I Don’t Speak a Foreign Language – Can I Still Teach English Abroad?

I Don’t Speak a Foreign Language – Can I Still Teach English Abroad?
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Can you teach English abroad without knowing the language?

The answer is most definitely: YES! In the vast majority of cases you do not need to the know the local language of the country where you teach to get hired. You will get a job because you are a fluent English speaker who is equipped to teach your students English in an immersion setting.

These are the four most commonly asked questions:


Can you teach English abroad without speaking a foreign language?
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1)  Interviewing and getting hired: 

But if I don’t speak the local language, how will I interview and get hired? 

Remember that you are in demand and qualified to work as an English speaker because you are a native English speaker (or a very fluent non-native speaker) who has been trained to teach English on the professional level, not because you do or don’t speak the local language.

When it comes to actual hiring process, English teachers around the globe are interviewed in English, and you should almost never have to worry about needing to provide a resume or cover letter in the language of the country where you wish to teach.  Keep in mind, the job is to work at an English language school; the staff interviewing you speaks English!


2)  Teaching the students: How can I teach if I don’t know the language of my students?

If my students don’t speak English and I don’t speak their language how will I be able to communicate with them?

The very first thing your employer will tell you is they only want you to speak English to the students.   In addition, according to the principles of modern language instruction, you as the teacher will want to immerse your students in an English-only environment as much as possible when they are in your class.

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In many cases, by using your students’ own language, you are providing a crutch for them that may impede their progress in learning English.  You should also remember that the vast majority of your students will already have had some exposure and instruction in English.  With this in mind, a large portion of your TEFL training is dedicated to providing you with the skills to communicate with non-native speakers of various levels.


3)  Living and surviving in another country:

  • If I don’t speak the local language, how will I be able to function? 
  • Will I be able to make friends? 
  • Will I be able to perform the rituals of daily life like grocery shopping, riding public transportation and ordering in local restaurants?

Have you ever gone on vacation in another country?  The same way you use a guide book and navigate around town, go site seeing and find a place to eat are essentially the same skills to live in a city.


Remember that English is the most widely used language in the world and in major cities, and in other regions where you will most likely live and work as a teacher, a substantial if not high percentage of the local population will have at least some ability to communicate in English. In major cities across the world – where the vast majority of jobs for English teachers are concentrated – it is common for many waiters, bank tellers, taxi drivers, shop-keepers, and other folks in various walks of live to speak at least some English.  In many countries and cities, whether it be Madrid, Spain; Cairo, Egypt; Santiago, Chile; or Seoul, Korea, it is common for street signs, menus, shop prices and other useful information to be printed and published in English, or at least in the Latin alphabet. 

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You will also find large communities of expatriate English speakers in major cities throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia where job opportunities are concentrated. Most large cities in these regions are home to several thousand English teachers at least, in addition to large expatriate communities comprised of business professionals, students, diplomats, and others. 

In many countries and cities, the local English-speaking population is large enough to sustain its own English-language press as well as English-speaking churches (and other houses of worship), social groups and sports leagues.  As a teacher, chances are high that you will be working, or even living with other English teachers. Teachers not only typically live together, but also socialize on the weekends, or even travel together on holiday.  In fact, one of the greatest benefits of going abroad to teach English will be the friendships you forge with others, including your colleagues.


4)  Learning the local language: 

If I want to learn a foreign language, will going abroad give me the opportunity to do so?

Yes. Immersing yourself in a country where a language is spoken by living in it is often the best way to learn a foreign language. This is one of the greatest opportunities of living abroad.  And, while it is not necessary that you make an effort to learn the local language of your teaching country, you will find that at the very least, it will be helpful to learn enough of it so that you can ask directions, read a menu and exchange pleasantries and greetings with the locals, who will invariably appreciate your efforts.

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When it comes to options for learning the language of the country where you wish to teach, you may consider taking a class or even getting your hands on some audio lessons prior to your departure just so you can learn a few words and phrases.  Once you move to the country where you will teach, opportunities to study the local language should be ample as language courses and tutors are usually abundant.  In fact, many of the schools that hire English teachers themselves offer classes in the local language and so your employer may be willing to provide you with language classes at a discounted price. 

Many teachers also engage in “language exchanges” with local citizens, whereby the teacher and a local citizen gather for a coffee, a meal or a drink, and spend some time speaking in English and some time speaking in the local language. This allows both parties to gain some language practice as well as an opportunity to learn about each other’s lives and cultures.

To learn more, check out: Can I Learn a Foreign Language While Teaching English Abroad? & 16 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language while Teaching English Abroad

Posted In: Teach English Abroad, Tips for Traveling & Living Abroad

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