Second To None: Teaching ESL Abroad Or At Home

“Go abroad and teach English for a year.” Many students receive this advice when they finish college and don’t know quite what to do with themselves. These days most of us know of a relative, friend, or colleague who has taught in Japan, Korea, or Thailand.

Although it is common to hear of ESL (English as a Second Language) schools abroad, as it seems to be a romanticized trend to teach in these schools, there are similar private ESL schools right here in Canada.

One such school is the Danforth’s Metropolitan College. This school caters to a variety of students, aged 18 plus, coming from many different cultural backgrounds and having many different first languages. According to Metropolitan college ESL teacher Penny Kospopoulos, even though this school is located in Toronto’s “Greek Town” the school’s population is very diverse, allowing the students to understand English spoken with many different accents.

Benefits of Going Abroad

One of the major incentives for teaching abroad is the travel experience. As Lisa Mungall, a recent university graduate applying to teach ESL, points out “half the appeal of applying to ESL jobs is the travel aspect of it.”

Some of the people who are choosing to teach abroad may be doing so because they want to experience a different culture and have an adventure, not because they want to make a career of ESL education.  Michelle Revoy, an ESL teacher at Korea’s JLS school in Cheongju, says the only qualifications needed to teach ESL abroad are “a university degree and experience working with kids,” providing a great way for young people to see the world and make some money.

However, this means that ESL education abroad may not be held to the same standards as ESL education in Canada.  At JLS, Michelle’s students are aged between 3 and 13 years old. These students take English lessons as part of their school curriculum and do not have a choice. This could be problematic because the students do not choose to learn English, so they may have less motivation.

Home Grown Education

The teachers at Metropolitan College in Toronto commit to a one year TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) program where they are trained in how to teach ESL classes. They must have a bachelor’s degree and usually have previous experience. These people teach ESL because it is their true passion. As Penny says, the positions at Metropolitan College “are more permanent.”

Although it seems probable that people teaching ESL abroad are also interested in teaching in Canada, this is not always the case. Michelle says that she “never thought about teaching ESL in Canada, probably because [she] didn’t know about it or what kind of qualifications you need.”

According to Penny, at Metropolitan College the students come from all over the world to live in Canada and immerse themselves in the culture to fully learn the language. These students made the choice. To teach them is both rewarding and fulfilling because their desire to learn gives them the necessary tools to succeed.

The Future of ESL in Canada

ESL teaching overseas seems to be more popular, with representatives drawing in future graduates at career fairs, but maintaining a strong ESL industry in Canada is essential for fully integrating recent immigrants into Canadian culture.

Although Canadian ESL teaching jobs may be more permanent, and therefore have less job openings, it is important that Canadian ESL schools be considered by potential teachers and students alike.   If an entire family moves to Canada and all of the members can have ESL lessons (instead of just the children like many foreign ESL schools focus on) they can learn together and create a comfortable environment to practice.

The next time someone tells you they are considering teaching ESL abroad, let them know that there may be exciting opportunities to teach their native language closer to home.


  • JK

    This is a well written piece, Jaime. And the next time one of my friends say they are thinking of teaching ESL overseas, I am going to tell them they can do it right here in Canada!

  • Shauna

    I taught English overseas in Korea for 2 years and loved it — it’s cool to know there are similar opportunities around here. Nice piece!

  • Mike

    Yes, a well-written article. Unfortunately it is a load of rubbish. I am an ESL professional with a MEd TESL and provincial teaching certification (OCT). I cannot find a ESL teaching job in Canada, except those that are part-time, tutoring, or embarrassingly low-paying. The fact is, ESL as a career is not taken seriously in Canada since people mistakingly think that anyone who speaks English can teach it – HOGWASH! Most English speakers don’t even know what a gerund is, nor would they know where to begin to teach reading, writing, or listening. The truth is, there are VERY FEW opportunities to teach ESL in Canada, and the vast majority that do exist are low-paying, or part-time. If you want to teach ESL, plan on spending the rest of you life overseas going from contract position to contract position with no job security.

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