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I have a friend (lets call him Greg) who taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) for 10 years in Taiwan. I’m currently interested in all things TEFL, so Greg was kind enough to answer these questions for me. Greg has a Masters in TESOL.

Me: What are the different options for EFL teachers?

Greg: You could go with a recruiter or just do it direct. Really depends on the country you want to go to, how confident you feel about teaching and how much of an adventure you want. Going direct is what I would recommend but more often than not it requires you to be in country as most employers want to meet you first and watch a demo.

Public/Private?

Public is definitely the way to go, especially if you are a qualified teacher. It also depends on what you want to teach and who you want to teach. Private schools for teaching children are obviously very different to private universities, because you teach completely different things and the age difference means the students will behave completely differently. However, it’s generally better to get into the public system due to better working conditions but not necessarily better pay.

How do you get a good job?

Connections, or Guanxi as they call it in Chinese.

The good jobs are rarely advertised and come via word of mouth. You need to start off at the bottom and then work at moving up, if that’s what you want to do. So that means networking and generally being interested and dedicated to teaching EFL.

Did you ever have trouble with your school/employers?

I did, but nothing MAJOR that meant I broke a contract or was fired before my contract expired. Provided you are flexible and do SOME homework before landing a job (what’s the place like to work at etc.), I don’t think there is any reason to have major problems at work. It does happen, but usually it’s caused by a conflict or problem that COULD have been avoided.

Do you wish you had gone through a recruiter instead?

Not at all. They take a cut or get paid somehow and that means either less money for you or very little interest and care in what kind of job you’ll get.

They are much like a real estate agent. They’ll do just about anything to close the deal.

What are some questions you need to ask before accepting a job?

Am I teaching at one school or schools at different locations?
Are the hours in blocks or will I be doing some hours in the morning and some hours at night?
Are there any office/planning hours and will I be paid for them?
Are lessons plans and a textbook provided or do you have to plan it all yourself?
Do they have any extra activities (Xmas, Halloween etc.) on weekends?
Do I have a co-teacher (local teacher) who will be in the class with me while teaching?

I want to meet and make Taiwanese friends, but I also want to be part of an expat community. As long as I stick to a city, I assume that won’t be an issue? How did you connect with other expats? Was it as easy as talking to people in a bar? Through fb?

Provided you are an outgoing person then you’ll be able to make friends via your work colleagues and by going out.

Just frequent places where foreigners go and there’ll be no problem.

I want to do a TEFL course before I go, so that I have a better grasp on grammar, etc (and hopefully some idea what I’m actually doing!) Would you recommend I do a full on 4 week course ($1,500-2000) or a 120 hour online/in class combined course ($800).

Will the money spent result in a higher paying job? I can say that 90% of the time it won’t.

So, I think it is not an investment spending thousands of dollars on a piece of paper that won’t result in better working conditions or higher pay. I would do the absolute cheapest option and then if you were really worried I would spend time talking to people on forums etc. who have taught or still teach EFL.

People usually get into EFL for one of two reasons.

One, it’s just something to do while you enjoy life and figure out what you REALLY want to do with yourself. This means there’s no point in investing in something you don’t plan on doing long term. The other kind of person in EFL is the one who wants to make a career out of it. If that’s you, then you can get the CELTA, but it would be better looking at further university study if it is really something you want to do long term and take very seriously.

Do they give you training, materials, lesson plans, unit outlines, etc?

Some schools will and some won’t. Most of the big places will and that’s why it’s a good idea to start out with the big guys until you know what you are doing, if you don’t already know what you are doing.

Did you get time to plan lessons at your schools?

Unless you are on a salary, something I wouldn’t recommend, then you will never get paid for planning, at least very rarely. This means you do it all at home in your own time.

Did you need to do extensive planning, or did they pretty much tell you what you needed to teach?

Schools that provide you with training will pretty much give you everything you need.

How much planning you do depends on your personality.

If you like to have EVERYTHING planned then you will spend more time planning than actually teaching (this is something I did but you need to get planning under control and it does happen as you become more familiar with teaching EFL).

Schools that provide no plans may require a very basic/overview of what you are doing (chapters in textbook) etc, but there’s usually no need to provide them with a blow by blow of what you are doing in class, just the main steps/tasks and objectives for the day.

Do you have any tricks for remembering names?

I can barely remember what I did yesterday, so I can’t help with this.

What about learning Chinese?

Get a Chinese boyfriend/girlfriend that doesn’t speak your language.

I’m serious. Other than that, pick a place where there aren’t any foreigners. This means avoid big cities and go for the places most people have never heard of. You also need to be genuinely interested and motivated in learning the language. Read and watch as much as you can in the target language, but make sure you do it at a level you can understand. You really need to spend 4 hours a day or so studying the language.

Do Taiwanese employers prefer a certain nationality (that you know of?)

White skin, blonde hair and blue eyes with a passport from an English speaking country (US/AUS/UK/NZ/etc.).

You aren’t there to teach, at least not at most private schools and this is why I said above you want to get into the public system.

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