3 Things They Didn’t Tell Me about Teaching English as a Foreign Language

foreign language

After I had graduated from college, I didn’t really have a plan for my life. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to travel, and while I was working as a freelance writer part-time, it wasn’t enough to rent an apartment in Europe—one of the things I most wanted to do.

I decided I was going to teach English as a foreign language. Many of my peers had gone on great adventures and had encouraged me to give it a try, so I enrolled in the Via Lingua class in Florence. However it didn’t take me long to learn there were some things that my friends and forums online had not told me and that I wished I had known before I went.

  1. It’s very difficult to make an acceptable income from teaching classes alone.

When I first began earning my certificate to teach English as a second language, I was surprised to learn that in areas like Italy, France, and Germany, it was almost impossible to earn enough money from teaching alone. You might only teach two classes a day a few times a week, and the going rate when we were in Florence was 12-15 euro. That’s only 288 to 360 euro a month—definitely not enough to live on while you’re abroad.

  1. Many schools or institutions will not help you with your visa.

Although this is less of a problem in Asian countries, it’s a major problem in Europe. The likelihood of being sponsored by a school or institution is almost impossible—you often have to work there illegally for several years before many places will consider it. Eastern Europe might be more willing to take you on, but where we were in Italy, no one was willing to sponsor their employees because they could replace them too easily.

  1. I was told I could teach anywhere—I couldn’t.

I also learned about a catch-22 while I was there—most schools required two or three years of experience teaching. A job was definitely not guaranteed when you were in Italy. When you are transplanting yourself to another country, the idea that you could be without work for months could be terrifying. I was told also that I could apply for a position in Asia and that I would immediately get a job. However, every interview I had based in Asia also required more experience than a few weeks of training.

The bottom line? I wish I had much more information before I had picked up my life and transferred it across the ocean. I would have also taken more time to find a program that would have worked harder to find me a job after.

The result was I returned to freelancing, and I’m glad. Otherwise I wouldn’t have this blog.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


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  1. Brenda

    Great post!
    How does it work as a freelance? Im planning to move to Italy as a student (masters) but if I have time, I definitely would teach as a part time! how does freelance life works?

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      Alex Schnee

      Hi Brenda,

      I’ve been doing freelance writing, but I also have taught private English lessons and have made some cash from that. Advertising your services online can help a lot, and making flyers and posting them around town and schools can help.

      It’s a lot like freelance writing–you work on your own time and you have clients you like. I would recommend it more than looking for a job at a school.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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  2. Runaway Brit

    This is a really useful post. Many people think that teaching English is so easy that all you have to do is enrol on a quick internet TEFL course and then the whole world is your oyster, but – as you say in your article -quickly find that it is not so simple.

    My best advice for anybody wishing to teach English as a foreign language is to take the CELTA course. It is a 4 week, intensive training course and it is expensive, but it is the only course that the best language schools and centres will consider. Teachers who have studied a CELTA will get the pick of the best jobs and thus will get better pay. They will also be much more ready for the classroom.

    As for me, I would love to get into freelancing. What advice would you give to someone who needs to get started.

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    2. Paulette

      I agree about the CELTA. I did mine in Colombia and it costs about $1800 but I learned a lot about ESL and methodology. The CELTA will open up more doors than any random TEFL certificate.

  3. nbaldino

    I taught English abroad in Thailand. I did A TON of research beforehand and decided to go through a program that ensured a few things: a place to live, a place To teach and a visa. You can find programs like this for many other countries and while it may cost a bit more I do think that the peace of mind is worth it, especially when doing it for the first time. I didn’t make enough to save but it was enough for me to live on, I didn’t need to have any experience outside of a BA and native English and I was able to teach at a school and tutor on the side. Even after being there, I would definitely advise looking into programs to help you get situated!

  4. landlopergem

    Thanks for this – a great post! I’m a newly qualified EFL teacher but have found a great school in Xi’an China where I’m moving to in June! (From London) They are providing housing (shared) or provide a housing allowance if u prefer to live alone. My pay as a new teacher will be £800 a month but works out affordable with the cost of living in Xi’an being so low. My dream is to end up in Southern Europe eventually but like you say they require 2+ years experience, which I plan on getting in Asia first. So it is doable. My route in was finding a decent recruitment agency (in my case ESL China) and doing my research into the school thoroughly. EF (English First) is the name of the school I’m going to which is an International / global franchise with schools all over the world! So for me it will hopefully be a company I can travel within in the long term! But it’s all a bit Unknown still until I get there of course! Eeek! X

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