Can I teach English abroad without knowing the local language (or being bilingual)?

There are two common misconceptions when it comes to requirements for teaching English abroad:

  • I can’t teach English abroad if I don’t speak the local language.
  • I need to know a foreign language to teach English abroad.

Well, no need to worry, we’re here to quash these common misconceptions for you!

Can I teach English abroad if I don’t speak the local language?

teach english without knowing another language

The short answer is YES! You can absolutely teach English overseas without speaking the local language of your destination country. To teach English abroad all you need are these two things:

  1. Fluency in English
  2. Bachelor’s degree (any major)

Read this: Here's where you can teach English abroad without a degree!

So why don’t you need to speak the local language? Well, let’s face it, as a native English speaker you’re an expert! Many employers actually PREFER that you don’t speak their local language, at least in the classroom.

When it comes to learning a new language, what is one of the first pieces of advice you’ll get? Immerse yourself in the language you are trying to learn! Whether that means going directly to the source and living amongst the locals that speak the language you’re learning, or if you take a language course that speaks only that language - you’re sure to pick up a few things!

If you find you’re a bit intimidated to teach English without knowing the language your students are fluent in, that’s okay! There are plenty of non-verbal tools and resources to help you effectively teach your students English without speaking their language in class, including:

  • Pictures/posters
  • Objects
  • Body language
  • Picture dictionaries

Using these types of tools can help you demonstrate the meanings of certain words or phrases, using them to depict things like:

  • Opposites
  • Synonyms/Antonyms
  • Kinds of...
  • Etc.

This way, rather than translating word for word from your students’ local language to English, students will be able to actively learn what you are teaching them - without relying on you to do the work for them!

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Do I need to be bilingual or know a foreign language to teach English abroad?

do you have to be bilingual to be an esl teacher

Like we mentioned already, you don’t need to speak the local language to be able to teach English overseas. But do you need to be bilingual, or speak a foreign language?

Sure, being able to speak more than one language will definitely provide you with certain skills or perspectives while in the classroom. The most basic being that you can empathize with your students, you know firsthand what it’s like to learn a new language. But is that skillset required? Nope!

You are being hired because you’re fluent in the language you’re being hired to teach - English! Speaking another language, or multiple languages for that matter, are not required for the majority of ESL jobs.

Okay, so you know that you don’t need to speak a foreign language to actually teach English abroad, but there are two more questions you may have about speaking another language:

  • How will I be interviewed if I don’t speak the language?
  • What about actually living and thriving abroad?

When it comes to being interviewed, stop stressing! Since employers are hiring you because of your expertise as a native English speaker, you will more than likely be interviewed in English.

This is also a great reminder that you likely won’t be the only English speaker at your new job. More often than not, some of your colleagues will speak some English, even if it’s just conversational or a basic understanding.

Great, so you know you can teach abroad without knowing another language, but what about actually living abroad?

Getting by in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language

teach english abroad without knowing the language

Living and working in a different country and culture can be a lot to take in. There’s no denying that you may experience a bit of culture shock while you transition into your new home and teaching opportunity. But a great way to help manage that experience is by taking some time to learn a few key phrases and terms of the local language you are going to be surrounded by - just to help you get comfortable and thrive during this new adventure!

Don’t forget, while your students will be immersing themselves in the English language in your classroom, you’ll also be immersing yourself in their language and culture throughout your stay in your destination country. Whether your teaching contract is one semester or one year, you’ll definitely pick up some basic words and phrases of the local language.

Well, now you know! You absolutely do NOT need to speak the local language, or another language for that matter, to teach English abroad.

Teaching English in a truly immersive classroom (while it may be a bit challenging at first) will ultimately push your students to actively learn what you are teaching them. You’ve been hired because you’re in demand, you’re a native English speaker – and there’s no better way for your students to learn a new language than by diving in, and immersing themselves in the English language.

PLUS, there are lots of useful tools and teaching approaches that you learn through a TEFL certification course. These courses, like the one offered by Teach Away and the University of Toronto OISE, are designed to give you the tools and skills you need to teach English abroad - no other language necessary!

For more FAQS related to teaching abroad, check out the links below:

After you’re done brushing up on the need-to-know info, what are your next steps? First things first, can you check these two things off your list?

  1. Fluency in English
  2. Bachelor’s degree (any major)

If you checked yes to both of those things, then you can start applying! So get the application ball rolling by visiting the Teach Away job board today. Good luck!

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