportunities available. If you’re looking for permanent TEFL work in the UK it is almost impossible without a formal teaching qualification and experience – check requirements by browsing advertisements for these roles.

It is not essential to have a degree in English or a modern language, although this may help. Training in TEFL is available at different levels, with full-time courses lasting anything from a few days to five weeks. Some courses are offered over the internet, but do consider whether they will offer real value for money if it’s classroom experience you lack. Courses are generally offered by language training schools and other such centres in the UK and abroad. The Cactus TEFL web site has a comprehensive overview of different qualifications. Typically the more reputable employers will look for relevant qualifications.

Look for the Cambridge Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) qualification or the Trinity College Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Trinity Cert TESOL). Both qualifications are designed for those with little prior experience and each has recognition from the British Council as an initial international qualification for teaching English to adults. Both courses are available at over 200 centres across the UK (and elsewhere) with fees varying from about £900 to £1,500, possibly more.

Some providers offer ‘taster’ courses, which may be useful if you are not sure if TEFL is for you. International House in London is now offering a “blended” CELTA course of online training, with face-to-face teaching practice.

Part-time courses can be cheaper. It may be worth checking the courses at the City of Oxford College for some local, flexible training, as well as an introductory course as an evening class. A list of CELTA course-providers is available from the Cambridge ESOL website.

Cactus TEFL provide a central admissions service for some Cambridge CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL courses. They also administer the Suzanne Furstner Scholarship for a CELTA course in Spain and run regular open events in London, where you can find out more about TEFL.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

The key skills include:

  • A thorough understanding of the English language, particularly grammatical conventions.
  • Excellent spoken English (you will often see a requirement for ‘native speakers’, although that doesn’t necessarily exclude those for whom English isn’t their first language).
  • Clear verbal expression and the ability to explain linguistic concepts.
  • Enthusiasm for languages/language learning.
  • Creativity and lots of energy.
  • An understanding of (British or Western) cultural issues and current affairs.
  • An interest in people and different cultures.
  • The ability to relate well to children or your client group.
  • Willingness to take part in extra-curricular activities.
  • A background in formal language learning is a distinct advantage.

If you are concerned about your level of English grammar, a useful reference book is Practical English Usage by Michael Swan.

Getting experience

There is a strong demand for temporary teaching staff for holiday and short-term language courses in the UK. In general you will be better placed if you work for a school accredited by the British Council under the Accreditation UK Scheme run in partnership with English UK.

You can approach schools individually, but you will find that many of them advertise for staff, either locally – here in Oxford in Daily Information – or in the press, typically in the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

We also advertise opportunities on our website, particularly in late Hilary and early Trinity Terms. There is a preference for the qualified or experienced, but it may be possible to find work in the summer, especially in a more activity-based role. In addition, you can use your initiative to track down vacancies in a variety of locations, typically in south coast resorts or in Cambridge, London, Oxford, York, or other educational centres.

It may be possible to secure a short-term voluntary placement in Hong Kong, China or some areas of Eastern Europe, such as Romania. Check our website for these kinds of opportunities – generally you will be required to pay travel costs. There are usually summer teaching opportunities on offer through The Internship Programme which are advertised in January each year.

Getting a job

In the national press the weekly TES has advertisements for a few TEFL openings, and you may also find some UK opportunities advertised in the main jobs section online. The Guardian probably has more adverts, especially on Tuesdays. The monthly EL Gazette is also worth consulting.

Use reference books to look at specific countries and get suggestions of how to find work in them. Teaching English Abroad is one of the best general books on the topic, and has suggestions for most parts of the world. A whole series of books are  available, entitled Live and Work in …, usually with a chapter on English teaching and a list of language schools.

It may be difficult to establish the precise conditions of employment in the language schools you are applying to. If you follow up one of the published advertisements, do make sure that you check the details of the employment conditions, such as guaranteed hours of work, how remuneration is calculated, travel expenses, insurance and help with accommodation. Those wanting to be sure of reasonable working conditions may wish to use one of the more established groups such as Inlingua or Linguarama. If you can, ask a potential employer if you can speak to people who have previously worked for them. You can also read what is being said about various organisations online via the various TEFL websites listed at the end of the briefing.

You will almost always need to apply by cover letter with an accompanying CV, but the JET Programme has an application form. Many international employers expect to see documentary evidence of your degree and, if required, your professional teaching certificate. If you are contacting employers speculatively then try to find out the name of the Director of Studies, to whom you should address your application. Being in the country may be an advantage when looking for work – if you are looking for work in Europe it’s best to approach possible employers at Easter for an autumn start.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is a well-known scheme run by the Japanese Government, and several hundred graduates from the UK participate each year. The emphasis is on spoken English and cultural exchange. JET usually holds a presentation at the Careers Service in Michaelmas Term and it’s important to be aware of an early Michaelmas Term application deadline for departure the following summer.

Our resources


The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • TEFL Uncovered
  • Live and Work in … France, Spain, etc


We subscribe to the following journal in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • TES, weekly
External Resources

General vacancies and occupation information

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This information was last updated on 09 August 2017.
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