Comparing ESL Programs in Korea

Teaching English in Korea, as always, is broken down into two main camps: public school programs and private school positions.

Among the three major public school programs geography plays a crucial role not only in their naming but in their compensation (albeit indirectly).

When evaluating the capitol’s SMOE* program, the surrounding GEPIK* program, or the country-wide EPIK* program, the small differences in salary are superficial. Likewise, the benefits – which include roundtrip airfare, accommodations, medical insurance and paid vacation – are essentially the same for all three. What does vary, however, is the cost of living. It should come as no surprise to you that the cost of living is higher in urban centers than in more isolated areas. Although the fact that your housing and accommodations will be covered by your employer should insulate you from regional variation, the Seoul metropolitan area is more expensive than the its surrounding suburbs. For the same reason, although private school positions are somewhat more lucrative than their public school counterparts, because they are often located in the country’s biggest cities, you shouldn’t base your decision on salary.

Instead of focusing on salary, try to concentrate on the total package offered by a particular location. Although the cost of living may be higher in Seoul, it is truly a world-class city with the kind of infrastructure and types modern conveniences that Western-raised English teachers have come to expect. As a result, many ESL teachers find the social and personal opportunities afforded by their proximity to the capital more than an ample trade-off for the higher cost of living. Other teachers, eager to save money in order to pay off student loans or travel abroad during vacations, prefer the slower pace of life and unique cultural experience afforded by truly rural locations. Somewhat paradoxically, some rural locations even pay a bonus to teachers willing to work in more remote areas, meaning that rural locations (which their lower costs) actually pay better than many urban positions!

In the end, whatever you chose, make sure you consider all of your options when applying. Tell your ESL recruiter what you really want and make it happen. After all, at the other side of the contract is the adventure of a lifetime!

*Acronyms are defined in our Public School Programs in Korea: Decoding the Acronyms blog

English Teachers in China

A great deal of attention has been paid to China’s increasingly prominent role in international education. This is particularly true in its capacity as a source for international students and important destination for English language instructors. Indeed, as the Institute of International Education’s “Open Doors” report aptly notes, in the 2009-2010 academic year China passed India to become the biggest source of foreign students in US. At the same time, tens of thousands of native English teachers from the US currently make China their home. While Chinese exchange students, raised in China, doubtless experience their fair share of culture shock when making that transition, less attention has been paid to the experience of English Language Teachers in China.

Thanks to mass media and the rise of globalization, Chinese students are more aware of American culture than ever before. For many, a study abroad opportunity is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of effort. The average English language teachers in China, however, has been significantly less exposed to the ins and outs of Chinese culture and, given the sheer number of them that teach English in China, the differences in teaching styles alone can have a profound effect on their effectiveness in the classroom.

Thus it is important to note that traditional teaching styles in Chinese and American schools are vast different. While America instructors focus on class discussions and student engagement, lessons in China are teacher-centered, exam-based, and place an emphasis on rote learning. English language teachers in China should also recognize that competition to get into a good college in China is so intense that most Chinese students spend a large proportion of each day studying and are rarely receptive to the nontraditional learning techniques used in the more relaxed American educational system. Lesson plans should therefore be designed with the student – and an awareness of these and other cultural differences – in mind. Such customization is the cornerstone of ESL success.

TESOL Certifications and the Changing Market for Teaching English Abroad

The big question for many would-be international English teachers is not why, but how to teach English abroad. After all, although international demand for English teachers is at an all-time high, so too is the supply of would-be educators. Indeed, what was once a fringe movement has become a large – and increasingly competitive – industry.

At the same time, a TESOL certification, long seen as a leg-up in a job search but not an essential feature of one, is increasingly becoming a prerequisite. While it of course remains possible to get a job teaching English abroad without formal certifications – private companies around the world and the Peace Corps in the United States, for example, are always looking for raw recruits – it is increasingly more difficult to get the best jobs without one. For example, many government programs in countries like Japan and South Korea that once enlisted scores of untrained teachers annually (but also offered stable, secure positions) have slowly shifted their focus towards certified instructors.

Fortunately, a teaching certificate is also easier to come by than ever. 120 hour programs are offered in an equally varied number of locations and mediums. Some TESOL Certification programs are fully online, others part-time over several months, and still others full-time (and can be completed in your home country or at a growing number of international locations) meaning that there are options to fit anyone’s time and budget.

Also, it is important to remember that many TESOL certificate courses make your eventual job search still easier. Not only do they make you a better candidate in general, some even offer fringe benefits like job placement through partner schools while others team up with recruiting agencies in specific countries. In any case, however, your training will doubtless serve you well once you step into that classroom, wherever it might be.

ESL Salaries: A Regional Comparison

Money, as the song goes, makes the world go round – and English language education is no different. Still, while teaching English abroad can be lucrative, it is not a path to riches. Even when it is unusually well-paying – like in Western Europe – such gains are often offset by the region’s high cost of living. At the same time, it is important to consider intangibles like quality of life as well.

In most countries with well-established ESL industries – i.e., South America and Europe – English teachers will typically receive salaries that allow them to live comfortably but save little. Indeed, although compensation packages in Europe vastly outstrip their South American equivalents, the relatively low cost of living that teachers in South America enjoy means that both have roughly comparable savings rates.

By contrast, new and emerging markets – i.e., Asia and the Middle East – are ideal for those looking to pay off college loans or save for retirement. In those markets even beginning teachers often receive accommodations as part of their compensation packages, meaning that they have the potential to save significant amounts of money monthly.

Of course, money is not everything – when you are considering where to teach English abroad, quality of life matters, too! To illustrate the difference here, compare Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Prague, Czech Republic. Dubai, with its high salaries and lengthy contracts, offers the best conditions if your main goal is to save money. At the same time, its restrictive policies and conservative customs are not for everyone. By contrast, Prague, with its relatively low cost of living and high quality of life, offers the best conditions if your goal is to enjoy your time abroad. Solidly ensconced in Western culture, it is widely seen as the most desirable English location in the world.

So, in the end, do your homework and decide for yourself – after all, only you can say which is more important to you!

* Salary photo from Shutterstock

TEFL Certifications in South Korea

Although many opportunities to teach English abroad do not require an English teaching certificate, there are many reasons to get one. Not only are they increasingly seen as a way for would-be international educators to get a leg up on the increasingly stiff competition, but most international employers look favorably on such credentials. Indeed, not only such programs help prepare teachers for the classroom, they also show employers that you are committed to professional improvement. Indeed, TEFL Certifications in South Korea are so highly valued that a 100- or 120-hour course would be a prudent investment.

South Korea has long been considered one of the most lucrative countries for ESL teachers thanks to its relatively high base salaries and ample benefits (which include, among other things, accommodations, airfare, and insurance). Such desirable positions have led to significant competition among applicants and, more to the point, led the Korean government – which is responsible for the employment of Native English Teachers in Seoul through SMOE, Gyeonggi-do through GEPIK, and elsewhere through EPIK – to entice TEFL certified teachers with immediate pay raises.

For example, according to the official SMOE Eligibility and Renumeration policy base compensation is 1.8 million won per month for teachers with a bachelor’s degree in any discipline. An immediate pay raise, however, is offered to applicants who have any of the following:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in any discipline in addition to one year of experience teaching English
  • A Bachelor’s degree in Education or English
  • A Master’s degree in any discipline
  • A TESOL/TEFL or English Teaching Certificate comprised of a minimum of 100 course hours

The same is true (at different rates) throughout the country: 100- and 120- TEFL Certifications in South Korea are as highly valued – and a lucrative – a specialization in English, Education or any Master’s degree. In the end, then, the conclusion should be clear – when it comes to teaching English in South Korea, a TEFL course is a wise investment.

Year of English Speaking

The Thai government is stepping up its efforts to improve its citizens’ English proficiency. According to a recent report from the Pattaya Today, beginning in 2012 the government plans to begin teaching at least one English class weekly to every school in the nation. It is all part of Thailand’s official English Speaking Year and represents no easy feat for a country that has 14 million students spread among more than 34,000 state schools.

This comes as particularly good news for those interested in teaching English in Thailand because, while the government plans to rely initially on teaching English remotely through TV, radio, and the internet, it also plans to start recruiting more native English teachers. The country, whose high demand for native instructors has long outstripped the supply, will turn to traditional English-speaking countries (such as the US, UK, and Canada) as well as countries with a high level of English proficiency (such as India, Singapore, and the Philippines) to fill the need.

The need is acute because, while Thailand itself prepares to join the ASEAN Community – a regional trade group which uses English heavily as a common language – in 2015, a recent university entrance assessment revealed that Thai students scored below average on English proficiency (28.43 out of 100). Part of the reason, researchers believe, is because, much of the focus on English programs in Thailand in the past has been on so-called “rote learning” (memorization) and grammar at the expense of conversation. Thus, part and parcel with the government’s new initiative is an emphasis, as the program’s name suggests, on speaking. Specially designed lessons will allow students to have the opportunity to speak English regularly and therefore build their confidence over time. With an emphasis on fluency, not accuracy, the hope is that the focus will be less about grammatical errors and more about future success.

ESL Job in Japan

Finding an ESL job in Japan requires the same combination of factors as any other country: experience, connections, personal appeal, and luck. There are, of course, some differences, however. For example, as aspiring school teachers, many native English speakers think back to their school schedule they grew up with and begin the application process in June or July. Unfortunately for them, the Japanese school year starts in April and hiring season generally peaks between January and March. If you miss this critical window, getting a job will be that much harder!

In addition to timing, the actual application process is different. While it is definitely best to have a job arranged through an established program or recruiter before you arrive, you can also get your ESL Job in Japan by applying in person. Many of the larger programs and private schools recruit teachers from abroad or allow you to apply online. That having been said, however, by and large the people in Japan taking the face-to-face interviews will have an edge. If you can afford to live in Japan while looking for work – which may take several weeks – it is a big boost. Not only is the personal touch very important in Japan, but taking the initiative shows potential employers that you are committed and ready to start immediately.

Of course, when teaching English in Japan, interviews go both ways and it is important to pick a school that is right for you. There is no ironclad rule about school size and successful positions. In Japanese ESL it is management, not size, that matters. Good schools run the gamut of big to small and everything in between but good managers make all of the difference. So how can you tell which is which? Simple – look at teacher turnover. By definition, better schools keep their teachers longer. If you are at on on-site interview at a place where very nearly all of the teachers stay on for more than a year, it’s almost certainly a school you will like as well.

Best Places to Teach English in the Middle East

As the Middle East’s youth bulge continues to grow, so does its demand for English teachers. Here is our short list of the best places to teach English in the Middle East:

1. Dubai
Why?: Dubai, in its rush to become one of the world’s major trading centers, has made English a mandatory subject in its schools. This need, in addition to the burgeoining economic growth of the city, has contributed to the growth in demand for ESL teachers and their salaries (which can be among the highest in the world).
How?: The market in Dubai remains competitive and teachers are paid according to experience. As a result, TEFL qualified teachers will have the best luck in the Emirates’ language schools.
Be careful of: Because many of the more lucrative private school cater to the needs of working professional, the working hours due to this reason might be quite hectic and odd.

2. Israel
Why?: Israel’s demand for English teachers of has surged in recent years. In addition to the fact that English language classes are mandatory in many schools, as one of the more developed economies in the Middle East, Israel also offers higher level ESL positions to prepare its citizens for international business affairs.
How?: Israel is rather strict about the qualifications of the teachers, and interested applicants should consider getting their TEFL certified in their home country.
Be careful of: A lower level of pay than other developed countries (such as South Korea or Japan) but ample opportunities to participate in training certificate programs, conferences and workshops.

3. Saudi Arabia
Why?: If money is your motivator, why teach abroad anywhere else? Although lucrative, Saudi Arabia presents many cultural barriers; applicants should be interested in life in the Middle East and very accepting of cultural differences.
How?: Teaching experience and TEFL certifications are required, although stable contracts can be secured from home through on-site recruiting agencies.
Be careful of: Most positions in Saudi Arabia are available only to men.

Teaching English Abroad: A Global Career with Regional Variations

So you’ve made the decision to begin a career teaching English abroad. Welcome aboard! Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of positions available worldwide but no one person can sift through all of that information alone. Fortunately for the aspiring teacher, there are a lot of tools that can make finding a teaching position abroad much simpler. For example, you can

  1. respond directly to jobs postings on the ESL job boards like Dave’s ESL Cafe;
  2. solicit information by directly contacting schools in a particular country or region using a school directory; or
  3. contact local recruiters who have relationships with schools in the area your interested.

Now, when considering which approach is best is a complicated question. Some markets, like Saudi Arabia, are so small (and lucrative) that a direct response to an online ad is the right way to go. In others, like Argentina or Chile, a common the language (Spanish) may allow you to contact a large number of schools directly.

In rapidly developing markets like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, however, the demand (and language barrier) is so great that direct contact with individual schools can be almost impossible. Accordingly, a recruiter is the way to go. That having been said, the decision to use an ESL recruiter is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Not only are recruiters and recruitment agencies are a major player in ESL staffing in general, they will be your eyes and ears on the ground in particular.

Moreover, because some recruitment agencies, like Korvia of South Korea, are country specific while others, like Footprints Recruiting, span the globe is it important to make sure you select the recruiter that is right for you. For example, if you have narrowed your search to a particular country, a regional player may be the right choice for you. In any case, as long as you are open about your needs and honest about your concerns, the right recruiter can help you get your new career off to a great start!

Which English teaching certificate is right for me?

Although it is still possible to find a position teaching English abroad without an English teaching certificate, most employers look favorably on such credentials (and most instructors find that they give them a leg up on the increasingly stiff competition). Still, knowing you need a certification does little to answer the question “which English teaching certificate is right for me?”

This is a question that is easier asked than answered. After all, while it is true that – to put it simply – the more training you have the more opportunities will be open to you, this is an issue that defies quick conclusions. Indeed, a MA in TESOL would put you at the top of the pack but may not be appropriate for someone who is just entering the field. Indeed, because longer courses require a greater investment of time, energy, and effort, they are a better fit for those who have decided teaching abroad is a long-term career.

More to the point, it is important to remember that many international employers look favorably on short TEFL courses – and many training programs offer employment services designed to match graduates with exactly those employers. Because they are quicker, simpler, and easier to obtain, TEFL certifications – and even four-week CELTA programs – are a good idea for those who are just starting out in international English education.
International, however, is an important word here. Because a DELTA or MA in TESOL are often viewed as prerequisites for positions at colleges and universities in North America, those who are interested in working domestic would be poorly served by standard 100 or 120 hour TEFL certifications.

In the end, the biggest factor you should consider is your potential employer. Depending on the location or position you have in mind, you should research the different options available in order to determine which one will provide you with the biggest advantage in your particular job search.