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Can you teach English abroad as a non-native English speaker?

Many people dream of teaching English as a second language. But if you’re not from a native English-speaking country, there are a few more hurdles to jump over to get hired.

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English is the most widely spoken language globally, with Chinese trailing closely behind. You can go to virtually any place in the world and there’s a good chance that you can communicate and be understood - at least to some extent - by the locals using English, considering it’s spoken in 118 countries.

But not all of these English-speaking individuals are from native English-speaking countries. In fact, there are only 378 million English speakers worldwide who learned English as their first language, while there are 743 million other English speakers who learned it as their second language - almost twice as many!

These people may have an excellent grasp of English but are not considered “native”. Just 4% of all conversations worldwide involve only native speakers, there is ‌a pretty strong divide between native and non-native English speakers in the English teaching industry.

This is frustrating for non-native English language teachers, as many employers require their teachers to be native speakers. They also prioritise those from the “big seven” countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. 

Many won’t entertain teachers from India, Singapore, the Philippines, and other countries that recognise English as one of their official languages. No matter how many years these teachers have spent mastering the language, non-native English teachers will undoubtedly have difficulty competing with native-English speakers for job positions.

But it’s still possible for non-native English teachers to find jobs out there. Read on to discover the options you have to teach English as a second language, even if you’re a non-native English speaker.

What is a non-native English teacher?

Generally, a non-native English speaker did not grow up with English as their first language. It’s also likely that English isn’t prevalent in the country you were born and raised in. You may be introduced to the English language in school or studied it as an adult, but it’s not your mother tongue.

On the other side of the coin, native English speakers are individuals who grew up with English as their first language, used English throughout their education, and are citizens of an English-speaking country. Native English speakers will likely use English in their daily communication as well.

This means that a non-native teacher is someone who teaches English even though the language isn’t the one they grew up with. Often, these individuals learned English over several years, fell in love with the language, and would now like to share their knowledge with others.

Non-native English teachers frequently have to work harder to prove that they are good at what they do compared to their native English counterparts.

Can non-native English speakers get English teaching jobs abroad?

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 abroad 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 English teaching 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 on 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.

Download our guide to teaching English around the world

Why do countries limit English teaching positions to native speakers?

It does seem unfair and somewhat discriminatory that certain countries will only consider teachers whose first language is English. One reason for this is that the employer wants to prioritise recruiting the highest-qualified teachers who are guaranteed to be fluent in English. Parents of young students and adults who want to learn the language also seek the same level of expertise, so platforms want to cater to those expectations.

But this undoubtedly alienates non-native English teachers, even those who genuinely are fluent in English, experienced in the classroom, and are qualified to teach the language.

We, unfortunately, can’t stop employers from using the criteria as an all-encompassing standard. If a specific passport is required to get a work visa, there’s little that can be done about that unless you’re eligible to apply for a new passport. In countries where this isn’t a requirement, non-natives need to focus on convincing employers of both their English proficiency and ability to teach.  

After all, there are many countries out there with high English proficiency levels. If you see your home country in the list below, you have a good chance of convincing your potential employer of your abilities:

Be wise and direct your efforts towards applying to companies that do consider non-native English teachers, and do your best to gain other credentials that can strengthen your case. This can include a certificate of English proficiency, teaching experience, awards and recognitions, a TEFL certificate, and more.

Advantages of a non-native English teacher

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.

We’ve listed some of the advantages you can highlight to a potential employer when applying for a job as a non-native English teacher. Keep these in mind, as they’ll ‌help you prove your capability as an English teacher:

You have first-hand experience of learning a new language

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.

You have a good grasp of the English language

Unlike native speakers who started learning English from their family and friends, you likely learned English from school. They may have a natural feel for the language and know certain idioms, but your understanding of the language may be more extensive, where you might have a better grasp of all its technicalities.

Native speakers also often focus on learning style and literature, while you had the advantage of learning foundational words and grammar when you were young. Many native speakers have to brush up on these rudimentary details, while you’re already quite familiar with them. 

You are bilingual or multilingual

Given that English isn’t your native language, you likely have other languages and dialects in your arsenal. Being bilingual or multilingual gives you a great advantage, especially if you’re going to teach in a country that speaks the other languages you know.

You’re also familiar with the process necessary to learn another language, and can help other students comprehend it more than a native English speaker can.

Best countries to teach English for non-native speakers

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!

It is also worth mentioning that some countries are more strict with their hiring and work visa standards than others. 

For example, to teach in South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Arab states in the Persian Gulf region (e.g., the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait), you need to have citizenship from one of the big seven countries we mentioned earlier.

China, in particular, is also raising its standards. While it was once a widely open job market for teachers, China is now making it harder for non-native English teachers to secure employment because of the greater expectations of parents and students alike.

You can still find English teaching jobs abroad for non-native speakers in these countries. Just take note that it will not be an easy task if you simply apply to any of their available positions—you’ll have to be extra strategic.

Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Teach in Cambodia £560 - £2,000 GBP
($700 - $2,500 USD)
No November No No Yes under 65
Teach in China £1,000 - £2,000
($1,300 - $2,575)
Yes September No Yes Yes, if degree obtained from an English-speaking country Under 55
Teach in Hong Kong £1,550 - £6,300
($2,000 - $8,380)
Yes August No Not usually Yes Under 60
Teach in India £120 - £775
($150 - $1,000)
Yes April Yes No Yes None
Teach in Indonesia £560 - £1,187 GBP
($700 - $1,500 USD)
Yes July No Not usually No under 60
Teach in Japan £1,600 - £2,000
($2,100 - $2,675)
Yes April No Sometimes Yes under 65
Teach in Kazakhstan £360 - £470
($465 - $600)
Yes August Yes Yes Yes None
Teach in Malaysia £550 - £1,450
($720 - $1,900)
Yes January Preferred Sometimes Yes under 65
Teach in Myanmar £600 - £1,500
($800 - $2,000)
Yes June Preferred Sometimes No under 52
Teach in Mongolia £700 - £1,120 GBP
($875 - $1,400 USD)
Yes September Yes Sometimes Yes None
Teach in Nepal Voluntary No April No Sometimes Yes None
Teach in South Korea £1,280 - £1,600
($1,670 - $2,000)
Yes March No Yes No Under 62
Teach in Taiwan £1,335 - £1,735
($1,700 - $2,220)
Yes September No Sometimes No Under 65
Teach in Thailand £740 - £980
($1,000 - $1,280)
Yes May No Sometimes Yes None
Teach in Vietnam £920 - £ 1,500
($1,200 to $2,000)
Yes August No No Yes Under 60

How can I teach English as a non-native 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.

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.

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.

Network and make connections

Another thing you can do to find the best jobs out there is networking strategically. 

Consider moving to the country you want to teach in, and make as many connections as you can with people who are already English teachers. You can also reach out to your family and friends in your home country to see if anyone has taught abroad in your dream country before. They’ll likely have insider information to help you land a teaching job as a non-native speaker.

The more connections you have, the more pointed your efforts will be in securing a suitable teaching job.

Spend time in an English-speaking country

Living in an English-speaking country (or your dream destination) for six months or more will also help with your language skills, making it easier for you to prove your capabilities. During your stay, you can also learn new things from colloquial conversations and continue to build your network of local English teachers for more help.

So, consider moving to one of the big seven countries of the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. Your potential employer won’t consider you a native speaker by any means, but you at least have an advantage by saying that you’ve lived with native-English speakers for an extended time.

Request a video interview

As the old saying goes, seeing is believing. So if you can’t have the interview in person, try requesting an interview over Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, or anything equivalent.

Once the employer hears your English fluency and capability to hold their attention, it’ll be easier to convince them of your English teaching skills. It will also help calm any of the concerns they might have with your accent, considering that you’re not coming from one of the big seven countries.

If you’re unsure how to prepare for an interview, we’ve covered all the tips you need in our How to Prepare for a TEFL Interview article. Go check it out!

Get TEFL certification

The most important thing for all TEFL teachers looking to teach English abroad is to get TEFL certification. 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 185,000 EFL teachers since 2008, a TEFL Org certificate is recognised by employers worldwide.

Most employers look for a 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.

TEFL jobs for non-native speakers

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.