How to travel the world as a language teacher

Have you ever dreamt of teaching abroad? 

You may or may not have heard of the term, “to teach is to learn” — but being a teacher is definitely one of the most fulfilling jobs in the world! Teaching allows you to share your language or skill, connect with students, and help them discover their potential step by step. As a traveller, teaching is also an effective way to integrate into the local community, as you get to interact with locals and get introduced to local customs and traditions.

workawayer expat playing hopscotch with smiling children in uniforms while teacher looks on

What’s more, having something specific to offer the community means your presence will be truly welcomed and appreciated. Being able to support your travels by teaching can give you the freedom to go anywhere in the world! If you discover that you’d like to pursue it further, you can even make a living from it.

Sounds like the perfect job for someone who enjoys travelling, exchanging cultures, and doing something rewarding, right! So, how do we start? Here are the most common questions and misconceptions about being a language teacher abroad:

alternative school teacher student country living experience project

If I’m a native speaker then I’d naturally be the perfect teacher, right? 

Well, having a good working knowledge of the language definitely helps, but what’s important is understanding how to break the language down into bite-sized chunks , and having the perspective to see which aspects of the language may be more complex to learners, can be incredibly helpful. Whether it’s your native or second language, as long as you can draw from your own experiences to help guide other people , you can be a great teacher.

smiling teacher looking down at two students colouring hello kitty

Do I need a degree to teach?

For working in many language academies and schools, a degree in any subject is usually a requirement, as it shows a certain level of academic attainment. However when it comes to practical teaching, we believe that proper training and experience are far more relevant and useful

The good news is that, whether you have a degree or not, Workaway gives you the opportunity to explore different avenues and to see  whether a career in teaching is for you or not!

workawayer reading a story to young girl

What about getting Language Teaching Certificates or Diplomas? 

In the case of English there are now many recognised TEFL certificates available, other languages have their own equivalent diplomas. These are worthwhile if you are seriously considering becoming a professional teacher, or just want to optimise your contribution as an assistant teacher. You can investigate the options for recognised courses to complete in preparation for your trip,  or opt for one of the many on-line training programmes. With an officially recognised qualification, along with the Workway teaching experiences under your belt, you would be better equipped to fund your travels in the future by getting paid employment at schools, or by offering online tuition privately or with an agency. 

workaway volunteer teacher in class shaking hands with student

What if I have no experience, training or qualifications? 

Maybe you are curious about teaching, but are not ready to commit to a course or the time and costs involved. Workaway offers a wide range of possibilities where your role would be to simply reinforce the language by speaking and interacting with family members or school children . Hosts see this as a possibility of refreshing their own communication skills, or to encourage bi-lingualism in their children, or assist small communities or enterprises in need of a good working knowledge of foreign languages for their livelihood. Home-schooling initiatives and village schools often look for the input of energetic volunteers as extra support as well as enhancing the language learning programme.

outdoor fun workawayer reading storybook to child holding popcorn under umbrella

That’s great… so, what DO I need to become a language teacher? 

Being a teacher requires energy, patience and empathy . You need determination and drive, but also the ability to accept that not all your classes will go to plan. From my years of English teaching experience, I often find these attributes the most essential for a teacher to bring with them to the role:

  • Care and Compassion.  Take the trouble to get to know each of your students: their individual personalities, their interests and their goals.
  • Adaptability & Improvisation.  These are vital skills, more so if you are with limited resources, but even if you have every teaching aid at your fingertips, unforeseen circumstances can arise.
  • Sense of humour & Fun.  Studies certainly suggest that we remember new words better if there is an  element of humour or quirkiness attached to them. Classes come alive with personality questionnaires, problems to solve, jokes and challenges and using subject matter that is engaging and fun. A good class can often be judged by how much laughter there is!
  • Cultural Awareness.  This is especially important when you’re teaching as a traveller in another country! Being aware not only makes you sensitive to possible misunderstandings or taboo subjects, but it  can also help you to incorporate aspects of their culture which might facilitate their learning. Workawayers often have the advantage of staying with a local family, which can speed up this process!
fun learning adventure workawayer and group of students on an outing

So in other words, it’s not about professional qualifications, but more so about whether you’re willing to make the effort to share your language in a fun, attentive and thoughtful way. It’s a long learning process, but thankfully you’ve got lots of resources and loads of opportunities to gain experience… Now that you know what it takes, why not start your journey with one of the many Workaway hosts who are looking for help with language exchange and learning? 

volunteer abroadlanguage skillslanguage exchangeteaching

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