Do I have to be a native English speaker to get a TEFL job?

When you are looking at TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) job adverts, one phrase will jump out time and time again: “Native English speakers only”. But what counts as a native English speaker? And how essential is it really to get a job in TEFL?

What is a native English speaker? A native English speaker (in TEFL terms anyway) is defined as someone who both speaks English as their first language and is a citizen of one of the following countries: USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. If you are a citizen of a country such as India, the Philippines or the Caribbean Islands, English may well be your primary language but in the TEFL world, you are not regarded as a native English speaker – however unfair that may seem.

Can I teach English if I am not a native English speaker?

As long as you can speak and write English clearly and fluently, there are opportunities in TEFL for non-native English speakers but you will need to work harder to get them.

Where can I find a TEFL job if I am not a native English speaker?

If you are not a native English speaker, focus your search for a TEFL job in countries where being a native English speaker is not a core requirement. Opportunities definitely do exist for fluent, non-native English speakers in Thailand, Cambodia, Central and South America (including Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru), Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Rule out countries that have strict policies on recruiting only native English speakers. There is no point in applying for TEFL jobs in places where you will have no chance of even an interview. Countries for non-native English speakers to avoid include Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

How can I increase my chances of finding a paid TEFL job?

A good way to increase your chances of finding a paid TEFL job is to build up your experience through volunteer work (either in your home country or overseas) or an internship. Both options will give you something concrete to highlight on your CV and covering letter – and move you up the queue ahead of those looking for their first role in TEFL.

Overseas internships have the added advantage of allowing you to develop TEFL contacts in-country as well as giving you the chance to demonstrate to a school that you can do the job.

Teaching kids in Thailand

What will make a school more likely to look at a TEFL job application from a non-native English speaker?

Schools tend to be biased in favour of native English speakers. If you are not a native English speaker you need to demonstrate why they should recruit you instead. Make your approach as direct as possible, demonstrate your fluency in English and emphasise the positives of being a non-native speaker rather than trying to downplay it too much.

If you are in the country already, go into a school to ask about employment opportunities. That way you can demonstrate in person that your accent will not be a barrier for your students (often a major concern of employers). If this is not an option, thoroughly research the school before applying for a position. Make sure you know the name of the person to whom you are addressing the application and highlight how your specific skills and experience will help the particular needs of the school. It also can be worth including a short film to prove you can speak English clearly and fluently.

Emphasise the positives of being a non-native English speaker, rather than trying to downplay it. You have already had to learn English as a foreign language, so you are in a great position to know how to teach it well – plus what pitfalls to avoid.

With a bit of time and effort you can find a job in TEFL.

Good luck!

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