Third Year Abroad: Pros and Cons of Teaching English Abroad
Choosing how to spend your Year Abroad is not nearly as easy as it seems. Here I’m going to take a look at the pros and cons of teaching English as a British Council Language Assistant to help you decide. If you feel there’s something I’ve missed, then feel free to comment below and I’ll add it in.
nb. I have never actually been a British Council Language Assistant abroad, and so my thoughts on this are from my research and from information gathered from friends who did spend their Year Abroads teaching English. I did however teach English abroad both privately and through an English academy, so I do have experience to draw on about what the actual job entails.
- The best way to earn money: If earning a decent wage while you’re abroad is high on your priority list, then teaching English is for you. A typical salary is around €800 per month, which is more than enough compared to what you’ll be spending. That fact that it is well-paid does perhaps make it a bit of a competitive placement to apply for.
- Short working hours: My friends who taught abroad seemed to only work up to a maximum of 12 hours per week, which is peanuts compared to those struggling away with unpaid internships. However, as a teacher you have to factor in time for correcting homework, creating lesson plans and coming up with activities for classes (easier said than done!).
- Not only for language students & undergraduates: Accordingto the British Council website, this scheme is open to people who don’t study a modern language at university, and it’s also open to graduates who are looking for something different to do after university.
- Looks good on a CV: Twelve-months of work experience abroad could just be that extra nudge that gets you that graduate job after university (it certainly was in my case).It’ll also give you something to talk about in interviews. Additionally, if you’re planning to go into teaching after university then it’s a fantastic way to get experience in a schoolwithout the necessary training & qualifications.
- Good way to meet locals: Presuming that your fellow teachers are locals, or at least all speak in your target language, teaching can be a good way for you to meet new friends who speak your target language. They can also be helpful in suggesting nice places to visit or local events/festivities. Another way to do this is to seek out a flat with other natives, opening up their friendship circle to you as well.
- Academic holidays: As a teacher you get to keep your precious academic holidays, although in some countries you may be given less time off than you’re used to in the UK. Easter and summer holidays will always be yours. Workers and interns on the other hand have to sacrifice their holidays and go to work…
- Part-time work: As you have so few working hours, it’s very simple to pick up a part-time job on the side to bring in a little extra money. In most countries native English speakers are a valuable commodity and so giving informal English oral classes is a good (and very easy) money-maker. Oral teachers earn at least €15/hour, more in more expensive countries. People working 9-5pm in an unpaid internship will undoubtedly be reluctant to take on extra hours of work, but British Council gives you the flexibility to do so and you’ll also meet many students who will be keen to take extra lessons.
- You get a break from studying and revising: If you didn’t take a Gap Year, this may well be the first time off from studying that you’ve had in 17 years! It’s nice to have your evenings completely to yourself, without the hassle of homework/essays/presentations/exams. Your university won’t assess you based on exam results, as they may do with people who choose to study abroad, so you may have to write an essay about your teaching placement in your target language, or compile a portfolio of sorts. If you teach English with British Council you’ll have to plan lessons outside of your working hours, so while you’re not completely free from academia, at least you’re on the other end.
- Language-learning: In terms of language-learning, it’s generally agreed that of the three options, teaching English as a British Council Teaching Assistant placement is the worst, as your job is to speak English all day long, instead of your target language. Your job will inevitably involve some interaction in your target language, but you may be encouraged to downplay your foreign language skills, to force your pupils to speak to you in English. And unlike the other two options, teaching assistants aren’t allowed to get too friendly with the people they spend their days with (ie. their students).
- Very little control over destination: During the application process you have to choose some areas of the country you’d be happy to teach in, but this doesn’t however guarantee you your first choice. The biggest and most famous cities are also the ones that everyone applies to work in, so you will face lots of competition and if in the end you don’t like the area you’ve been assigned to… then tough luck!
- Not for the introverts:Teachers have to be confident public speakers so if you find it hard to talk in front of a group of strangers, then teaching probably isn’t for you.
- You’re not guaranteed a placement: You can become a Language Assistant without any previous teacher training, although you do have to complete an application form and undertake a telephone interview, through which your language skills will be tested. If you’re applying for Canada, China, Latin America and Switzerland then you will be invited to an assessment day. But nowhere in this process are you guaranteed to be successful and you should still be considering back-up options until you get accepted onto the scheme.
- No ability to split your year into two parts: With British Council you don’t have the option to split your year between two countries or two different activities, so you lose the flexibility that university placements and internships offer. I you want to go abroad as part of British Council, then you must accept a job in one place for the entire academic year.
- Hard to keep up a second language: As you’re committed to staying in one country for the whole of your Year Abroad (something that’s not so restricted with the other two options), it may be hard to find a way to maintain your other language if you have one.
- Could be less sociable: Depending on what your fellow teachers are like, you may not meet as many people your age as you would at a foreign university for example. Your friendship circle may end up being smaller than you’re used to, as you can’t really become great friends with your pupils, who at the end of the day are the ones you’ll spend most of your time with..
At the end of the day it’s a personal choice that only you can make, but hopefully some of the info above will help you make that choice. Take a look at my post on the pros and cons of Studying Abroad and Working Abroad.