Samui Wining & Dining
Teaching English as a foreign language is a good way to see new places and earn money at the same time.


Let’s face it. Few of us are trust fund babies or have inherited a fortune, and so it’s unlikely we can afford to travel the world and finance such adventures ourselves. Well here’s one solution: TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This small but well-used acronym describes the industry, the profession and the courses you can take to qualify as a teacher. TEFL can be temporary or permanent. Some people do it as a career break or as a gap year, as it’s a great way of earning money while travelling and discovering new cultures, and in Southeast Asia particularly, this is a way that many finance their wanderlust.

      So who would normally decide to do this? More often that not, TEFL teachers are new graduates, fresh out of university, not yet ready to settle down in the corporate world. Others - in fact many - are tired of the ‘rat race’, daydreaming while staring out of their office windows. Seeing new countries and exotic places forms part of many people’s ‘bucket list’. (And for those not familiar with the term, that’s a list of things you wish to do before you, well, kick the bucket so to speak.) Before we know it, the years speed by, and the ideas and inspirations we had when fresh out of school,

now seem a distant, unachievable goal. Many follow the ‘responsible’ path, and study a profession that is safe in the eyes of their parents or career advisors. After four years at university or college, they realise that this isn’t what they want to do with their lives, or perhaps they just want a few years break before entering the real world, with responsibilities, mortgages etc. For a young school-leaver who’s not sure what career path they want to take, a gap year makes perfect sense rather than wasting four years studying the wrong profession.

       TEFL courses often see older students, who realise that 40-plus is not too old to change your life. Some are newly divorced or widowed, some are just bored with day-to-day life, and want to fulfil the promises that they made to themselves as young adults, years ago. Some are recently retrenched, due to the current economic climate. Sometimes life’s knocks are blessings in disguise, allowing you to make a life change that you may not have otherwise considered, or had the courage to attempt.

          Teaching is a very rewarding profession, and teachers are highly respected in the East. Asian children are very different to those in the West – better behaved as well as respectful, making them a pleasure to teach – most of the time! If the thought of teaching children brings on a panic attack, perhaps you would prefer to teach adult learners. There are language schools throughout Asia catering to adults, and many TEFL teachers end up at hotels and resorts, teaching English to staff.

          Teaching hours are not too long, leaving plenty of time to explore new surroundings. Public transportation is also affordable and regular in most of Asia, so a teacher based in a hub such as Bangkok, can effortlessly explore the area on weekends, as well as taking longer expeditions during school holidays. As a teacher, you experience the ‘real’ Asia, making you a traveller, not merely a tourist.

          No one teaches to become rich. Rather, it’s about lifestyle. Average teacher’s salaries in Thailand are about 38,000 baht per month for teachers with a degree, and about 32,000 baht for those without a degree. A teacher can live comfortably on such a wage, with accommodation costing about 20 per cent of this salary. This is of course if you don’t have children to support, or a big household to run. Often accommodation is included in the job package, and many teachers increase their income by offering private lessons after school hours, usually at around 300 to 400 baht per hour. It should be noted that many schools in Thailand only hire teachers who have a degree, so enquire about job prospects with the TEFL school prior to signing up if you’re worried about job placements. That’s not to say those without degrees don’t get employed, but they have a better chance at language schools rather than the government schools

          Teachers who do their TEFL course in Thailand often move on to explore other parts of Asia after first working a year or two in Thailand. Packages in China usually include accommodation in the form of a private apartment, meals included, and a salary large enough to live on and save a bit, and for China, a degree is seldom required. Although Thailand and China are the biggest employers right now, positions are also available in Myanmar as well as Vietnam. Those holding a four-year degree as well as a TEFL certificate can earn a good income in countries such as South Korea or Taiwan, where salaries are considerably higher than in Thailand.

          So what does an average TEFL course involve? Well, generally speaking, they’re 120 hours, spread over four weeks, Monday to Friday, and consist of both theory and practical training. Courses include topics such as Thai culture, classroom management, phonology and phonetics, teaching pronunciation, lesson planning, grammar, icebreakers and games in the classroom, as well as various assignments such as one-to-one projects and making your own teaching materials. Practical training will be in the way of delivering lessons to real students, across several age groups and ability levels, from preschool through to adult, from low level to advanced learners. Lessons are held in local schools, language schools and businesses or with students that come to the TEFL training centre for free English lessons. Most TEFL courses assist with tailoring a resumé to the Asian market, as well as assistance with job placement.

          Expect to pay between 35,000 baht and 50,000 baht for the course, excluding accommodation and flights. The course provider will usually have a recommended resort for their trainees at a discounted rate of a months’ stay.

           And with all students staying at the same place, this is a great way to make new like-minded friends to explore the surroundings with during down time, as well as possibly making a new travel buddy to travel and teach with around Asia. Remember to bring enough money for food and expenses during your month of study, as well as for an extra two months, allowing enough time to find a job and see you through to your first pay cheque.


 Rosanne Turner



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