So, you’re thinking about teaching English as a non-native speaker. Awesome. As someone who has learnt English as a second language, you’re incredibly well placed to teach others.
You’ve been through the process of learning English as a second language, so you can be a role model for your students. As someone who speaks English well, you’ll also have tips and tricks to pass on.
Unfortunately, discriminatory hiring practices are still quite common in the ESL industry, even as awareness of native speakerism (more on that shortly) has grown.
That said, there are still plenty of ways for you to find work as a non-native English speaker and help and inspire learners of English.
In this post, you’ll discover the advantages you have over native speakers as well as how you can find work in ESL teaching, both online and overseas.
Teaching English As A Non-Native Speaker – Is It Possible?
The short answer is yes, of course. In fact, the majority of English language teachers in the world are non-native speakers, and they’re mostly working in state schools around the world. Non-native speakers also now outnumber native speakers.
However, the ESL industry hasn’t quite caught up with the reality of the situation. So unfortunately, you will find job adverts that say – native English speakers only.
In addition, certain countries only issue visas for ESL teachers to holders of particular passports, thus narrowing the definition of “native speaker” even further.
This seems strange in an era of English as a Lingua Franca where there are more speakers of English as a second language than as a first. Also, students don’t necessarily have a preference for learning with a native speaker.
The good news is that as a non-native speaker, you have unique advantages that you can emphasize in order to find jobs or get students to work with you.
The 4 Unique Advantages Non-Native Teachers Have Over Native English Teachers
As a non-native speaker, you have several advantages that can help you stand out from native English speakers, attract students to work with you and encourage and inspire them to develop their English language skills.
1. You're A Walking Advert For Your Services
Firstly, as a non-native speaker, you’re often the best advert for your services. Your English skills show your students what’s possible for them as a learner of English.
Elena Mutonono is originally from Ukraine and used to be an accent coach for English learners. As someone with a native-like accent in English, she could open her mouth and show students what’s possible by using her LinkedEnglish method for perfecting your pronunciation.
2. You Can Empathise With And Encourage Your Students
Secondly, as someone who has gone from zero to fluent in English, you know that it's a long and difficult process with highs and lows.
As non-native speakers, we've been going the same road of learning the language from scratch. We know the obstacles, the feelings of frustration that arise and can help psychologically and emotionally too, overcoming the fear of making mistakes for example. And we can also encourage students that learning a language is a never-ending process. We always learn something new. It is basically a lifestyle.Maria Glazunova, English teacher and author of How To Reduce Your Time Preparing for Online Classes and Prevent Emotional Burnout.
You can also help them feel less alone by sharing your struggles with them.
You can identify with your potential clients much better and tell them that you too have struggled with a particular topic and this is how you overcame it. It was surprising for many of my clients to hear that I have struggled and still struggle (and will always struggle) with the use of articles in English because we don't have them in the Russian language. It allowed them to go easy on themselves and not feel bad about making mistakes if their teacher had struggled with the same stuff too.Elena Mutonono
3. You Often Know Your Students' Native Language
Thirdly, you can help your students better because you often know their native language. Dr Sania Jardine from the languagepig.com teaches German learners English.
She told me that it reassures them to know they can always switch back into German if need be, in case they get stuck, while also developing strategies to get unstuck without switching.
Sania is another example of a speaker of English as a second language with both a high level and experience living and working in the UK as a foreigner.
It can be reassuring for students to work with someone who speaks their language. We occasionally have a ‘German moment' in the session where we switch into ‘reflection mode'. That's a space where students have a chance to reflect on their experience without worrying about their language skills.Dr Sania Jardine
You also have more insight regarding where learners' mistakes come from.
A non-native teacher speaking students' first language can trace back students' errors and explain how the interference of the first language in the second language happened. In case of interference, explaining this to students, making them aware of interference and comparing two languages is more effective than just telling students that they say/write is wrong.Ana Jovic, teacher of English and Serbian
4. You Can Share Your English Learning Tips
Finally, you can share your unique tips and tricks for learning English. While many native English speakers have learned a second language to a high level, they haven’t learned English as a second language!
Zdenek from Zdenek’s English podcast is Czech and a teacher of ESL. He created the podcast to develop his own English skills so he could become a teacher. What an inspiration to his students! And a real example of the dedication it takes to become proficient in the language you’re learning.
As non-native teachers who speak learners' language, we know exactly where they struggle. We can tell them what hurdles we dealt with when learning the language we teach and how we overcame those hurdles.Elborg Nopp, teacher of English
Do I Need A Qualification?
It’s always best to have a qualification if you want to teach ESL as this will give you access to the widest range of jobs. It’s also an advantage to have a bachelor’s degree (in any subject). Look for an accredited 120-hour or 160-hour course such as CeOLT or CELTA which includes teaching practice hours.
To get onto either of these courses, you’ll need to have at least a C1 level of English. That’s why it’s also a good idea to take an English proficiency test such as IELTS, TOEFL, CPE or CAE so that you can prove your level.
When looking for teaching work, you may also need to upload your test results on online platforms to work there or present it during the recruitment process.
Unfortunately, discrimination rears its ugly head again here as some companies will recruit native speakers with no qualifications. Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily make someone a good teacher. So surely everyone should have to have a teaching qualification?
The good news is that with a combination of a teaching qualification, a degree and your experience learning English to a high standard, you can attract your own students as well as work for some companies or online teaching platforms.
Where To Work Or Find Students As A Non-Native Speaker
Unfortunately, some parts of the world are hard to work in as a non-native speaker due to visa restrictions. These countries are China, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. But that still leaves plenty of places where you could work, including from home as an online ESL teacher.
Here are some examples of companies you could apply for. I include these only as examples and haven’t vetted them so please do your due diligence before applying.
If you’re based in the Philippines and you speak English, you’re in luck. Chinese online education company 51 Talk only hires Filippinos to give online English classes to Chinese students.
These companies don’t specify “native speakers only” in their recruitment and will consider applications from non-native speakers.
Here are a few more online schools that will consider your application:
Fluentbe.com is an online school where you give individual or small group classes to English learners in central Europe. They require you to be a native speaker of English, Polish, Czech, Slovak, or Spanish and to be a qualified teacher of English.
Engoo requires you to be proficient in English, at least 18 years of age and have high speed internet plus a headset and webcam. They provide the lesson plans and you’ll be teaching students in Japan and Taiwan mostly. The recruitment process involves giving a demo lesson.
Learnlight also recruits teachers who have proficiency in the language they want to teach as well as a teaching qualification and at least 2 years of experience. There’s a one year commitment as well as a minimum number of teaching hours to give.
You can “work” on online teaching platforms such as iTalki, Verbling and Preply, although iTalki specifies that you need to be “near-native”. Verbling requires you to have a C2 level in the language you want to teach.
But these platforms don’t guarantee a certain number of hours, nor do they provide you with teaching materials. And of course you’ll need a decent internet connection, webcam and microphone.
To be listed on the platforms, you’ll upload an intro video and if students would like to take classes with you, they can book them. You’ll also need to provide copies of any proficiency certificates so they can confirm your level, if required.
You can set your own rates on the platform, but they will take a commission – the rate varies according to the platform. And you should be registered as self-employed in your country.
Build Your Own ESL Teaching Business
If teaching for companies or freelancing on platforms doesn’t sound appealing, why not strike out on your own and find students? Creating your own ESL teaching business can be an excellent way to avoid the “native speaker” requirements of certain schools.
You can also highlight your experiences as an English learner and show how you managed to learn the language to a high level. Perhaps your experience led you to create your own English learning method which you can share with your students.
You can share your experience of English learning in blog posts, on social media or in a podcast. In fact, talking about how learning English has changed your life could inspire students to work with you. It’s certainly a more compelling message than “learn with a native speaker”.
And of course, there’s always the school system in your country. In fact, when you take into account all the teachers of English as a second language in school systems, non-native speakers are by far the biggest group of ESL teachers in the world! Just as non-native speakers are now the biggest group of English speakers in the world.
If you're serious about starting your own online teaching business, I recommend checking out the CeOLT (Certification of Online Language Teaching) programme, which includes an in-depth “business” section, in addition to it's comprehensive teacher training qualification.
You can find out more about CeOLT here.
Teaching English As A Non-Native Speaker – Final Thoughts
If you’re a non-native speaker of English, you’re in good company – the majority of ESL teachers are non-natives too! And speakers of English as a second language outnumber native speakers. Non-native speakers are the future.
Sadly, the ESL industry hasn’t really caught up to this and “native-speakerism” and discrimination continue to be issues within the profession.
But you’re actually in a great position not only to teach but also to attract students thanks to your English proficiency. The fact that you’ve learned English to a high level shows students what’s possible for them. Plus you can share the methods and resources you used to achieve your English skills.