Teaching English in the Asian Landscape

Given the status of English as the lingua franca for global business, the demand for English teachers in countries where it is not the primary language is expectedly on the rise. For people who intend to make a career out of teaching English overseas, doing so in Asia can be an exciting and rewarding experience. According to some job market analysts, Asian countries offer among the best career opportunities for teachers of English as a second language (ESL). Reportedly, job pay and availability is very attractive in Asia especially for adventurous educators who are open to being immersed in different cultural environments. Without any exaggeration, just about any country in Asia has an opening for the enterprising English language educator.
Blog-pic-2In many Asian countries, the learning of English is mandatory. This is because in addition to global commerce, English has also become the default language of the Internet, of science and technology, and even of the billion-dollar global entertainment industry. The current dominance and potential hegemony of English over these areas have prompted many Asian countries to enact proactive legislation that will adequately equip their respective populations with the communicative tools required for global interaction.

There are many options available for teachers of English as a second language (ESL) as soon as they make up their minds to share their expertise in Asian countries. English educators in Asia may find different career opportunities depending on the country they choose to work in. In South Korea for example, a strong demand for private language tutors are steadily on the rise, sometimes surpassing the similarly pressing need for English teachers in formal classrooms. In conventional Asian schools, English teachers may find employment in public schools, private schools, international schools, and language schools.

Except perhaps in Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, public schools in most Asian countries are rather thrifty when it comes to paying wages to professional educators. Compared with private and international schools, government schools pay the lowest and English educators who contemplate on working with Asian public school systems should be prepared to realign their lifestyle with the salary they’ll be getting. Certainly, native speakers (NS) of English who are also qualified educators enjoy above-average wages even across industries, and given the lower cost of living in many Asian cities, English teachers in public schools will still enjoy comfortable local lifestyles and still get their regular dose of their favorite brew at the plush cafe. In addition, public schools are dependable employers and being secured about your finances in a foreign country is a priceless state of affairs.

Meanwhile, finding employment in Asian private schools is generally more rewarding in terms of pay and other benefits. Private school students are also more competitive and tend to pay more attention to language lessons than do their counterparts in public schools. In Malaysia and recently in some other Asian countries such Thailand, technical subjects such as Math and Science are now being taught in English after a recent study indicated that children understood mathematical and scientific concepts better when the medium of instruction was English. This finding paves the way for native speakers of English who are also teachers of technical subjects to share their knowledge with Asian pupils as bona fide academic teachers. Formal language teachers in English-speaking countries can also work in Asian universities as professors of English as a foreign language and enjoy better benefits than their peers in the primary and high school levels.

For English teachers who demand or prefer higher wages and more control of their work schedules, specialized language schools as well as international schools are the prime options to go for. By far, international schools are the best employers in terms of pay and benefits as well as the comparatively higher level of eagerness among students to learn a second or foreign language. Most students in international schools are children of affluent families including diplomats and expatriates. For language and international schools, the requirements for assuming English teaching roles are pretty steep, such that only degree holders with meritorious teaching experience are encouraged to apply.

monks_buddhists_orangeFortunately, schools aren’t the only group of employers for qualified teachers of English who happen to be in Asia. In fact, not a few English educators have ridden high in terms of professional and monetary fulfillment as professional private tutors servicing individuals, families, and organizations. Depending on the type of tutorial or mentoring arrangement, students in this language learning setup may be children, young professionals, or even senior corporate executives. Likewise, the pay varies from a modest stipend from a middle-income family to a generous service fee from a well-leveraged organization.

Most potential employers in Asia (including the public sector), require English teachers to possess a minimum set of skills and qualifications. The most basic is that the teacher should be a native English speaker. In addition, applicants should at least have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited academic institution in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, or Canada. Some countries like Thailand and Indonesia have employers in less cosmopolitan areas that require only a teaching certification from a TEFL organization. Some reportedly even forego all the academic requirements and allow even non-college graduates to teach English provided that they are native speakers. Certainly, the benefits for this type employment are well below the ones reserved for skilled and trained language educators.

For anyone who is considering an English teaching career in Asia, most countries offer attractive packages for qualified ESL teachers. As a rule of thumb, however, the best paying jobs are located in the most economically advanced locations such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Cities in Japan have some of the highest cost of living any where in the world, and English teachers in this picturesque nation shouldn’t be surprised that a substantial portion of their hefty income is siphoned off by taxes and common daily expenses. In addition, the current recession is significantly restricting the number of employers willing to shell out significant amounts for English learning. English classes may be held in schools, offices, town halls, and residences count Japanese from all age groups as students.

China and India are two of the largest economies in the region but the average wage for the ESL teacher is still well below those in the previously mentioned economies. Wages in China, in particular, tend to be rather low and will require an English educator to render extra teaching time in order to accrue substantial savings.

In general, India and most Asian nations in the Pacific rim are now enjoying thriving economies and are already significant players in global business. As such, most of these nations–including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Brunei–experience an acute demand for qualified ESL teachers. The average pay for a skilled ESL teacher is well above that of a local professional, reflecting the current market value of English educators. Except perhaps in Tokyo and Hong Kong, the average cost of living in key Asian cities is slightly- to well below Western standards, granting resident English teachers much financial mobility.

For expatriates who are uncomfortable within foreign cultures, Singapore and Hong Kong offers a strong sense of security as these places are melting pots and English is widely used. Employers in these cosmopolitan locations are also some of the highest-paying in the region. Of the two, Singapore is possibly a safer haven given its lower crime rate, good environmental policies, and relatively affordable food. The only drawback, like that in Hong Kong, is the steep cost of accommodations given the small land area where millions of culturally diverse people converge.

To conclude, ESL practitioners will find a slice of paradise in just about any location in Asia-Pacific. The key is for teaching professionals to shore up their professional skills, determine a preferred Asian city, and be prepared to modify their lifestyle in order to fully enjoy the exciting career waiting for them.

By Michael G. Hines
About the Author
Michael G. Hines is an educator living in Thailand and the Founder of?Icon Group:
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