What You Need to Know About Teaching ESL Classes Abroad


The first day of class at Fluent City, I always ask my students where they’re from, what they do for a living, and what experience they have studying French. The answers include: “I’m traveling to Paris soon,” “I studied it in college and want to keep it up,” and “It’s just for fun, it’s a beautiful language.”

When I taught English at a French high school four years ago, I didn’t even think to ask my students why they were studying English – the demand for English as a global language speaks for itself. And from that demand comes a demand for English teachers.  Whether through a university fellowship, a private company, or the Ministry of Education, the market for English teachers abroad is stronger than ever.

Several of our Fluent City teachers have also taught English abroad. I spoke with them about their experiences and what they took away from their time teaching ESL abroad.

How They Got the Job


I got my job teaching English through the the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), which assigned me to a high school in France that provided free lodging, subsidized cafeteria meals and up to 12 hours of classes per week.

For Diana, who teaches Spanish for Fluent City in Philadelphia, the opportunity to teach English came with less paperwork than mine: “After graduating college in Spain, I taught English as a private tutor. I had a four teenage students. A friend from Valladodid also asked me to help her with her First Certificate of English Exam, which was easy for me because I had taken and passed it some years before.”

Marwa, a French and Arabic instructor in New York, found her teaching job directly through the school” “I taught at a private Islamic School in Dakar, Senegal for 5 weeks. I found the job posting on Idealist.org and got in touch with the school’s director. I wanted to gain teaching experience, and I was also able to enhance my French language skills while being immersed in a French-speaking country.”

Trev, a German instructor in New York, took initiative in creating his teaching opportunity while studying abroad: “I was at the University of Freiburg when I became involved with a program called Rent-an-American,” explains Trev. “I would visit local schools and present on various aspects of American life, and provide students with an opportunity to speak with a native English speaker. In my fourth month with Rent-an-American, I visited a high school with a student body comprised of students from both Germany and France, and I absolutely loved the premise of the school. I asked the teacher whose class I visited if she wanted a volunteer teaching assistant, and she said yes.”

Victoria, who also teaches German in New York, also found her opportunity while at a university abroad. “I actually received this position as part of a fellowship from the University of Rochester. I received the Kreyer Prize, and the fellowship included a year of tuition-free classes at the University of Cologne in exchange for teaching a conversational English course each semester.”

The Schedule and the Students

Diana spent 2 hours a day, 2 days per week tutoring her high school students. “They only wanted to pass their final exams, so my work was focused on reviewing the material they studied in high school. In fact, they didn’t want to learn English, and one of them failed the exams.”

I was similarly frustrated while teaching in France – although my classes were voluntary and supplementary to the school’s English courses, I still had some students who didn’t seem motivated.

In Dakar, Marwa taught all day from 8 AM to 3 PM, including her own classes and some that she co-taught in English and in French with other teachers. “My students studied French and English to help their long-term college and career goals, and to create more opportunities for jobs abroad in Europe and America.”

Trev saw the same motivation in his students. For three days a week, including one lesson of his own a week, he taught students for whom English was their third (and sometimes fourth) language. “English was not a required language. The students in my class were interested in English namely because they felt knowing English would help their job prospects in the future.”

Victoria taught undergraduates who wanted to attain or maintain fluency. “I taught once a week for 90 minutes. I chose topics from American culture to discuss – we typically read and discussed newspaper articles in an open discussion format.”

The Highs and the Lows

Contrary to the difficulty Diana had with her unmotivated students, she found gratification in teaching her friend English in preparation for the FCE Exam. “The experience was very satisfying and pleasant, because I could share my time and effort with someone who really appreciated it.”

Marwa enjoyed about the culture of Senegal through her students, the food, the music, and interacting with different types of people. “As an Egyptian Muslim, it was interesting to see another Muslim country that was so warm and open.” However, she found it difficult to learn French as easily as she had hoped: “Many people you meet speak the African dialect Wolof and do not speak French.”

Trev’s favorite part of teaching abroad? “Learning about how peculiar English is. I was definitely forced to give consideration to why we say things the way we do. I also really enjoyed teaching students about American life and culture, and clearing up certain misconceptions and stereotypes about America.”

Victoria loved being able to gain fluency in German. “I also made personal connections with my students and am friends with them to this day.”

Trev and Victoria identified teaching itself as their greatest challenge. “If you do not have experience with teaching a group of people, especially a group of teenagers, it is not easy to simply walk into a room and successfully teach,” said Trev. “I definitely gained new appreciation for the creativity and quick-thinking that a good teacher needs to have.”

Victoria also gained newfound respect for instructors: “Creating all my lesson plans without prior formal teaching training, without office space and without materials provided to me was frustrating and also mentally challenging.”

What They Learned

Diana pointed to her experience in teaching in helping her personal growth. ‘Although I have a completely different degree, I love teaching. I like to share what I know with others. These experiences teaching English helped me to be confident and patient, and I learned to think as other people do in order to help them.”

Marwa hopes to return to Dakar in the future. “I learned how to adapt to a new school culture and work with a different and diverse student body. I was able to experience the kindness and welcoming of the Senegalese people, as many students and teachers were able to help me get adjusted to the new city and school.”

Trev completed his M.S.Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TOSEL) last month. “I was really so inspired by my work in Germany that I decided to enroll in grad school, and everything I learned as a Teaching Assistant helped me with completing this degree.” He also learned a lot about himself and others. “I learned a crazy amount of German, and I also gained a lot of really important social and teaching skills, such as patience and anticipating students’ questions.”

Thinking of moving abroad to teach English? Consider learning a bit of the native language before you go at Fluent City.