The Boston Language Institute

'Repeat After Me...'

Teaching English overseas can be a smart -- and more affordable -- way to see the world

The Schreibers, the Siegels and Mr. Stock received TEFL certificates from the Boston Language Institute, one of the better-known programs in the country.


September 13, 2008; The Wall Street Journal, Page R13

Wanted: Gift of gab.

If you've meant to spend retirement touring the world, your hopes may be sagging along with the limp dollar. But if your native tongue is English, there's a way to subsidize your travel.

[Encore: A Guide to Retirement]

Demand is growing in schools overseas for people to teach conversational American to foreign students of all ages. Candidates don't have to be teachers by profession -- although it helps to have a college degree and some training in Teaching English as a Second Language, or TESL. Rather, the ideal instructor is adventurous, adaptable and interested in exotic climes -- mainly in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Jobs can be as short as a summer session or as long as a school year. The work itself can be challenging. Classroom discipline and student attitudes vary widely. Some teachers have arrived at their destination only to find that employment promises were misleading. Accommodations and amenities, of course, are often vastly different from home.

Still, teachers get the chance to immerse themselves (more often than not) in a welcoming foreign culture, where they can help change lives in a community. And though wages may be low, the money helps offset the alarming increase in travel costs and stretches touring dollars.

[The Journal Report: Encore]
Rob Shepperson

Bill Siegel, 66 years old and a semiretired dentist, and his wife, Marian, 65, his former office manager, taught at Rajabhat University in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, from last November to March.

The Beverly, Mass., couple love to travel and are "financially comfortable," Mr. Siegel says, "but we couldn't afford to visit another country and stay for months without having our income supplemented." They are thinking of teaching in Eastern Europe next.

Where to Go

For Americans in their 50s and 60s, there are many possibilities like these, according to purveyors of TESL instruction. Asians and Middle Easterners tend to respect age and experience over youth, although many schools prefer to employ recent college graduates.

TESL-instruction schools are spreading at home and abroad. Statistics on the number of job openings are scarce, but school officials say demand is growing.

China's market is the biggest, and South Korea's is "booming," says David Sperling, of Northridge, Calif., the proprietor of Dave's ESL Cafe at, a site that schools and erstwhile teachers cite as the best source for information about all aspects of world-wide TESL.


Other teaching hot spots include Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia. Opportunities in Japan, a desirable locale, have been shrinking. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia needs teachers (although visiting women face social restrictions), as do the more liberal countries of United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen. Closer to home, Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador offer a number of opportunities for Americans.

Unhappily, schools in the 27 European Union countries generally limit hiring to people with EU passports. However, job watchers point to some openings for Americans in Eastern European countries that joined the EU in recent years, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.

Jobs also may be available in Russia, former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, and in countries that arose from the collapse of Yugoslavia, such as Croatia.

Pay and benefits range from just the cost of airfare and accommodations to much more. The best deals, according to job watchers, are found in South Korea and the Middle East, where teachers may have money left over to bring home. Just don't count on that.

Although pay varies wildly in China, Bill and Linda Schreiber of Framingham, Mass., lived comfortably while teaching in Suqian City, Jiangsu Province, Mr. Schreiber says, and they still had "a wad of cash" to convert to dollars upon departure.

Oxford Seminars, which has TESL programs at colleges in the U.S. and Canada, recently listed these examples of possible jobs: In South Korea, $1,600 to $1,900 a month, airfare and accommodation, with a one-year contract. In China, $750 a month, airfare and accommodation, preferably but not necessarily with a one-year contract. In Ecuador, $6 an hour.

Teach and Learn

People who have taught English overseas frequently describe the experience as doubly rewarding: There's the opportunity to learn more about a country than they ever would as part of a tour. And there's the chance to share their talents and wisdom with a unique audience.

David Stock, 55, once just a wayfaring globe-trekker, left Vermont to teach English in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China, for six months last year. "I wanted to travel, but also have something positive to do," the former postal worker explains. Mr. Stock also recently taught for five months in Nayarit, Mexico. He has coped with students of all ages and learning levels.

Mr. Schreiber, a 64-year-old retired loudspeaker engineer, recommends teaching English as a way "to experience another culture from the inside." He says, "I really got a sense of China as a dynamic, friendly, entrepreneurial society." The Schreibers taught at Suqian College for a semester in the spring of 2005.

A sampling of the better-known schools that offer classes and training for people interested in teaching English as a second language

Boston Language Institute
Emphasizes small class size, with a maximum of 12 students in each. Has trained about 1,000 teachers.


Cambridge Celta
Cambridge, England*
A world-wide program of the University of Cambridge. Operates seven centers in the U.S. that award Celta, or Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.


Oxford Seminars
Los Angeles/New York
Classes held on college campuses across the country and in Canada. Offers a "teacher placement service."


SIT Graduate Institute
Brattleboro, Vt.
A unit of World Learning. Available at nine sites in the U.S.


TEFL International
Woodburn, Ore.
Operates in 18 countries. U.S. program is based in New York.
*U.S. contact for Cambridge Celta, at Lone Star College-CyFair in Cypress, Texas. Prefers all contact by email.
Source: WSJ reporting

Do Your Homework

So is teaching English the right travel gig for you?

Do plenty of research before you answer, advises Brian Long, a former director of training and education services at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vt., which offers TESL courses around the world.

And, he suggests, ask yourself these questions: Do I like to teach? Do I like people? How many hours do I want to work? How much money do I need? And how hard am I willing to work for it?

Personally, you should be healthy, curious, open-minded, flexible, patient, friendly and willing to take some chances. A subtle sense of American humor will prime you to explain its mysteries to foreigners who often take or give offense through misunderstandings.

"You can't expect the amenities to be the same as in the Western world," cautions David Roberts, teacher-placement coordinator and spokesman for Oxford Seminars. Watch out for primitive toilets in China, for example.

Most foreign employers want to see your college degree and may require a certificate showing that you have studied TESL or TEFL, which stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, as some courses are labeled.

Experienced teachers recommend taking a monthlong TESL course in a classroom, with some practice teaching. At home in Massachusetts, Mrs. Schreiber, 61, is an adjunct professor teaching expository writing to college freshmen. In China, however, she needed different skills to stimulate participation in exercises by students speaking English with varying proficiency.

The Schreibers, the Siegels and Mr. Stock received TEFL certificates from the Boston Language Institute, one of the better-known programs in the country. The cost of such a course ranges from about $1,000 to more than $2,000. To get acquainted with the country you're considering as a destination, you also could take a course there. The cost should be less than in the U.S.

When it comes to finding the right stint in the right place, certificate schools' Web sites and Dave's ESL Cafe can direct you to information about countries, jobs, pay and benefits, living conditions, unreliable employers and unscrupulous practices, and how to prepare for shipping out.

You can pop into these sites' chat forums to ask questions and meet people who will tell you where they've been, how they liked it, what to see, and how best to learn more. Remember to ask about health care.

Mr. Roberts of Oxford Seminars also suggests making sure that a contract spells out your rights in case you don't like the situation you've gotten into.

Be Flexible

And be ready to roll with the punches. The Siegels thought they both had jobs before they went to Thailand, but one didn't pan out. So, they spent three weeks in Bangkok exploring other job possibilities -- and the city -- and found what they wanted, with good pay and living conditions. In Nakhon Pathom, the university town, "everywhere we went...we were treated like celebrities," Mr. Siegel says.

Be ready to adjust to local school discipline and student attitudes. The Thai students "were very respectful but not attentive," Mr. Siegel recalls. They thought nothing of coming late to class or talking on cellphones there. Their culture was to help one another, he adds, so one student would take on and complete a class's homework assignment, and then the others would copy it exactly.

What may you miss most away from home? Mr. Stock lists friends, family and cheeseburgers. All the same, he's ready to set out again, "to do something that's appreciated and get paid for it."

--Mr. Schmedel is a writer in Mountainside, N.J. He can be reached at


Read the original article in The Wall Street Journal.