How to start teaching English as a non-native English speaker

If you are a fluent, non-native English speaker and want to teach English abroad, don’t despair. It is possible. There are a few more hurdles that need to be overcome in comparison to native English speakers, but it can be done!

If you are a fluent, non-native English speaker and want to teach English abroad, don’t despair. It is possible. There are a few more hurdles that need to be overcome in comparison to native English speakers, but it can be done! 

In the world of English teaching, native English-speaking countries are the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Unfortunately, even if your country largely uses English but isn’t on the list then you might not be considered a native English speaker according to most countries. 

TESOL/TEFL training

This is the first step for anybody hoping to start teaching English. A TESOL/TEFL certificate is specifically designed to help you teach English as a foreign language and is something most schools are looking for regardless of whether you are a native English speaker or not.

You can take a preview of our TESOL/TEFL course at World TESOL Academy here: 


After gaining your TESOL/TEFL training, you might want to consider boosting your resume further.

There are several tests that you can complete to prove your English prowess – TOEFL, TOEIC or IELTS tests. These are assessments to prove fluency and can then be used to verify your ability to speak English with precision and accuracy. Tests like these aren’t necessary to earn a position teaching abroad, but they will definitely give you a leg up on other non-native English speakers and make you a much more credible applicant. 


The TOEFL exam is a globally respected English fluency assessment. It focuses on academic English and therefore is normally required to attend university for non-native English speakers in most English-speaking countries. The test assesses reading, listening, speaking, and writing. It is accepted in all major English-speaking countries and a good score will make your application to schools stand out. The test is offered all over the world. It is recommended to register early, study for several months prior to the exam, and then take the it. The registration costs roughly $200 depending on location. The results of this exam are valid for two years before expiring. 


The IELTS is another globally respected English fluency assessment. Unlike the TOEFL, you have two options. You can either take the IELTS academic option which is very similar to the TOEFL and can be used for university applications and other advanced English positions. But you can also take the IELTS general which is a simpler assessment of English. This option is often used for those immigrating to the UK or Canada. The registrations costs roughly $200 depending on the location. Like the TOEFL, the exam results are valid for two years.


Unlike the other two tests, the TOEIC focuses specifically on business English. It is traditionally been taken if applying for a work position as a non-native English speaker. The drawback is that most schools will not accept a TOEIC as an entry exam or if they do, the prefer students with TOEFL. The TOEIC is generally considered easier than the other two exams and is cheaper, only roughly $70-$80 depending on the location. 

By gaining one of these certificates, you’ll be able to prove to employers that your English is good enough to teach (often with better grammar skills than a lot of native speakers).

Countries open to non-native English speakers

Once you are credentialed and ready to apply for jobs, it’s best to focus on countries more open to non-native speakers. Some countries are simply less open to non-native English teachers regardless of their qualifications. 

As a non-native English speaker, you can find jobs in most countries in Asia, South America, and some areas of Europe. Some countries will be more difficult to break into than others, so here are a few of the best options for non-native English:

  • Thailand
    • The “Land of Smiles” is a great place for non-native speakers to find a job. To earn a work permit, you will need both a 4-year degree and a high TOEFL/IELTS/TOEIC score. They have a huge demand for English teachers which means they are generally open to hiring non-native speakers. This is particularly true if you look in areas outside of Chiang Mai and Bangkok. 
  • Cambodia
    • This country is slightly less developed than its neighbors but is quickly emerging. As a result, there is a high need for English teachers. Since it is not a popular as Thailand or Vietnam, it makes the competition less intense and the requirements are lower. Schools do not require a degree or English assessment score, if you can prove your fluency in an interview. The pay will be less than other Asian countries, but the cost of living is also very low. It’s a great country to get your foot in the door and earn some experience. 
  • China
    • Most regions in China can only issue English language teaching work permits to native speakers. However, it can be possible to teach other subjects or perform other positions within schools – such as with management, HR, and curriculum development. 
  • Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Costa Rica
    • These beautiful Latin American countries have a high need for English teachers and low requirements for applicants. None of these countries require a four-year degree and most will consider you without an English fluency assessment if you can display fluency in an interview. This makes these countries an optimal location for non-native English speakers. 
  • Romania
    • If you are set on teaching on Europe, then Romania is a good option. It’s one of the less popular English teaching destinations making it far less competitive. The pay is lower than other countries in Europe, but so is the cost of living. Most schools prefer a 4-year degree and a TESOL/TEFL certificate.

Get local experience

Another way to get a position abroad is to gain local experience. If you can spend time in the country volunteering with schools or teaching online, this is a huge help. If you are volunteering with a school, you will be able to list this experience and credibility as you apply at other positions. And teaching online offers you the ability to interview in person, which is a huge bonus. You are way more likely to get hired if they can meet you and speak to you in person. 


With the huge demand for English teachers, it is very possible to get hired as a non-native English speaker. You will want to be intentional and apply for positions in countries where there is a higher possibility of being hired, but you still have a lot of choices. Be persistent and pursue an English proficiency exam to increase your chances. You can do this!

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