Is the economic gloom getting you down? Has your job hunt not been going well? Or do you simply not trust the weatherman about the promised summer? Answer yes to any of these questions and a Tefl course could be the thing for you.
Teaching English as a foreign language is one of the world's most mobile and in demand skills. A small amount of training really can take you a long way – in fact to almost anywhere in the world.
"I did a Tefl course to have something to do on the side while travelling," says Rob Tesh, who teaches English in Brussels. "You can find work in almost any country, usually very quickly."
George Shiel agrees. As an English language teacher, he has been able to live and work in Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Japan and the Czech Republic. "I've always found it easy to get a job," he says. "I think there'll be an abundance of work no matter what."
Most newly qualified English language teachers scatter across the globe after finishing their course. Language institutes can be found in almost any town or city, and some primary and secondary schools are hungry for native-level speakers. Or you might choose to arrange informal classes as you move from place to place.
"Teaching English is really the only way of getting to live and work somewhere exciting, particularly as a young person. You can do something of value, that people living there can't, and you really are integrated into the life of the place," explains Andrew Small, who taught English for six months in a language academy in Guangzhou, China.
And – without wanting to add to the economic blues – Tefl qualifications are attractively recession-proof. Not only can teaching supplement your income, but it can also provide an alternative as the slowdown hits jobs.
"We've seen a 40 per cent increase in bookings so far this year, compared to 2008," reports Robin Garforth from St Giles International, a company that has trained English language teachers since 1955. "And the profile of our intake has changed – we are seeing more mature students and people from professional backgrounds."
Choosing the right course is the next hurdle. The range of options can be bewildering. But what most people agree on is that you do need that certificate. "The days of going travelling and finding a teaching job just because you're a native speaker are more or less over," says Shiel. "Any half decent school will require a proper qualification."
In Britain, those are the Celta and CertTesol certificates, awarded by Cambridge University and Trinity College London respectively. Full-time Celta and Tesol courses are a commitment, usually four weeks of training with practical classroom experience, and start at £800-£900. "The course is hard work, but it introduces you to important concepts and gives you a head start in the classroom," says Sarah Hampton, who took a Celta course before teaching for a year in Indonesia.
There are accredited course providers across Britain, but you can also study abroad. You won't save a huge amount of money – the flight offsets the cheaper living costs. But, according to Nick McGirl, who trained in Barcelona, learning abroad gives you a great introduction to the country and connections to possible job should you want to work there afterwards.
While many language schools require Celta, Tesol or an equivalent, some shorter courses can act as good tasters if you want to try before you buy. And a week-long course should give you the confidence to teach conversation classes.
One piece of advice resonates: choose overseas postings carefully. Some language schools cover your flights, but only if you fulfil certain conditions. "When I arrived in Indonesia, the school seemed really unprofessional," Hampton explains. "People should check before going whether they can break their contract, if it becomes necessary."
The flexibility of Tefl comes with a snag: it's no get-rich-quick scheme. Salaries abroad are linked to national averages and, while usually enough to live on, do not permit saving.
Should you choose to return to teach in Britain, wages remain low. A full-time teacher with two years' experience might start on £16,000 a year in London. Unless you decide to break into English-language teaching at the academic level or progress into management, Tefl will likely remain a short-term option.
But, short-term or not, few other qualifications give you the opportunity to travel the world, engage with local communities and earn your keep along the way. As Shiel says: "It's often hard work. But with Mayan pyramids just around the corner, it can still feel like you're always on holiday."Reuse content