Can You Teach Abroad as a Non-Native English Speaker? Hear from Teachers Doing Just That!


With only about 10 percent of the population speaking in English in Chile, it is a good market for teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). Aside from teachers from major English-speaking countries like the US and UK, non-native English speaking teachers from other countries come here as well, seeking employment at one of the many language schools in cities like Santiago.

My experience teaching English abroad

I was one of those teachers, and the first question I had when I got to Chile was: Can I teach English in your country? Upon arriving from the Philippines three years ago, a lot of people told me that I could work as an English teacher here. So, armed with my teaching credentials, I successfully applied at Bridge in Chile, and found myself among a diverse English-teaching staff that included some other teachers from non-native English speaking countries, ranging from Malaysia to France.

Other teachers’ experiences

Siddhartha “Sid,” English teacher from India

One of these teachers is Siddhartha “Sid” Bhattacharya. Coming from India three years ago, he took a 4-week, onsite TEFL course, called the International Diploma in English Language Teaching, at Bridge in Santiago. After the training and certification, he was absorbed into the company as an English teacher, kick-starting his career.

He recalls the time he did his demo class, practice teaching as part of his TEFL course. His first challenge: teaching without any formal textbook. “I was a bit nervous,” he said, “but after that, everything went smoothly. I had a nice group of students motivated to learn English, they were very friendly, very open.”

There are even some teachers who come from Chile’s South American neighbors, like Marta Sojo, from Venezuela. Two years ago, she arrived in Chile and found a job post three days after. With “passion, hard work, and few hours of sleep,” she eventually got to acquiring more and more classes, especially in the peak season, which is usually from March to September. “I am very happy here,” she comments.

Iman, English teacher from Malaysia

On the other hand, Iman Kamarudin, who is from Malaysia, came to Chile out of curiosity about the country itself. She started her professional English teaching career in Brazil, but when she became more interested in Chile, she moved here and found work in less than a week. Aside from giving classes, she is also now taking up her Master’s degree in English Education. Asked about what she likes most about teaching here, she says it’s her students. “Chileans are very nice. You [even] end up being friends with them sometimes.”

When asked how it felt teaching English for the first time as a non-native speaker, she said, “When I started teaching, I remember feeling anxious about the kinds of students I would have, and I put a lot of thought into teaching more effectively. However, it was also my students’ keen interest and disposition that helped me ward off these fears.”

Romina, an Argentinian English teacher

Romina Villagra, an Argentinian English teacher, can relate to this. Backtracking to her first class five years ago, she says extensive preparation made it easier for her. “[Worrying] is something natural. It’s not only because you’re a teacher; it’s also because it’s your first job and it’s something you wanted to do.”

She also attributes her growth to the institute where she works and her co-teachers. “It’s not easy when you work alone,” she shares. “You cannot ask for help most of the time.” With this, Sid agrees: “I love talking to other teachers, my colleagues, and getting their input on different things. That’s opened a lot of doors for me.”

Claudia on the left, from Chile; the author, Krzl, 2nd from left, from the Philippines

For Chilean teacher, Claudia Retamales, this comes in the form of the materials. When she had her first short stint as an English teacher in a small language institute, she had to figure out on her own how to make students learn more easily. Later, when she moved on to teach at a larger institute, though, she was provided with the appropriate tools, and from there, she says, her teaching improved a lot.

Carolina, Colombian English teacher in China 

Carolina, originally from Bogota, pulled from her own experience as a language learner to become a better English teacher. Over the 16 years she’s been teaching, first in her home country, then in the U.S., and now in a small village in the Zhejiang Province, she gained a unique understanding of her students.

“As an English learner myself, I can understand most of the English grammar rules because I learned that way.  I can understand why students struggle with some rules, spelling, and pronunciation that are so different from their language.”

Read an interview with Carolina here.

So whether you’re looking to explore new cultures abroad, grow professionally, or do both at the same time, there are opportunities for both native and non-native English speakers to teach English as a foreign language abroad. All you have to do is prepare yourself and jump at that chance when you find it.

There are many reasons people think they can’t teach English abroad, but the truth is all you need is an open mind and a strong work ethic. Here are some other common myths about teaching abroad. It’s easier than you think!

Also, Read more about TEFL opportunities for non-native English speakers!