Can non-native English speakers find TEFL work?

Can non-native English speakers find TEFL work?

Can non-native English speakers find TEFL/TESOL work?

In the second article in this series, Global English TESOL Director of Studies William Bradridge looks at some of the key issues which affect non-native English speakers after training to teach English.

Here he has gathered evidence from Global English TESOL graduates on how they found work and looks at how you can improve your chances of finding work if you are a non-native English speaker. 

Does being a non-native English speaker hold you back from some TEFL positions?

OK, it is time to face facts. If you are a non-native speaker of English looking to teach the language, then it is going to be harder for you to find work. As we noted in Part 1 of this article a couple of weeks ago, there is a strong preference towards ‘native English speakers’ and if you are not one then it will mean you need to be more determined to succeed. Despite the prejudice that non-native speakers find when they apply for positions, there are many success stories from people out there who have trodden this path successfully before you. So take heart – and read on…

Use your native tongue to your advantage

Have you considered offering yourself as a teacher of English and your native tongue? There could be openings for you that are not available to native English speakers, particularly as so many don’t speak another language. 

Ana-Sofia Guerreiro is a successful EFL teacher in a small English language school teaching English in Japan. She comments:

"My school was delighted that I could also speak Portuguese and French and they are now in the process of changing the school name from “Royale English Services” to “Royale International Services”. The school started advertising French and Portuguese lessons and I now teach one class of each per week, in addition to my normal English classes. It has been a challenge but extremely rewarding!"

The Jet Scheme in Japan recruits non-native English speakers. See here for more.

Another GE graduate did this teaching English in Spain:

"I like living in Spain very much. The weather, the people, the life style... I think there are a lot of opportunities as there a many private language schools constantly looking for teachers. They like to employ native speakers as it is always demanded in job advertisements. I’m not native English but I’m foreign. Obviously that was enough to give me a try.

I sent some applications via internet and some schools I just called to leave a message and I received answers from all schools I called. Sometimes they offer you just a few lessons a week, so you normally work for more than one school. At the moment I’m teaching English and German."

So your application might open doors in other countries in ways you haven’t yet considered.

If you are planning to teach English in the country where you come from, sometimes being a non-native English speaker can be to your advantage as well. Sabine Rosenthal says that in spite of the preference for native English speakers in TEFL in Germany:

"…people expect some knowledge of German (from their teachers), maybe not the school directors themselves, but the students feel much better and are more inclined to study hard if their teacher at least tries to understand them."

So as a non-native speaker, how can you improve your chances of finding work? There are several ways in which you can do this. Have a look at what some of our graduates have done previously, and how it has led to success.


Spend time in an English speaking country

If you can, it is great to some time (at least 6 months or more) in a country where you are going to be surrounded by English. If you are in Europe, this is relatively easy as you can find summer work in the UK or Ireland on your EU passport. Again, Sabine Rosenthal comments on teaching in Germany:

"Most schools here in Germany want to work with native speakers or expect you at least to have lived some time in an English speaking country and often expect some kind of teaching certificate as well. Also you should be prepared to work as a freelancer or on a self-employed basis."

Ana-Sofia Guerreiro, a Portuguese graduate, went to the USA where she was able to improve her accent. Here she describes her situation when she arrived in Japan with a TESOL qualification, looking for EFL work:

"I did not have a job before moving here and I definitely did not feel too confident I would get one. Although Japan has a high demand for English teachers, I felt sure that I would not be hired solely because I was not a native speaker. It took a lot of effort to keep myself motivated and, after a few months, I was finally called for an interview at the school where I currently work. I recently found out that, originally, my boss didn’t want to call me for an interview and that it was my American co-worker that convinced her that a non-native speaker might bring many benefits, such as a clearer pronunciation. I was quite nervous in class the first couple of weeks (most of my students are Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate) but it started fading away as I realised I knew much more than I originally thought (those years of grammar came in handy after all)."

Lada Nobilisova is Czech but has been living and teaching English in the UK for over 5 years now. She says:

"I have to say that I still feel a little bit insecure when it comes to teaching English. I lived in the UK for over 5 years, and I have lived in New Zealand for 4 years. I am told that my accent has certainly improved and I sound English with a slight Kiwi accent (worrying :-)) - my boyfriend is also English. If I was teaching back at home, I think I would be less insecure about accent/pronunciation. However, here I find myself slightly more under pressure to 'get it right' and conscious of what I am saying and how I am saying it."

Some employers fear that a non-native speaker will have a heavy accent, so do all you can to improve yours. You might consider some English polishing with a native English teacher – a few lessons can make an enormous difference. Perhaps consider some telephone English classes with a qualified EFL instructor. 


Get TEFL/TESOL qualified

Make sure you are as qualified as you can be, particularly if you can get a TEFL certificate issued by an independently accredited body, such as Cambridge or Trinity, which award independent face-to-face qualifications, or ACTDEC, independent accrediting bodies that award online TEFL qualifications. It can be helpful if you try to get one of these rather than an ‘anyschool TEFL certificate’.  

In Asia, there is a real increase in ESL/ESL teachers from countries such as the Philippines, so there is much more competition for jobs. Ana-Sofia Guerreiro comments on Japan:

"It really helps to have a qualification, like the TESOL. Most schools in Japan require one as “proof” that you are qualified. It is really important to mark the difference with an official document. This will also increase the chances of being called for interviews."

Global English graduate Gülsüm Özkılınç teaching English in Turkey supports this view and suggests that non-native TESOL teachers:

"…should join all teacher training courses, get every important certificate out there, try to be at advanced level for every skill  in English, get good references from schools you've worked for so far...."

If you are competing against native English speakers, you need to show that you can add something extra that they can’t. So get as well qualified as you can. Consider picking up TESOL certificates that show you have some specialist knowledge in an area students want, such as in teaching business English or teaching English grammaror consider a course that will give you greater knowledge of teaching English to teenagers or young learners.


Keep studying because English is always changing!

One of the key things to remember, especially if English is not your first language, is that English is a living language. Change is driven by technology and social factors and the speed of communication means that changes are happening faster. So no-one can say they have truly ‘learned English’ in a complete sense because it alters and morphs daily. So how can you make sure you are keeping up with your students? Well, Gülsüm Özkılınç has provided some practical advice to all language learners. She says that although she is confident with her level of English,

"….I try to improve my English all the time. And it's easy, just reading, listening to English music, watching movies without subtitles ... all these really help a lot."

Lada Nobilisova gives some useful tips here as well:

"I always try to do a lot of research (grammar books, Internet) before I teach grammar and I read tips from other teachers. Sometimes I practice pronunciation of 'tricky' words beforehand and check it online."


Get involved 

Consider joining a reputable association, such as IATEFL and certainly stay up to date with the latest ideas for the classroom. If you have a particular interest in an area of English Language Teaching, you can join one of the IATEFL Special Interest Groups for free when you subscribe as a member. Even if you can’t make it to one of the local conferences which are held around the world, check out the IATEFL conference online to keep up with developments – several of the talks and seminars are broadcast free over the internet. Contribute to discussions and ask questions – this is a friendly profession where people are often out to help each other and love to share ideas. 

Another idea is to subscribe to one of the main TESOL blog sites – one of the best we have found is via OUP where you will find some of the foremost TEFL brains giving ideas and suggestions on a whole range of topics and suggestions. If you have a particular area you are keen on, research it and offer to write for them. There is no better way to develop your knowledge than to get involved. 


Don’t give up

Accept that you will get knocked back. All of our TESOL graduates acknowledged that there is no miracle job if you are a non-native speaker. But if you can use your skills, your own language and if you are tenacious enough, you will succeed. Let’s leave the final word to Gülsüm Özkılınç:

"… this is my career, so I’ll keep trying. OK, so it's not my first language but I know I’m good at it. It's devastating hearing 'No' as an answer from schools but I know I can prove myself if I get my chance… and I’ve done that."


William Bradridge is Director of Studies at Global English TESOL, online TESOL course specialists. Join in the TESOL training discussion with William and the team on Facebook.


  • Author: Admin William Bradridge
  • Date: 01/01/2017

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Can non-native English speakers find TEFL work?