How to Start Teaching English in a Foreign Country

Are you a native English speaker living in a foreign country looking? Find out how you can earn while travelling!

Author: Ellen Dubois

Maybe you itching to move abroad but don’t know how to finance it?  Don’t despair. You’ve got a way to make a modest living . You can sell your accent and your culture like I did.  Why not test to see if you would like to start teaching English.

Here is the first thing to do: join or start an English conversation club to get experience and to try out teaching.

My short story:  When I first arrived in Nice, France as an ex-pat wife way back in 1985, it took me a year to learn French and another six months to get my ‘work papers’.  I looked everywhere for work.  I applied as a bank teller, a car rental agent, a hotel receptionist thinking I could improve my French on the job.


But nobody wanted me because I didn’t have the right diploma for the job, or my French level was too low or I didn’t have experience in that field.  The national unemployment rate in France was around 12% at that time and to my knowledge has never dropped below 10% in the past 30 years!

All this time well meaning French people kept suggesting I start teaching  English but I couldn’t picture myself teaching grammar.  I had no idea what it meant to teach English.  I finally followed the advice of a close friend to set myself up as a freelance journalist.  After nine months of cold calling and prospecting, I landed enough clients to keep me busy.


During this happy time, I had twins plus I was becoming active in the Riviera American/British community .  Someone saw an article of mine in the local English speaking magazine and proposed that I lead their association’s conversation club.  I accepted and loved it.  I realized that sharing my language skills face-to-face with grateful French people was rewarding and invigorating.  Not just ‘grammar lessons’.

I approached the volunteer position like a goodwill ambassador for the United States:  to improve understanding between the two countries.  I also wanted to give something back to France.  This beautiful country had welcomed me and made me want to make it my second home.  I was hooked on teaching!

So my first advice for ex-pats or young people looking to work abroad as an English teacher is to …. start teaching English by joining a local conversation club.

Six reasons for trying out a conversation club:

  1. They are often free to join and you don’t need work papers as a volunteer.
  2. They are normally desperate for native speakers (or anyone with a good level of English who’s lived in a English speaking country) so you can expect to be treated like royalty and you’ll probably make some friends.
  3. Sometimes the club speaks English half the time and then switches to the local language for the remainder.  So you’ll improve your second language skills too.
  4. It’s a perfect way to see for yourself if you are cut out for English teaching. It’s a very social job.  You have to like meeting new people and helping people.  You need good coaching and communication skills as well as patience and empathy.
  5. One good point for beginning teachers is you don’t have to know your grammar rules by heart. In a conversation club, members don’t usually ask too many grammar questions, usually just vocabulary.
  6. It will look good on your CV.  It will be considered as ‘experience’ when you apply for work as an English teacher. More importantly, volunteering shows that you are passionate about teaching and sharing.

What to expect at a conversation club

You’ll find that the members of these clubs in non-English speaking countries are usually university students looking to practice their communication skills, or older adults who’ve traveled extensively or lived abroad and love the cultural exchange possible in such a group.

They mainly seek out a conversation club because they want to practice their speaking skills. They have plenty of opportunities to listen to English by downloading TV series and films in original version with subtitles. But aside from speaking to themselves in English or repeating memorized dialogues out loud, there’s not that much of an opportunity for them to practice speaking.

Speaking a second language is the most difficult language skill to master.

Personally, I think it’s more difficult than listening, writing, grammar usage or vocabulary building. Wouldn’t you agree?

These clubs are held once a month or more frequently if there’s a demand.  The leader of the club will probably provide a broad conversation theme each time such as architecture, sports or cars.  The topic is only a guideline because these clubs are very informal in nature and conversations tend to veer away from suggested subjects quickly.  The session lasts about an hour.

The organizations who sponsor these clubs include community centers or the city hall, university student associations and cultural associations.  I started at the Association France/Etats-Unis chapter in Nice.

How to find an existing club

Just do an internet search by typing ‘English conversation club’ and the name of your city.

I just searched online for clubs in Buenos Aires and found 10 associations offering free English/Spanish conversation clubs joining up expats and locals. How great is that?

Or try searching online for a local website where young single people form small groups to go out together. You’ll probably find queries about individuals looking for English speakers to practice with.

Listed In the search results, you’ll also find English conversation clubs in cities in the US and the UK as well so you can  try it out before leaving home.

There are virtual conversation clubs online via Skype too.

Start your own Conversation Club 

I recently started a group at the community center where I take art lessons. Here’s how I organized it almost effortlessly.

  • I volunteered my services (no need to charge a membership fee to join the club).
  • My art teacher knew who would be interested and invited them (no publicity needed).
  • There was a room available in the community center (no need to find a meeting place).

ESL Teaching Conversation Class

You will need to find participants using some kind of publicity (Facebook, Twitter) and you will need to find a  meeting place, but that could be a few tables in the corner of a coffee shop or university cafeteria.  Ask to put up a small poster on the door for publicity.

Click here to read more of Ellen’s insights about the ESL industry including this great article about choosing topics and organizing a club. … “How to Start a Conversation Club in 4 Steps”

Further reading:

Don’t Get Scammed! 7 Ways to Avoid Being Scammed When Looking for an ESL Position!

6 ESL Textbooks to Help You, Help Your Students

Lost in Lesson Planning? Here’s What You Need to Know – Yiota Gkiaouri

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