While it's true teaching English abroad is a popular option, there are also English-language teaching (ELT) opportunities in the UK: in private language schools, colleges and universities. This is usually referred to as TESL - teaching English as a second language. TESOL - teaching English to speakers of other languages - is a hybrid, referring to a qualification for, or experience in, teaching English both abroad and within English-speaking countries.

Work is often seasonal; in the UK jobs tend to be advertised for the summer vacation months, though a limited amount of year-round work is available, 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.

The types and ages of students 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.

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Some people spend just a few months teaching English. Others have longer-term careers teaching English in the UK or 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 skills? 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.

It is worth finding clips of TEFL classroom teaching on YouTube to give you a better idea of what it’s like teaching to different audiences.

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 knowledge 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 on the website Daily Info – or in the press, typically in the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

We also advertise opportunities on our website CareerConnect , particularly in late Hilary and 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 Career Service's Summer Internship Programme which are advertised in January each year. Some internship providers, such as Gotoco, provide a full TEFL course as part of their training.

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 potentially a long-term career, then consider undertaking a longer language-teaching course such as the CELTA or TESOL.

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 website 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, with an average around £1,500.

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 combined with face-to-face teaching practice.

Part-time courses can be cheaper than full-time courses. A list of CELTA course providers is available from the Cambridge English website (see External Resources below).

If you plan to teach abroad and already have a destination country in mind, consider looking for a CELTA or TESOL course in that country. This would give you a head start in making contacts and finding out about local opportunities. The Cambridge English website’s list of CELTA courses includes international providers.

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 and EL Gazette also post TEFL jobs. See the External Resources section below for further vacancies sites. Don’t forget to look on CareerConnect, which sometimes advertises TEFL vacancies.

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.


The following books are useful guides if you are exploring English language teaching as your next step:

  • Teaching English Abroad
  • TEFL Uncovered: How to Teach your Way Abroad with TEFL
  • Live and Work in … France, Spain, etc. (on the ‘Travel’ shelf)
  • The Smart Guide to Teaching English in Japan
  • The Complete Guide to Teaching English Abroad

General information on the sector/working abroad

Sector vacancies

ELT associations

Courses and training

Forums and other useful sites

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