Can I apply for TEFL jobs if I’m not a native English speaker?
Scan through TEFL job adverts and you’ll see a lot of vacancies advertised for ‘native English speakers only’. If you’re not a native English speaker, it’s all too easy to decide there’s no point in applying for any TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) jobs.
Don’t give up!
If you’re a fluent, non-native English speaker, you can find a job in TEFL – particularly if you’re flexible about where you work. In fact, you may even find the fact that you’re not a native English speaker improves your TEFL teaching, as you’ll be able to draw on your personal experience of learning English as a foreign language.
It’s not all plain sailing though. If you’re not a native English speaker, you’ll be more limited in the roles you can apply for and you almost certainly will have to work harder to prove to employers that you’re the right person for their TEFL job when you apply. However, the brilliant glow you’ll get when you land your first TEFL job will make it all feel worthwhile.
What is a native English speaker?
Before we go on, it’s worth being clear about we mean by a native English speaker. In TEFL, a native English speaker is defined as someone whose first language is English and who is from one of the following countries:
- South Africa
- New Zealand.
Harsh as it seems, if you don’t hold a passport from one of these countries, TEFL employers will not regard you as a native English speaker – even if English is your first language.
Tip 1: Be TEFL certified
If you’re not a native English speaker, it’s essential that you stand up on every other front. Top of the list is a good quality TEFL certification course from an accredited TEFL provider. Not only does it give you the essential skills you need to be a TEFL teacher but the fact that you’ve completed the course in English proves you have good English language skills.
Tip 2: Get TEFL experience
One of the best ways to make employers consider you for a job as a TEFL teacher is if you’ve already worked as a TEFL teacher – and a great way to do that is to get some voluntary TEFL experience. Check out colleges and community centres that run TEFL and TESOL classes in your local area or, if you’re already travelling, offer your teaching services to local schools for free. They all usually welcome voluntary helpers – particularly if you’re trained in TEFL. It’s a great way to build up contacts, demonstrate that you can do the job and gain a crucial extra reference on your CV.
Tip 3: Build up your TEFL CV
Make the rest of your CV outstanding and the fact that you’re not a native English speaker will become less central to your application. If you’ve got a degree or can speak the local language even a little, highlight it on your application. Top that up with specialist TEFL courses, such as teaching Business English or preparing students for TOEFL and IELTS (international English exams), and you can really make your application stand out.
Tip 4: Focus your search
When you’re looking for your first TEFL job, don’t waste your time applying for posts in countries that tend to strongly favour native English speakers, such as Japan, South Korea, China or Saudi Arabia – you’re unlikely be hired. Instead, focus your search on countries where you’ve got a better chance of success. TEFL opportunities definitely do exist for fluent, TEFL certified, non-native English speakers in Thailand, Central America, South America and Eastern Europe. And, if you’re a European Union (EU) citizen, remember that you can work in any other EU country without visa restrictions – which opens up even more TEFL opportunities.
Tip 5: Build up contacts
A TEFL employer is more likely to offer an interview to a candidate that’s been personally recommended to them than someone who applies cold. Use the power of the Internet and social media to contact other non-native English speakers who are already working as TEFL teachers in the countries you’re targeting – you’ll often find they’ve written blogs, set up Facebook groups or have a Twitter or Instagram account that you can start following. Make contact with them to find out who they work for and ask if they know of any vacancies that might be coming up. You’ll be amazed how many people are happy to help.
Tip 6: Make a film
TEFL employers often worry that a non-native English speaker will have an accent that is hard for students to understand. The best way to overcome this objection is to prove that it’s not true. Make a short film to send in with your application. It’s a brilliant way to grab an employer’s attention, showcase your skills and experience and demonstrate how fluent you are in English.
Tip 7: Highlight the positives
Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re not a native English speaker – it’s hard to ignore! Instead, emphasise the positive aspects for TEFL employers. You have direct, personal experience of learning English as a foreign language, which means you’re in a great position to empathise with students’ struggles with TEFL and to know what really works in the classroom. Make your potential employer see that hiring a non-native English speaker is not a disadvantage but a bonus.
Tip 8: Don’t give up
You’ll almost certainly get some knockbacks along the way. Don’t give up – if you really want to be a TEFL teacher, the right opportunity will come along. And remember, finding that first TEFL job is the hardest part. When you’ve done it once, you’ll have experience and references to add to your CV which will definitely help you to move up the job application pile.