Skip to content

Careers Centre


Sector Overview

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is familiar to many St Andrews students, but it is perhaps now more correct to refer to the less familiar acronym TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (not to be confused with TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language. This usually refers to teaching English to people who have moved to the UK or other English-speaking country). The job is known as English Language Teaching (ELT), and you may see a variety of other acronyms in job adverts.

TEFL provides opportunities to teach around the world as well as in the UK. Opportunities are available worldwide, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, China, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Korea and Japan. There are also opportunities to teach English in the UK in private language schools and also in colleges and universities.

The types of clients you work with will have a big impact on your experience in the job. Clients can range from young or older children to business professionals and other adults, so think about the types of people you would enjoy working with. Work is often seasonal; in the UK jobs tend to be advertised for the summer months, but if you work abroad in a school, then it would be term-time. Many jobs require you to work outside normal working hours, particularly if you have business clients. You will also need to find time to prepare your classes.

English Foreign Language teaching takes place in a variety of organisations. Similarly, the class you will teach can also vary considerably, as you may need to develop lessons for those who are going to use English purely as a business language, or for those who need it for more everyday usage. Regardless, classes are usually taught in English, whatever the ability of the students. Some typical employers of EFL teachers include private schools, maintained schools, further and higher education institutions, commercial language schools, voluntary organisations and charities, local education authorities, community and adult education centres.

English Foreign Language teachers will need to be acquainted with a range of educational and teaching material, not just books. Contemporary classrooms make use of a host of media and instructional cues, including audio-visual aids, role-playing, language games and other activities. Teachers should be aware of the range of materials available and should be able to utilise a varied selection of them to create dynamic and engaging lesson plans. The content of your lesson will be determined by the reason your students are attending the class. See the Key Resources subsection for some useful links.

Some duties the teacher might have to complete on a day-to-day basis include:

See the Prospects website for an encompassing list of activities and a job description.

Employers seldom require a specific degree – in most cases, a graduate with an aptitude in a second language combined with a demonstrable interest in becoming an EFL teacher is normally enough, but some degree disciplines, such as English, Modern Languages, Linguistics and Education can be particularly attractive to employers.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme is often cited as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of TEFL opportunities overseas. The scheme is run by the Japanese Government, and around 400 graduates from the UK participate each year. The emphasis is on spoken English and cultural exchange. The closing date for JET is early so check the deadlines.


TEFL attributes/skills profile

Key attributes/skills needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes while at university
A thorough understanding of the English language, particularly grammatical conventions

CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice.

There is a strong demand for temporary teaching staff for holiday and short-term language courses in the UK. You will be better placed if you work for a school accredited by the British Council under the Accreditation UK Scheme run in partnership with English UK, but there are a range of institutions which look for short term staff.
Excellent Spoken English
Clear verbal expression and the ability to explain linguistic concepts
Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
Persuasiveness and motivating  skills

Above all, enjoy working with children or your client group

An understanding of (British or Western) cultural issues and current affairs Keep up-to-date with world news and current affairs, and develop this attribute through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as the Teach Society and English Language Teaching Society

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Clear verbal expression and the ability to explain linguistic concepts
  • Enthusiasm for languages/language learning
  • Creativity and lots of energy, your lessons will constantly change to keep focus and interest

Nature of sector or roles

One of the most routine methods of beginning a career as an EFL teacher is to start as the classroom assistant of an established language teacher, helping to teach spoken English lessons.

The manner in which teachers will educate their students in English will depend on a number of variables, not least the type of student you work with and their particular/individual aspirations, whether they are studying towards examinations, trying to become better acquainted with a language they must use as part of their work, learning the language of another country whilst resident there, etc.

Salaries in the sector can range dramatically according to role and location, with starting salaries likely being anything from £14,000 to £25,000, though gaining experience could lead to raises ranging from £25,000 to £38,000. This information is according to the Prospects website and is accurate as of 10/08/2015.

EFL Teachers looking for money usually seek work in East Asia, such as China, South Korea, and Japan, where demand for educators is high. The Middle East has also been recognised as paying well, though institutions in this area typically require better qualifications from candidates, normally a CELTA and at least one years’ experience. However, bear in mind that comparatively low wages in one area might equate to a middle class lifestyle there, while a higher paying role in a more expensive city/country can confer less financial gain.

Gaining promotion in the sector could see you take on the equivalent position of manager of a school or department. This can bring with it additional responsibilities, including course development and marketing for your institution, as well as a pay increase, but could also decrease your direct involvement with students.

EFL teachers have the potential to go freelance with their work. For examples of some of the duties freelance teachers might undertake, see the Prospects page.

Desirable skills for EFL teachers include:

Bear in mind that in this sector many short-term placements abroad you will be required to pay for your travel costs. Make sure you find this out before you accept any offers.

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Speaking Write Language School and Irislyngua School. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.

How to get experience/internships

You may be thinking about Teaching English as a Foreign Language to spend a year abroad after graduation or as a long term career plan. There are many opportunities for work experience in TEFL over the summer, in the UK and abroad, including working as a temporary staff member for holiday and short-term language courses. Students may feel happier if they work for a school which is accredited by the British Council under the Accreditation UK Scheme run in partnership with English UK, but there are a range of institutions which look for short term staff.

You can approach schools individually. Many will advertise for staff, in the press and on the websites (see links below) and sometimes on the Internships and Work experience section of our website. There may be a preference for the qualified, or experienced, but it is possible to find work without prior experience over the summer, especially on the activities side of the role. In addition you can use your initiative to track down vacancies in a variety of locations, typically South Coast resorts or in Cambridge, London, Oxford, York, Edinburgh or other such educational centres by making speculative applications and networking.

It may also be possible to secure a short-term voluntary placement in Hong Kong, China, or some areas of Eastern Europe such as Romania.

Students should research the specifics of any job they are considering applying to so that they have a better idea of exactly what it is that they are applying to and don’t accept a job they cannot afford or will not enjoy. Remember that anyone can set up at TEFL course as there is no requirement for any accreditation.

How to get a (graduate) job

You can find out about opportunities in this sector through online advertisements on TEFL websites, recruitment agencies, in national newspapers such as those listed below, and on the websites of individual employers. Recruiting tends to be conducted all through the year.

Training/Relevant Postgraduate Study

To secure a long-term career in EFL teaching, you will need to take further qualifications, which normally involve completing a diploma. Two of the most common are a Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (DELTA) (offered by Cambridge English) and the Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DipTESOL) (offered by Trinity College London). To apply for these qualifications you will usually need a certificate-level qualification in teaching English as a foreign language and one years’ work experience. See here for more details.

Some other pointers for selecting courses:

Further information on continuing professional development

Some course providers

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

Key Links and Resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:



Related Careers A-Z page


General TEFL careers information


EFL Teaching Resources