Introduction to the Worldwide TEFL Job Market
With estimates of up to two billion people using and learning English worldwide, the field of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) represents one of the largest and fastest-growing fields of international education in recent decades.
The rise of English as a global language is rooted in the broad political and economic reach of the British Empire and, more recently, in the economic and cultural dominance of the United States after World War II. Since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the continued growth of English as the world’s lingua franca has coincided with the emergence of a truly globalized and digitized economy. In a world where people from different linguistic backgrounds increasingly need to communicate on a daily basis, English has filled the void.
Is TEFL a Good Career Choice?
The growing use of English has generated enormous demand for English language instruction, presenting innumerable opportunities for native and fluent English speakers to gain employment in the field of TEFL.
From business people in Japan to schoolchildren in Spain and university students in Saudi Arabia, the need for trained English language instructors is genuinely a worldwide phenomenon reaching every corner of the globe.
In this document, it is our goal to provide a broad overview of the international TEFL job market for English teachers in 2021, including:
- How high is the demand for English language instruction worldwide? Gain insights into the growing global demand for English, including a spotlight on China, which has emerged as the world’s largest market for English language instruction in recent decades.
- Different types of job opportunities for certified English teachers around the globe. Private language schools, public schools, universities, private tutoring, and teaching English through semi-governmental organizations like the Peace Corps are just some of the opportunities available to those wishing to teach English abroad. We provide a detailed overview that includes hiring requirements for the most common job opportunities, including the need for TEFL certification and other academic and professional standards.
- Salaries for English teachers around the world. Depending on the job, the teacher’s experience, local economic conditions (including the local cost of living), the earning potential for English teachers around the world can vary greatly. We give an overview of what certified English teachers can expect to make in the biggest job markets around the world.
- Teaching English Online (TEO). Online education has exploded in recent decades, and that includes teaching English as a foreign language. TEO's growth increased significantly with the imposition of lockdowns and travel restrictions in 2020-2021 during COVID. It provided a lifeline to many English teachers who lost overseas teaching jobs or could not fulfill their plans of teaching English overseas. However, recent Chinese government regulations on online learning have impacted the job market late in the summer of 2021.
The impact of COVID-19 on the international TEFL job market. Like nearly all sectors of the international economy, global education was massively affected by COVID-19. Learn more about how the pandemic has impacted job opportunities for those seeking to teach English as a foreign language, both online and abroad.
We include feedback & data from International TEFL Academy (ITA) graduates regarding their teaching English experiences during the COVID pandemic in 2020-2021.
Is TEFL a Long-Term Career?
Flexibility is one of the most appealing elements of teaching English abroad. Due to widespread demand, ESL teaching jobs are typically available in more than 100 nations. In addition, TEFL-certified teachers can choose to teach abroad for a period of just a few months, or they can make it a lifelong career.
Many native English-speakers see teaching English abroad primarily as a vehicle to just live abroad for a period of up to a year or two before returning to their home country to resume their studies or their career. Others make teaching English overseas a long-term career either in one or multiple countries.
For some, they just love the job and living abroad. This is especially the case for more experienced teachers with more advanced credentials who can make a better living teaching in universities or elite international schools offering excellent pay and benefits, even when compared to top teaching positions in the U.S. or the U.K. Others may make their home in another country because of family reasons or because their spouse or partner has a career that takes them abroad.
Common Definitions Related to the TEFL Job Market for Teaching English to Non-Native Speakers
TEFL – This common acronym stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is the primary acronym used in the context of native or non-native fluent English speakers who provide English language instruction to non-native speakers in foreign countries.
TEFL Certification - For those who do not hold a college or graduate-level degree in teaching English (commonly known as “TESOL”), the most common way to gain the teaching skills and a recognized qualification to gain employment as a professional English teacher abroad is to attain an accredited TEFL certification.
TEFL certification is a viable option for many who cannot invest the time and money to achieve a full degree. An internationally accredited TEFL certification course can be completed through a four-week intensive format or the equivalent part-time. In addition, accredited TEFL courses are now available both online and in-person in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Typical standards for internationally accredited TEFL certification include:
- At least 100 hours of coursework;
- At least 6-20 hours of practicum (live practice teaching and observation with actual non-native English speakers and NOT role-playing with fellow TEFL classmates);
- An accredited curriculum from a recognized, independent organization within the field;
- Instruction provided by a qualified instructor (who has an equivalent to a Master's Degree in TESOL or a related field);
- It is also recommended that you take your TEFL certification course from an organization that provides comprehensive job search guidance.
TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. This acronym typically applies to the teaching of English to non-native speakers in native English-speaking countries like the U.S. Those who earn university degrees in TESOL commonly seek to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) in domestic classrooms in native English-speaking nations such as the U.S. However, those holding TESOL degrees can also teach English abroad in all types of schools, language institutes, universities, and elite international schools. Many of these positions require such a degree and other teaching credentials like experience and a certification from a state or state government education board.
It is also worth noting that the world’s largest professional organization in the world for ESL teachers is the TESOL International Association (TESOL.org), which encompasses more than 12,000 members representing 156 countries, and more than 100 worldwide affiliates.
ESL: English as a Second Language. This acronym typically refers to English language education in countries where English is the official language. Examples of ESL students would be recent immigrants or foreign exchange students studying English in a country where they can immerse themselves in the language. In Britain and Ireland ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) is sometimes used in a similar context.
EFL: English as a Foreign Language. While similar to “ESL”, this term is usually used when referring to English language education in countries where English is not the official language (most of the world). Students in this situation often speak their native language in their daily life and only encounter English in a classroom.
TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language. The acronym is most commonly used in Canada for the certification required to teach English to non-native speakers. In Canada, a TESL certification typically must be recognized and accredited by TESL Canada, which is a body that officially validates TESL certification for those wishing to teach English in Canada.