Making Money in Teaching English As a Foreign Language (TEFL-ESL-TESOL)

First some context about the TEFL/ESL/TESOL labour market to think about. The market for English language learning in the world is booming. Compare the world now with that of twenty years ago. Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe is in its death throes, China is beginning the transition to capitalism, South America is emerging from a decade of turmoil and dictatorship, the EEC is deciding to become the European Union, the Internet and email is in its infancy, but expanding rapidly. All these global changes since then have unleashed the force of English as a global language and it is vital to understand that there are billions of dollars spent on learning it every year. It’s time to bring some of those dollars your way.

Yet why when there are billions of dollars spent on English learning every year, do jobs still advertise only a thousand US dollar salaries a month? Well, unfortunately the labour market for TEFL/ESL/TESOL attracts people from Western countries who, because of their desire to live abroad, are happy to live on nothing. The economic reality is that wages in TEFL/ESL/TESOL are dragged down as a result. The secret to high TEFL/ESL salaries are knowing the local English learning labour market. Just follow these eight techniques to land yourself a lucrative, highly paid job teaching English.

1. Get Qualified

In the supply of and demand for English teachers, teaching qualifications are becoming the rule, not the exception. To stand a chance of getting a job, let alone a high salary, you have to invest the time and money into getting qualified. Entry level TEFL/ESL qualifications comprise essentially of the Cambridge CELTA/CertTESOL. These are month-long training courses that cost around $1500-2000. By 2009, it is clear that the CELTA is becoming the industry norm. This course is worthy of investing in, not only because it will teach you how to teach, but employers now expect it.

To get a salary raise from CELTA/CertTESOL aim to achieve the top grade the course can offer. In CELTA this is a pass B, followed by a pass A, while the CertTESOL does not officially award grades. Achieving above a simple pass shows you’re a competent teacher and you are dedicated to the profession. This may be reflected in a company’s pay scales or can be used by you to negotiate a higher salary. Therefore it is vital to take these training courses seriously and prepare comprehensively for them.

Do not even consider doing an online or distance teaching course. These are a poor investment of your money and are run by unscrupulous organisations keen to manipulate people’s fears of investing a lot of money in an expensive course like CELTA/CertTESOL. But why throw $500-1000 at a course that no school will recognise, let a lone give you pay-related credit for? For CELTA/CertTESOL qualified teachers, consider raising your salary through further qualifications. Once you have gained two years experience consider investing in the next level diplomas – these are the Cambridge DELTA/DipTESOL respectively. While both courses require an even larger investment in terms of course costs, you will be rewarded by being eligible for promotion to a role such as DOS/ADOS, with comprehensive pay benefits.

2. Choose Your Country Wisely

Study the market for English learning very carefully. While the sound of a brilliant-white sandy beach close to a school in Thailand does sound tempting, be aware that it is also tempting for thousands of other people and this will be reflected in a low salary. Consider the pros and cons of the following TEFL/ESL/TESOL countries;

  • Western Europe – offer high salaries with (usually) high costs of living. Some of the best TEFL salaries can be found in France, Germany, the UK (summer schools), offering EUR2000+ a month, while further south, salaries are drastically lower (only EUR1000+ a month).
  • Eastern Europe and Russia – currently experiencing a TEFL boom with supply of teachers significantly lower than demand. Salaries on par with southern Europe already, with people having a much more dedicated work ethic. The market for private students in Russia is particularly lucrative.
  • The Middle East – salaries are still riding high on the back of oil, with some of the best high salary/low tax deals. Cost of living is also very low, with many superb amenities provided in Saudi, UAE and Oman. Teacher freedom and happiness is a major issue, however.
  • Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore – high salaries combined with a reasonable standard of living. Long hours are the norm, but saving thousands of dollars a year is a realistic goal.
  • South East Asia and China – experiencing a TEFL/ESL boom finally, but this has not been matched with corresponding high salaries. The cities offer the best opportunities. Expect big increases in the future as markets mature.
  • South America – not a place to go if you want a high TEFL salary. Currency instabilities combined with market immaturities mean that this is a risky place to set yourself up. Brazil offers the best opportunities for serious money making.

3. The Job Search

Do not apply for jobs online through sites such as’s ESL Café if you are serious about making money. The best job deals are seldom online – it is far better to be proactive and travel to your preferred destination and conduct the job search on the ground. This is beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, you can apply to a range of employers and cherry pick the best deal. Secondly, you can negotiate yourself better terms and conditions by being instantly available. Thirdly, you can suss out the place and language schools to get an idea of whether you’ll really like it there. Forthly, you can scan the market for private students to see how lucrative it is. If you are afraid of travelling far because of the risk, consider this; most money making requires risk (stocks, shares, property etc). This is no different.

4. Choose a Language School Very Carefully

Do not be desperate and go running to large corporate language chains such as English First, International House, Language Link etc. Such schools offer meagre salaries relative to other local professions. How many times do you see big TEFL/ESL schools advertise salaries online? They don’t because they are so low. They have a high turnover of staff, and prefer teachers with no/little experience so salaries are kept at a minimum. Rather than surviving through academic quality, they choose to cash in on their logo/brand perceptions. Instead, scan the local TEFL/ESL market very carefully so you understand how it works and how you can make it work in your favour. While the big chains seem dominant, there are usually a myriad of smaller, better-run, more professional outfits that are looking for teachers. Often, they recruit locally from the expat community, hence their lack of presence online.

5. Get your own clique of private students

Once you have established yourself in a private language school in your country of choice, make an effort to get a few private students every week. Depending on the local supply and demand of teachers, you can charge what you want. Private student rates are nearly always significantly higher than school rates. If you are quality, word of mouth often spreads very quickly, and you may have more privates on your hands than you can handle. Keep the most profitable ones and expend with unreliable, poorly paying ones. You don’t always have to be well-established in a local school. If you have just arrived somewhere, simply get out there and advertise.

To make the most out of private students, consider running them as micro-classes with two to three students present. Not only will this be more interesting for you as the teacher, you can grade the prices so each student pays less individually, but as a whole contribute more than a single student. Also, consider teaching private in-company classes as they can be much better paying. Approach companies with your credentials and offer to teach them in their lunch break for several weeks. Make (achievable) promises to whoever is organising in-company English classes, so they can see how effective you are as a teacher.

6. Be Entrepreneurial

Do not think of your job being your sole source of revenue. Branch out so you have other means of bringing home money through TEFL/ESL. You have probably already made quite a few classroom handouts. Make them look professional and approach the big three publishers; Pearson Longman, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. Even if they decline your ideas they may want you to do other lucrative work for them. Alternatively, if publishers are not your thing, consider selling your handouts online. Everywhere teachers need resources and the online market for TEFL/ESL supplementary handouts is in its infancy.

7. Get Promoted

Teachers of English are often astonished to hear the considerable pay gaps between themselves and their superiors, ADOSs and DOSs. If you are in TEFL/ESL for the long haul, gain more experience and qualifications to rise up the career ladder. The perks are often great; more money obviously, better working hours and conditions, a company car even. If you find yourself in a company with no apparent system for promotions; get out. Do not invest your precious time and energy in a company that isn’t going to reward you.

8. Expand your teaching experience through exam courses such as CAE, FCE, TOEFL, and IELTS

To many people, learning English is purely a matter of passing an exam so the next stage in their lives can be unlocked. The Cambridge exams, along with IELTS and TOEFL offer people a standardised level which they must achieve in order to work and study abroad. Gain experience teaching these areas primarily because students are highly motivated to pass such exams. This is reflected in how you will be remunerated. If you have sufficient experience apply to become an examiner for one of these exams. You will be remunerated well and be given an insight into the examinations process, which students will be willing to pay over the odds for.

In conclusion, a high salary teaching English is an economic reality and simply depends on your knowledge of the local TEFL/ESL labour market and how you can turn that knowledge in your favour. Follow the above advice, marketing yourself as an experienced teaching professional in it for the long haul. Strive to be the best you can be; both with your students and your company and you will be rewarded with a salary that makes teaching abroad a very profitable endeavour indeed.

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