Can Non-Native English Speakers TEFL?

Can non-native English speakers TEFL? Does English have to be your first language in order to teach it?

The answer is simple: if you’re fluent in English then you have the potential to teach it! Many non-native English speakers have trained with us and have gone on to find work teaching English all over the world and online. That’s not to say there aren’t some challenges, unfortunately. While more and more is being done to combat native-speaker bias in the TEFL market, discrimination and barriers do exist.

Preparing our students for the world of TEFL is important to us; we want our students to have all the facts so they’re in the best position to find work after gaining their TEFL qualification. With that in mind, in this post we’re taking a look at some of the key issues affecting non-native EFL teachers to help you on your TEFL journey!

Can being a non-native English speaker hold me back from some TEFL Jobs?

The harsh truth is yes, it can.

Native-speaker bias is being broken down every day but it’s still common to see adverts online that specify “native speakers only”. We don’t allow this wording on the TEFL Org Jobs Centre, as we don’t want to support or encourage discrimination against non-native English teachers.

The most important thing for non-native English speakers to research when applying for teaching jobs is visa requirements. Your passport, rather than your non-native status, can be more of a barrier to securing jobs abroad.

Certain countries will only grant visas to teachers from specific English-speaking countries, typically the UK, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These are sometimes referred to as the ‘big seven’ and, while there are many other countries in which English is a national language, they’re often not recognised.

If you’re not eligible for a visa then it doesn’t matter if you’re the best EFL teacher in the world, there’s no negotiating with visa requirements.

Once you’ve established what countries you meet the requirements for then you can concentrate your job search. It might take a big longer to find teaching work than a native English teacher would, but as long as you have the right qualifications (more on that soon) and are eligible for a visa, then with a bit of perseverance there’s no reason why you can’t find a great teaching job.

A male teacher with younger learners

Non-native English speakers make great EFL teachers

It’s simply not true that native English speakers make better teachers just because English is their first language. Whether you’re a native or non-native speaker, your ability to teach well depends on your training and experience.

When applying for any job you have to get across your strengths to a potential employer. While being a non-native English speaker can make the job search that bit harder you can also frame it as one of your strengths.

You have first-hand experience of what it’s like to learn another language and because of this your understanding of grammar is likely much more solid and well-rounded than many native English speakers. Most native English speakers don’t learn their own grammar at school and many won’t have a second language. You also personally understand the challenges of language learning, having done it yourself. Make sure to really sell this when applying for jobs – convince potential employers that rather than being a weakness, the fact that English is your second language is actually a real strength.

Where can I teach English abroad as a non-native English speaker?

The below table highlights where you can and can’t teach English as non-native speaker. However, it’s still really important to look into visa requirements, as they can be quite nuanced and also change regularly!

Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Cambodia £650 - £950
($800 - $1,200)
No September No No Yes Under 65
China £1,200 - £1,600
($1,500 - $2,000)
Yes September No Yes Yes, if degree obtained from an English-speaking country Under 55
Hong Kong £1,600 - £2,800
($2,000 - $3,500)
Yes August No Not usually Yes Under 60
Indonesia £700 - £1,100
($850 - $1,350)
Yes July No Not usually No Under 60
Japan £1,600 - £2,200
($2,000 - $2,700)
Yes April No Sometimes Yes Under 65
Malaysia £900 - £1,850
($1,100 - $2,300)
Yes January Preferred Sometimes Yes Under 60
Myanmar £1,000 - £1,800
($1,250 - $2,200)
Yes June Preferred Sometimes No None
South Korea £1,300 - £2,000
($1,600 - $2,500)
Yes March No Yes No Under 60
Thailand £800 - £1,050
($1,000 - $1,300)
Yes May No Sometimes Yes None
Vietnam £950 - £1,300
($1,200 - $1,500)
Yes August No No Yes Under 60
Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Austria £700 - £2,600
($850 - 3,200)
Preferred September Preferred No Yes None
Belgium £1,455 - £1,780
($1,800 - $2,200)
Preferred September Preferred No Yes None
Czech Republic £500 – £1,285
$600 – $1,450)
Preferred September Preferred No Yes None
Denmark £2,900 - £3,900
($3,600 - $4,800)
Preferred September Preferred No Yes None
Estonia £720 - £900
($920 - $1,150)
Preferred September Preferred Accommodation sometimes included Yes None
Finland £700 - £3,050
($900 - $3,850)
Preferred August/September Preferred No Yes None
France £926 – £1,852
($1,082 – $2,164)
Yes September Preferred No Yes None
Germany £1,1123 - £1,872
($1,297 - $2,162)
Preferred August No No Yes None
Greece £630 – £900
($790 – $1,100)
Yes September No No Yes None
Hungary £390 - £650
($500 - $830)
Preferred August/September Preferred No Yes None
Italy £1,054 – £1,229
($1,312 – $1,531)
Preferred September No No Yes None
Netherlands £1,300 - £2,600
($1,600 - $2,800)
Preferred September Yes No Yes None
Norway £2,100 - £2,500
($2,580 - $3,090)
Preferred August/September Preferred No Yes None
Poland £400 – £700
($480 – $850)
Yes September No Accommodation sometimes included Yes None
Portugal £616 – £880
($756 – $1,080)
Yes September Preferred No Yes None
Romania £200 - £460
($260 - 580)
Preferred September No Accommodation sometimes included Yes None
Russia £800 - £1,300
($1,000 - $1,600)
Preferred September Preferred Sometimes Yes None
Slovakia £330 - £900
($400 - $1,120)
Preferred September No No Yes None
Slovenia £550 - £950
($700 - $1,200)
Preferred October Preferred No Yes None
Spain £614 - £1,317
($758 - $1,623)
Preferred September No No Yes None
Sweden £1,100 - £2,400
($1,400 - $3,000)
Preferred September Preferred No Yes None
Switzerland £1,850 - £2,475
($2,260 - $3,015)
Preferred August/September Preferred No Yes None
Turkey £170 - £575
($220 - $730)
Yes September No Accommodation sometimes included Yes None
Ukraine £215 - £920
($260 - $1,125)
Preferred September No Accommodation sometimes included Yes None
Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Argentina £500 - £950
($600 - $1,200)
No March Preferred No Yes None
Bolivia £400 - £550
($500 - $700)
No February Preferred No Yes None
Brazil £650 - £900
($800 - $1,100)
No February No No Yes None
Chile £550 - £800
($700 - $1,000)
No March No No Yes None
Colombia £400 - £800
($500 - $1,000)
No January/February No No Yes Under 62
Ecuador £400 - £650
($500 - $800)
Preferred May Preferred No Yes None
Guatemala £400 - £550
($500 - $700)
Preferred January No No Yes None
Mexico £400 - £800
($500 - $1,000)
Preferred August No Sometimes Yes None
Peru £325 - £650
($400 - $800)
Yes March Preferred Sometimes Yes Under 70
Uruguay £325 - £800
($400 - $1000)
Preferred March Preferred No Yes None
Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Algeria £550 - £900
($700 - $1,100)
Yes March No No No None
Bahrain £1,200 - £2,500
($1,500 - $3,000)
Yes January Yes Yes No Under 60
Egypt £400 - £700
($500 - $900)
Yes September Preferred No No None
Jordan £500 - £950
($600 - $1,100)
Preferred August No No Yes None
Kuwait £1,200 - £2,000
($1,500 - $2,500)
Yes September Yes Yes Yes Under 60
Lebanon £650 - £1,200
($800 - $1,500)
Preferred August No No Yes None
Morocco £400 - £800
($500 - $1,000)
Yes September No No Yes None
Qatar £1,200 - £2,800
($1,500 - $3,500)
Yes September Yes Yes No None
Saudi Arabia £1,600 - £3,200
($2,000 - $4,000)
Yes August Yes Yes No Under 60
UAE £1,600 - £4,000
($2,000 - $5,000)
Yes August Yes Yes No Under 65

How to get a TEFL job as a non-native English speaker

It can be demoralising to see adverts stating ‘native speaker only’, we know. There are employers who care more about optics than a teacher’s ability to do their job well, believing that a native English speaker will attract more students. You’re unlikely to convince them otherwise and, to be honest, employers with this attitude might not be the best to work for.

You need to make sure your application really sells you, so have confidence in your abilities. And be prepared for rejection – as a non-native speaker you’re probably going to have to work harder to secure a job, but don’t let this get you down too much. Perseverance is key!

Sell your non-native status as an advantage

As we’ve mentioned above, non-native speakers can make great teachers. You’ve experienced and overcome the challenges of English language learning to become fluent – you’re a success story! Not only are you better placed to empathise with your students, but your story is one that can help inspire them.

A female teacher writing on a whiteboard

Sit a proficiency exam

If you’re going to teach English then obviously you need to have an excellent grasp of the language. As a non-native speaker employers are going to question your level of English and so taking a proficiency test is a really easy way of proving your ability to them.

Some of the most recognised proficiency tests are the IELTS, TOEFL and Cambridge proficiency exams. It’s important to note that a TEFL qualification is not evidence of proficiency, nor does a proficiency test give any indication of someone’s ability to teach. But having one can make it much easier to secure work, particularly if you haven’t lived/studied in an English speaking country or at the start of your TEFL career.

Get experience

Give your CV a boost by gaining teaching experience in your own country. This could be through paid or voluntary work, or even teaching English online. Any direct experience teaching English is going to look good on an application and with a TEFL Org certificate you should be able to find work with charities, local government schemes and initiatives, tutoring and online teaching.

Get TEFL qualified

The most important thing for all TEFL teachers looking to teach English abroad is to get TEFL qualified. This is the qualification employers look for in applicants and it’s important to get TEFL certified from an accredited, internationally-recognised provider (like us!). Having trained over 140,000 EFL teachers since 2008, a TEFL Org certificate is recognised by employers worldwide.

Most employers look for at 120-hour qualification, so we recommend a course with at least these hours. Non-native speakers may benefit more from a Level 5 course, which is our most comprehensive TEFL course and will help to give your CV a boost. We also run advanced TEFL Courses, which is a great way of adding additional hours to your qualification and standing out from other applicants.

As we’ve mentioned a few times now, ensuring your CV is as strong as possible is vital as a non-native speaker trying to secure work within a market that frequently discriminates against you. Do not be tempted by budget TEFL courses like you can find on Groupon – these will not prepare you properly for teaching and are usually not adequately accredited. Due to this, many employers won’t accept them, so you really do need to invest in a course that’s going to put you in the best position for finding work!

Check out our full range of TEFL courses and start your TEFL adventure now.

And read our interview with Maria, who is originally from the South of Spain and found work teaching English in China and at home in Spain.

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4 thoughts on “Can Non-Native English Speakers TEFL?

  1. Thank you so much for posting this!
    As a non-native speaker, I never felt that I’m less qualified for TEFL job. Teaching overseas has never been my goal, as I’m planning to teach in my own country (Indonesia).
    I have a mission to help my fellow Indonesian to overcome the difficulty in learning English.

    1. Thank you so much, this was so helpful, especially the interview with a girl from Spain. I am Lithuanian and I have been teaching English over the last 2 years. However, I do feel the need to get certified with TEFL, this will open up more opportunities for me.

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