How to Volunteer to Teach English

Volunteer English teachers are in high demand across the globe.
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Take out a world map. Pin it to the wall. Throw a dart. That's where you can volunteer to teach English: anywhere you want. Any country, any continent (OK maybe the penguins in Antarctica don't need linguistic help but you get the idea).

Volunteer English teachers are in high demand across the globe, particularly in Asian and Eastern European countries. Thousands of organizations train and send English teachers abroad. Some require long-term commitments. Others, like Global Volunteers, offer volunteer vacations, short stints during which you can teach English to communities in Vietnam, China, India, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Romania and South Africa [source: Global Volunteers].


The standard Global Volunteer program is three weeks long and costs $2,500 to $3,000 depending on where you go. It's a good way to find out if you'd like to live in a foreign country and teach English for a longer period of time.

If you already know you want to invest a longer stretch of time to teaching English, the Peace Corps is one organization to consider joining. It requires a two-year commitment, plus several months of orientation. The Peace Corps gives you a living allowance that will provide you with the same standard of living as the local people, plus medical and dental care and transportation to and from the country [source: Peace Corps].

Another organization to check out is World Teach, which offers a two- to three-month summer program, as well as longer assignments of six to 12 months in distant locales such as Guyana, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands [source: World Teach]. Volunteers contribute to the cost of their service but do receive benefits, particularly those who volunteer for the longer terms.

You can also make inquiries at local churches and other religious institutions. Many national church denominations offer volunteer opportunities for short-term or longer-term English teaching. Most provide an orientation for their missionaries as well as basic benefits while they're abroad.

Read on to find out how to teach English closer to home.


Teaching English to Immigrants

You don't have to travel abroad to teach English; there are plenty of immigrants who need help learning the English language. Depending on your qualifications, you can teach English as a second language (ESL) at a public school, community college, community center, church, library, corporation or for a private group.

No matter where you're teaching, it can be daunting to get up in front of a classroom, particularly one filled with students you don't share a common language with -- yet. Class can quickly turn into a game of charades. But there are plenty of free online resources to provide you with handouts and lively lesson plans [source: Teaching Tips]. There are also many ESL teachers willing to share their best tips online.


Some of those essential tips include:

  • Limit student work groups to three students so everyone gets a chance to talk.
  • Ask a student to read the lesson instructions rather than doing it yourself.
  • Have students underline words in a text that they don't know.
  • Stop a classroom activity in the swing of things, before the students start to get bored.

[source: Regan]

Seasoned ESL teachers also recommend having the students talk to each other as much as possible. You can facilitate that by having another student answer a classmate's question about pronunciation or a word's definition rather than doing it yourself [source: Regan].

Pause periodically throughout lessons to ask students, "Is that clear?" If someone says it isn't, ask for a volunteer from the class to explain. The more time your students have to practice their English, the better it is for them -- and you.

Read on to find out what requirements you need to teach English at home and abroad.


Requirements to Volunteer to Teach English

In more rural regions of Africa and Asia, being a native English speaker may be the only training you need. But for most places, you'll also need at least a bachelor's degree, though your main course of study doesn't have to be limited to English -- it can be in anything.

In the U.S., to teach ESL in the public school system, you need a master's degree in linguistics or TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). The same goes for teaching at most community colleges [source: The Linguist].


But if you're looking to volunteer, TESOL certification, also called a TESL (teaching English as a second language) or TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification should work just fine. These programs are taught at many universities and community colleges, typically running four to six weeks to complete 120 hours of training in classes like linguistics, teaching theories and practical application [source: Learn 4 Good].

You can also take classes online, but be sure to take the courses from an accredited program, particularly if you want to work in the U.S., where you may also have to get a state license to teach ESL in public schools or colleges [source: The Linguist].

Most TESOL certification programs require you to have some college courses and maintain at least 2.7 GPA. The certificate can be used both domestically and internationally as proof of in-depth training.

And don't forget the soft skills that teaching English requires -- patience, flexibility and appreciation for other cultures.

For more on how to volunteer to teach English, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Global Volunteers. "Teach Children, Teens and Adults." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • Homeland Security. "Immigration Statistics." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • Learn 4 Good. "Top TEFL, TESOL Programs in the United States." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • Peace Corps. (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • Regan, Liz. "Liz Regan's Top 10 Teaching Tips." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • Teaching English Tips. "Teaching English Careers in Classrooms Over the World." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • Teaching Tips. "100 Best Resources and Guides for ESL Teachers." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • The Linguist. "TESOL Certification." (Accessed 5/7/09)
  • World Teach. "Home." (Accessed 5/7/09)