Why Teach English in Thailand

Who Teaches English in Thailand

Those interested in teaching English abroad come from all walks of life. These are just a few of the types of people who regularly show interest in teaching English abroad:

  • Gap year students taking six months or a year off from school
  • Students fresh out of a university, looking for full-time employment
  • Professionals seeking a career break with the desire to try something new
  • Retirees in search of a meaningful way to spend their free time and supplement their income
  • Longer-term travelers hoping to subsidize their journey with an additional income
  • Expats eager to integrate more fully with Thai society and culture
  • People interested in exploring new career opportunities
  • Those who want to experience living abroad in a different culture and community
  • Those who want to help out impoverished communities by volunteering their time teaching English

Qualified English Teachers in High Demand

To begin with people teach English in Thailand and other countries abroad because there are jobs. The demand for English-language education around the world is at an all-time high. Plenty of evidence suggests that this trend is only going to increase. The British Council predicts that there will be 2 billion people studying English by the year 2020.1 Given projections for a global population of 8 billion in 2020, that means that one out every four people in the world will be engaged in English-language studies.

An international survey of 60 countries in which English is not the mother tongue found Thailand ranking in the bottom five in terms of English proficiency 2. While other countries in the region are steadily improving, Thailand lags behind. This is a sore spot for Thai people, and they are anxious to catch up. Vietnam is another country with a large younger population who are also keen to improve English skills. This equates to abundant employment opportunities for qualified, international English teachers.

China has stepped out as a leading consumer of English-language learning. According to the China Daily (an English-language newspaper), one-third of the Chinese population — a staggering 400 million people — are enrolled in some degree of English-language instruction.3

English is the international language of diplomacy, economics, science, and travel (and not just on the ground, pilots flying internationally all communicate in English). Take the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an example. There are 11 official languages recognized among the ten member states. Many of these nations have increasingly important trade relations with locally emerging economic powerhouses. Still, when ASEAN hosts a summit, everyone speaks English.

Earning TEFL qualifications today places a person in a position to capitalize on these global trends. Love of languages and passion for teaching aside — an accredited TEFL certificate equates to long-term job security.

Getting Qualified to Teach English is Straightforward and Affordable

One attractive reason to consider teaching English as a career option is the ease with which a person can obtain proper training and credentials. In most cases, the core requirements for employment as an English teacher are:

  • English language proficiency (native or near-native fluency)
  • A bachelor’s degree in any major
  • A TEFL certificate from an accredited TEFL course provider, and
  • A police report or background check

The industry standard TEFL course is 120 hours of training. That means that, in as little as four weeks, a proficient English speaker who already holds a university degree could become a certified English teacher. With certification comes employment opportunities in a variety of countries in Asia including a large number of positions Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Japan. The Middle East — particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — is another source of high-paying job openings for English teachers. Many more teaching opportunities are found in Eastern Europe and South America. In short, a TEFL certificate opens a global job market.

Pursuing a TEFL certificate in Thailand is a high value-for-money proposition. TEFL courses offered in Thailand cost much less than they do in the West. In addition, quality courses in Thailand include cultural training and local job search support that courses back home simply cannot.

Finding a teaching job in Thailand and other countries is a straightforward process for qualified teachers to find work. See the chapter on How to Get a Teaching Job for more information.

The Appeal of Living Abroad

There is plenty of work for English teachers in their home countries. The UK, US, Australia, Canada and South Africa all have growing immigrant communities that are eager to become proficient in English. While there are certainly teaching opportunities at home, teaching abroad offers more. Rather than simply stepping into a new career, English teachers who go abroad begin a whole new way of life.

Teaching English at home — where salaries are higher, benefits better and the standard of living more comfortable — makes the most sense to some. However, for the right person, nothing compares to the adventure of world travel, or to the excitement of living in a new cultural context, learning new languages and becoming part of a foreign community. In this case, a TEFL certificate is a license to travel.

Many of the qualities that make Thailand such an attractive place to visit on holiday make it an even more desirable place to live and work. Many are motivated by the climate. Even in the mountainous north in the coolest months of December and January, average low temperatures rarely drop below 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit). Snow is all but unheard of. Likewise, the chance to eat cheap, authentic Thai food on a daily basis is a strong motivator.

Thai culture is another strong selling point. Locals are generally laid-back, fun-loving and hospitable. Thailand’s nickname, The Land of Smiles, is well-earned. Along the same lines, teaching English in Thailand means enjoying a high level of respect from students, their parents and the community at large. A Harris Poll in the US 4 found that American adults believe that today’s students have significantly less respect for their teachers than when they, themselves were students. It is safe to say that teachers are not championed in the West the way that they once were. In many overseas countries — and particularly in Thailand — educators are still held in high esteem.

Certainly, some of this so-called respect is little more than a polite show, and genuine respect is earned rather than merely doled out to those who stand in front of the chalkboard. Even so, English teachers in Thailand and many other Asian nations are held in high regard.

Favorable Cost of Living in Thailand

Thailand’s cost of living is favorable compared to most Western nations, especially in terms of food, housing and entertainment. An English teacher’s starting salary (typically 25,000 to 30,000 THB outside of Bangkok) is more than enough to live comfortably, especially if willing to eat mainly Thai food and live in a relatively small apartment.

Those with even modest savings to work with will find that getting started in Thailand — finding accommodation, enrolling in a TEFL course and looking for jobs — does not need to be rushed. Likewise, there are many retirement-age expats who travel to Thailand and spend several months here each year because doing so allows them to live more comfortably on a fixed income than they could at home.

Similarly, a person already living in Thailand on a fixed income can easily increase their spending power by teaching English on the side. Even picking up a few shifts at a local language center or tutoring independently is an excellent way to supplement a monthly stipend, generating a bit of extra income for weekend outings, entertainment or more international dining habits.

Given the relatively low cost of living in Thailand, teaching English also enables a person to visit the country and spend significant time here without depleting their savings in the process. By setting a monthly budget in keeping with an English teacher’s salary, they can return home with roughly as much in their savings account as they had when they left.

Teachers Become Part of a Local Community

By Western standards, Thailand is a conservative country. Nationalism is strong, and Thai people are proud of their culture, language and heritage. One Thai tradition holds that there are three pillars that support society:

  • The Home
  • The Temple
  • The School

Each year, every school, college and university in Thailand holds a Wai Kru (which translates to pay respect to teachers) ceremony, during which students formally honor their educators. Foreign English teachers are encouraged to participate, even if they have only been with the school for a few weeks.

It can be a bit humbling to see the turnout on Wai Kru day. Parades of graduates return to their former schools and present their teachers with bouquets of flowers and gift baskets. Parents and community leaders also attend. This outpouring of respect is a decorum-filled formality, but it is obviously borne out of a genuine appreciation for teachers. The opportunity to sit alongside these Thai teachers — and to be counted among them — is a unique experience.

Working at a school or university in Thailand makes it much easier to integrate into the local community. Teachers are invited into homes on a regular basis, and it is not at all uncommon for prominent community leaders to approach well-regarded English teachers to help train their staff or tutor their children.

Furthermore, working at a Thai school enables foreigners to form strong intercultural relationships with their Thai colleagues. At the same time, they gain insight into how the social hierarchy is arranged in Thai culture — from the administrators to the groundskeepers. In essence, being employed at a Thai school is a primer in the Thai way of thinking.

English teachers have the privilege of participating in one of the nation’s most valued institutions. It is best to treat this opportunity with the respect and dignity it deserves. For a person who wants to become part of a local community in a country as warm and culturally rich as Thailand, it is difficult to imagine a more rewarding career choice.

English Teachers Contribute to Developing Economies

There is plenty of research to suggest that proficiency in English has direct links to the economic strength of developing nations. One study commissioned by the British Council found that developing countries with even moderate English-language competency were able to attract substantially greater investment from countries such as the UK and US.5 Another study found that English speakers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) earn up to three times more than their non-English-speaking counterparts.6

Qualified English teachers make a direct and meaningful contribution to the economies of developing countries. They are equipping their pupils to earn higher salaries. At the same time, by helping to boost the overall level of English-language proficiency for a particular nation, they are paving the way for more foreign direct investment (FDI).

Teaching English Can Fund Slow Travel

Teaching English allows travelers to spend more time in the countries they visit and to integrate more fully with the communities and cultures they encounter along the way. Today’s tourists typically fly into their destination on a long-haul flight, catch a taxi to their hotel room and book packaged tours and so-called exotic adventures. Tourism is an industry, and those who take part in it are often so preoccupied with cramming as much into as little time as possible, that they fail to really experience their destination.

Teachers, on the other hand, spend months or even years at their destination. They rent rooms by the month, plan weekend excursions and actually get to know their local colleagues. By the time they have finished a semester, they will have seen and experienced more in their host country than any package tourist could ever hope to have done. This is slow travel at its finest — and teaching English makes it possible for those with limited funds to stay abroad for longer periods of time without exhausting their savings.

A TEFL Qualification as a Plan B Career Option

Some people use a TEFL course as a fallback career option. These are uncertain economic times. While many professionals work under the spectre of potential cut-backs and redundancies, English teachers are encountering more international job openings than ever before. In that sense, becoming qualified as an English teacher can even be viewed as a Plan B contingency in case the global economy becomes even less stable.

Given the ease and affordability of earning TEFL qualifications, a person could easily travel to Thailand on an extended holiday, gap year or career break and earn the professional credentials needed to teach English anywhere in the world. In the process, they acquire a highly marketable skill set that is increasingly relevant in a globalized economy.

Teaching English can be a Fulfilling, Long-Term Career

Teaching English in Thailand for anywhere from a semester to a year or two gives interested candidates the chance to trial teaching as a possible career option. Those who enjoy the experience and could see themselves teaching for longer can continue on in their current position, possibly receiving raises from year to year, or searching for other opportunities as they progress.

Furthermore, a TEFL certificate can serve as an initial stepping stone to a full-on teaching career. After a few years of teaching English, some people enroll in a year-long teaching certificate course, which adds a teaching credential to an existing bachelor’s degree. With an internationally recognized teaching certificate, it is possible to teach a range of subjects at an international school in Thailand. Starting salaries at international schools are roughly double those for regular English-teaching positions.

For those who enjoy teaching and wish to continue on in Thailand, earning an advanced teaching credential does not necessarily require leaving the country. In the past, some universities in Thailand have offered teaching certificate programs through partnerships with universities in the West. Internationally accredited courses of this nature are also available online.