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Top 10 ESL Teaching Myths

Updated on June 2, 2015

There are many Misconceptions about Teaching English Overseas

Welcome to this site designed to give you a dose of reality before you get on that plane to Teach English Abroad. Teaching English as a Second Language is not a particularly easy or lucrative job, but it seems to increasingly be a job that people want. The lure of adventures and travel draw people into Teaching English. But making ESL Lesson Plans, engaging in Effective Teaching Strategies and undertaking Foreign Language Training requires a lot of work. Consider your decision to Teach English Overseas carefully!


Myth #10: It's Dangerous to Teach ESL Abroad

I'm sure you've all heard, "Don't go to _________(certain country) It's so dangerous." And perhaps you tell your family and friends that you're considering a move to Korea, or the Middle East, or China and they react with shock and horror at your "irrational" decision. In most cases, it simply isn't true that Teaching ESL overseas is dangerous. Many countries around the world actually have lower crime rates than the USA and have far less problems with things like guns, drugs and gangs. So, do your research about the political stability and crime rates of your chosen country, but don't worry too much about it. I can't think of any popular ESL Teaching Destination that I'd not recommend as being too dangerous.


Myth #9: You don't have to know the local language

While it certainly is possible to not know a single word of the local language upon arrival in your chose country, it definitely won't be easy. Most people will not speak English and so knowing a few basic words can go a long way. Plus, it will help you in teaching because you'll better be able to understand why your students are making the mistakes that they do.


Myth #8: You can go with $100 in your pocket

It's kind of an urban legend that you can get an ESL Teaching job where the company will send you a plane ticket and you can arrive in country with $100 in your pocket to get you through to your first paycheck. This simply isn't true these days, as most employers will not provide plane tickets, and if they do, you'll usually have to pay for it yourself and they will reimburse you with your first pay. And, depending upon the date of your arrival, you could have to wait up to 2 months before you see your first teaching money. Be prepared and go with at least one month of the local pay to see you through and help with start up costs.


Myth #7: You can apply for a job and then be on the plane a week later

While this used to be the case 10 or 20 years ago, things have definitely changed. Most countries have much stricter visa regulations than in the past and it can take many months to get your paperwork in order. Plan ahead and start applying for jobs and getting required documents 6 months ahead of when you actually want to be teaching.

Additionally, it can be much harder these days to actually secure a job because of the high number of "economic refugees" from North America who can't find a job due to high unemployment rate there. It can take a couple months, with hundreds of applications and endless email and phone interviews to secure a solid position. Many of the top spots are filled by word of mouth by people already in the country so you're kind of competing for the "leftovers" on the internet.


Myth #6: Culture Shock Won't Happen to you

When moving to a new country with a radically different set of views and customs, Culture Shock is sure to happen. It's just a matter of degrees. Don't think it won't happen to you once the "Honeymoon Phase" is over. If you prepare yourself for it and realize that it's happening, you will be able to adapt much more easily.

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English Toss on Planet Andong - An ESL Teaching in Rural South Korea


Myth #5: You'll have a very easy time making local friends

In many cases, the local teachers at your school will have seen foreigner, after foreigner come and go. This makes them somewhat reluctant to invest huge amounts of time in a friendship with you since you will most likely leave after a year, and understandably so. You will for sure make some acquaintances and friends during your time Teaching ESL Overseas, but don't have unrealistic expectations that the locals will adopt you as one of their own. They will usually not.


Myth #4: All Countries are Basically Westernized

Just because there is a Pizza Hut, Mcdonalds and KFC down the street from your new school and you can find Western Food at the local grocery store, it doesn't mean that the place is "Westernized." Vastly different thinking, values and ways of life are prevalent around the world. You'll have to adapt and be able to cope with this in order to make your year Teaching ESL a happy one. If you are the type of person that needs a certain brand of everything, is a picky eater or just plain inflexible about most things, Teaching ESL Abroad may not be for you.


Myth #3: Teaching ESL is Easy

Trust me on this one, it's not. If you've never taught before, it can be a very scary experience to have 15 little sets of eyes watching you, waiting for you to make things happen in the classroom. And parents and supervisors with expectations that you're going to make something out of nothing. If you don't like little children, teaching ESL Is perhaps not for you, since this is where most of the jobs are found. It will be a long, rough year for you.

Adults are no easier, because they will be able to sniff out a "time-filler" from miles away. If you're going to Teach ESL for the first time, it's wise to do a teacher-training course first (Celta is the best) or at the very least read a few books on how to do it.

How to Teach English - by Jeremy Harmer

How to Teach English Book and DVD Pack
How to Teach English Book and DVD Pack
If you do only one thing before going to Teach ESL Abroad, it should be to read this book. And bring it with you because you'll find yourself referring to it weekly in your first year of teaching.

Myth #2: You'll be able to travel lots when Teaching ESL Abroad

You're in Asia, or South America or Europe for the first time and the world is your oyster! So many countries to see, and things to do, and adventures to have. Except you're working. And probably a lot. Most entry-level ESL jobs require 25-40 hours/week in the office, sometimes in the form of a split-shift (morning +nights with a break in the middle). And if it's your first teaching job, you'll quite likely have to spend a lot of time prepping and be tired from teaching. It can be grueling being "on-stage" for 6+ hours/day.

Often this job comes with only 2 weeks vacation and precious few National Holidays or other school holidays.


Myth #1: You'll Make Lots of Money Teaching ESL Abroad

10 years ago, it was very possible to make a lot of money Teaching ESL Overseas, particularly in the Middle East or North-East Asia. These days, it's not the case. Korea, Taiwan and Japan in many cases no longer offer free airfare or housing. Instead, these perks come out of your salary. And the Middle East usually requires a Celta, even for entry-level jobs. This is a $2000+ course.

The reality is that you should be able to save money in most cases, but it won't be a huge amount. Newbies in their first year traditionally spend a lot more than the hardened vets because they travel, don't know the cheap places to shop and have a lot of start-up costs.

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