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How to Get a TEFL Job as a Non-Native Speaker in 2019

For a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher, trying to get a TEFL job might be a bit of a stressful and frustrating endeavour.

Your ability to speak and teach the language is bound to be questioned. Your passport is likely to become your biggest liability. You will constantly come up against job ads for ‘native speakers’ only.

So how do you succeed? How do you get a TEFL job as a ‘non-native speaker’ in 2019?

I’ve recently been job-hunting for the first time in three years as the contract I have with my current employer is expiring at the end of September. This reminded me again of the typical obstacles ‘non-native speakers’ have to overcome to get TEFL jobs.

That’s why in this post I wanted to show you exactly what you need to do in order to get TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’ in 2019.

And not just once. You can repeat this step-by-step process again and again to consistently and repeatedly get TEFL jobs in the future.

And yes, it works even if you’ve been turned down before. It also works despite the widespread preference for ‘native speaker’ teachers that many recruiters might have. 

Ready?

OK, let’s get started.

1. You need to understand why ‘native speakers’ are not necessarily better teachers

You will come up against this myth so often that it’s bound to affect how you perceive yourself as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher. I’ve met hundreds of ‘non-native speakers’, many with all the right qualifications, lots of TEFL experience and incredibly proficient in the language. One thing that is striking, though, is that many still deep down feel slightly (or in some cases a lot) inferior to ‘native speakers’.

This is perhaps understandable bearing in mind how often you have probably heard from recruiters or fellow English teachers that ‘native speakers’ are better, because:

  • they are more proficient and have an intuitive feel for the language
  • their pronunciation is better
  • they have an intimate knowledge of the target culture
  • students prefer them.

Have you heard one of the above before? I thought so.

I don’t have time to go through all of them here, but let me tell you this:

And in order to succeed as a ‘non-native speaker’, you really need to understand it. Repeat it to yourself a million times a day if need be.

Why? Two reasons:

  • it will give you a first necessary confidence boost (the second boost coming in a minute)
  • you will be better able to respond to recruiters who tell you they prefer to hire ‘native speakers’ because of the above reasons.

So, before you tick the first box as done, watch the videos and read the posts linked below to learn why each of the four arguments why ‘native speakers’ are better teachers is false:

So next time you are told by a recruiter that you cannot be hired because a ‘native speaker’ teacher is better due to one of the reasons above, you’ll know what to say in response.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am NOT arguing here that ‘native speakers’ cannot be good teachers. What I AM saying is that just like ‘non-native speakers’ they become good teachers through training, experience, qualifications, not through an accident of birth.

2. Understand your strengths as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher to boost your confidence and market yourself better

Having been told on so many occasions that ‘native speakers’ are better teachers, it’s easy to forget that you have your own strengths as a ‘non-native speaker’. And you should use them to better market yourself and to get better TEFL jobs.

For example, having learnt English yourself, you’re likely to understand the typical struggles your students might be going through. And, crucially, you have probably developed solutions that have helped you overcome similar problems, and can thus also help your students.

As a language learner, I think there is something REALLY powerful about having a teacher who understands you and is able to give you guidance based on their own successful experiences of having learnt the language you want to learn.

Think about it: as a ‘non-native speaker’ you can be a perfect role model for your students. You have been where they are. You have also experienced problems when learning English. But you have overcome them.

If you can succeed, so can your learners.

This is just one example, but a very powerful one I think. So do use this when applying for jobs. Mention how being a successful language learner allows you to better help your students. Maybe you’ve even done some of the same language exams they’ll have to do. Even better!

If you want to learn more about your strengths as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher to boost your confidence and get TEFL jobs, take a look at this FREE course I’m offering.

3. Take a good hard look at your CV and cover letter

It’s easy to think that you’re not getting the TEFL jobs you want to be getting only because you’re a ‘non-native speaker’. This is certainly something that I thought for a good while. And although in some cases it might be true, you need to be more critical than that and identify what YOU can do better in order to get that TEFL job as a ‘non-native speaker’.

If you want to full guide to a rock-solid CV, then check out this blog post.

What I want to share with you here are a few small ninja tweaks that are guaranteed to boost your chances of getting a job as a ‘non-native speaker.

Ninja Tip No 1: Don’t put your mother tongue or say anywhere on your CV that you’re a ‘non-native speaker’. Let’s face it, a lot of recruiters are biased, and the moment they see that your mother tongue isn’t English, your CV might end up straight in the bin.

In contrast, if it’s first given due consideration, you get the chance of convincing the recruiter with your skills and experience that you’re the right candidate.

So the biggest mistake you want to avoid is putting your mother tongue right at the top of your CV. What I do instead is use the CEFR framework to list the proficiency in the languages I speak (including English), and I don’t even put Polish first: English, Spanish and Polish (C2). 

Ninja Tip No 2: Tailor your CV to the job in question.

It’s something I’ve been guilty of on numerous occasions before, and I’d guess you have as well. I get it, you’re applying for several jobs, you don’t have time to make a different CV for each job.

But you should!

What I do now is have one long CV where I have listed all my qualifications, skills and experience. Whenever I apply for a new job, I copy and paste the relevant bits from the long CV onto the one I will send. This actually doesn’t take much time at all, but it can make a big difference.

Instead of yet another generic CV, the recruiter is finally getting one that clearly looks like someone has read the job requirements carefully.

Another advantage is that it allows you to keep your CV short, which brings me to…

Ninja Tip No 3: Keep your CV to one page.

No recruiter has time to go through a CV that’s several pages long. No matter how much experience you’ve got, it’s definitely possible to highlight it all on just one page, with plenty of white space around so the design isn’t too cluttered.

Remember: the recruiter isn’t interested in ALL your skills or experience. They’re interested in the skills and experience that are relevant to the vacancy that you’re applying for. In other words, if you’re applying for a position teaching English for academic purposes, there’s little point in listing your experience of teaching young learners. It’s completely irrelevant. You’re wasting the recruiter’s time.

Here are some more tips how to boost your CV to get hired as a ‘non-native speaker’.

4. Be selective about the jobs you’re applying for

I know that sometimes you might be in a situation where you don’t have a choice. You simply need a job. I’ve been there.

But what I’ve learnt over the years is that you need to focus your attention if you want to get TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’. And you need to weed out the employers who are unlikely to give you a job regardless of what you do (a small percentage, but they certainly exist).

Choose the schools that have a good track record of equal opportunities. For example, British Council schools are very committed to equal professional opportunities for ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. As long as you have the right qualifications and skills, your mother tongue will be completely irrelevant.

You can find a list of other employers which hire ‘non-native speakers’ right here.

Being more selective about the places you’re applying to allows you to tailor your CV and cover letter and ultimately increases your chances of getting hired.

But of course I understand that this isn’t always possible. Sometimes you’re left with no other choice, but to respond to job ads that require candidates to be ‘native speakers’. In fact, this is something that has happened to me recently again.

5. Learn how to respond to job ads for ‘native speakers’ only and be invited to the interview

Just a couple of weeks back I found a job I really wanted to apply for. It’s for teaching English at EU institutions. So you’d be teaching EU politicians and other staff. Super cool!

The only catch was of course that the school recruiting the teachers required the candidates to be ‘native speakers’.

Fortunately, I was prepared. I have several email templates that I have used and perfected over the years that are just waiting to be used in situations like this one. So I wrote back.

And guess what? That very same day I had several missed calls from the employer and an email in my inbox saying that there must have been a misunderstanding and that they are of course happy to consider my CV.

Job done. It took me a few minutes.

And you can learn how to do this as well right here. I walk you step-by-step through the process showing you exactly what you should put in an email like that to the recruiter. 

Or you can also download the exact email template which you can just copy and paste right below.

6. Research the employer

Again, I know – it’s time consuming. But I never said there was a quick fix to start getting TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’. There’s no magic pill or formula. It’s all hard work and perseverance. 

Why is researching the employer vital?

Well, you want to come across as someone who’s done their homework, right?

Let me give you a personal example of how well this can work.

Three years ago when I came to Leuven, Belgium, I applied for a job with the local university to teach English for academic purposes. One of the first things that I did when preparing for the interview was to look up my boss on LinkedIn (I wouldn’t be surprised if he was doing exactly the same thing with me to see if I was the right match for the job, so make sure you follow these tips to up your LinkedIn game). What I found really helped me in the interview.

It turned out that my boss had published quite a few papers about vocabulary acquisition, especially learning new lexis in chunks. I read up a bit more about acquisition of vocabulary to be ready for the interview.

During the interview I made sure I emphasised how I attempt to focus on collocations in my classes, which is something I do anyway (NEVER, ever lie in an interview). I mentioned I had read one of his papers and found the findings very interesting. We ended up having a very nice chat about best vocabulary learning strategies.

Vocabulary learning is also something I’m interested in, but had I not found this information on LinkedIn, I might not have used it at all! And who knows if I would have got the job.

So do your research beforehand. Go to the school’s website. Look up your boss or the school on LinkedIn and other social media. See what ELT area they’re passionate about. Find out hwo they might expect you to teach.

7. Develop a positive mindset

I can completely understand that seeing so many job ads for ‘native speakers’ only and being turned down simply because you’re a ‘non-native speaker’ doesn’t help. I’ve been there. I’ve also been angry. Sometimes very angry.

But one thing I’ve learnt is that anger doesn’t help. It makes you negative. And negativity just breeds more negativity.

It will make you put all the blame for not getting hired on recruiters, forgetting that there’s plenty you can do yourself to get TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’.

It’s also likely to make you less and less confident as you slowly start believing that you will ever get hired as a ‘non-native’.

So next time you apply for a job, put that frustration and negativity aside. Focus on what YOU can do to show the recruiter you’re the right candidate. Focus on your strengths as a teacher. Highlight how your ‘non-nativeness’ can actually give you advantages in class. Focus on your CV and cover letter. Do your prep work for the interview.

And if for some reason you get turned down, reflect on what might have gone wrong. Don’t dwell on it. As Eleni puts it in this article, resilience is the key.

Which brings me to my next point.

8. Learn from the successes of other ‘non-native speakers’

The problem with having a negative mindset is that you are likely to surround yourself with people who have a similar mindset, especially on social media. I’ve seen it all too often on FB groups for ‘non-native speakers’ that we all too often start to complain.

Complain about the recruiters, about the schools, about the demand from parents and students for ‘native speakers’, about unqualified ‘native speakers’ for ‘taking’ our jobs. The list is endless.

And of course, sometimes you’ve got to release that anger and frustration (I for example go to the gym or play football, or have a pint of good Belgian beer with some mates). But in the long run, it’s just counter-productive. It’s not helping you get a job as a ‘non-native speaker’.

So what can you do instead?

Surround yourself with people who are positive and willing to help you (join our private FB group here), especially those ‘non-native speakers’ who have actually succeeded. Follow what they do. Learn from them. Try to apply similar strategies to start getting great TEFL jobs yourself.

For example, take a look at this interview with Karin Krummenacher, who is a teacher trainer. Or this interview with Nicholas Susatyo, who has been working in Japan for several years now.

9. Repeat this simple 7-step process and you will never have to worry about not being able to find TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native’

My last tip is to take a shortcut.

Shortcuts are brilliant, because they save you time and effort and get you to your destination FASTER.

When I started out as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher, I had no clue my mother tongue would be my biggest liability. I also had no clue how to get hired. How to convince recruiters I was a good candidate.

This obviously led to a lot of disappointments, a lot of frustration. But even more importantly, it also led to a lot of missed opportunities. A lot of jobs I wanted to get, but didn’t know how to because I was constantly told that ‘native speakers’ are preferred.

It took me years to slowly figure things out and start getting the TEFL jobs I wanted to get. And when I look back at that time, I honestly wish someone had told me how to go about it. I wish someone had given me a shortcut.

But, frankly, I might not have believed them that it was possible to start regularly getting TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’. I had been turned down so many times that I would have found it hard to believe that success was possible.

If you’re still in doubt, then watch Zdenek’s story:

If you want a shortcut to similar results, take a look at the same on-line program Zdenek took: “Highly Employable and Successful Non-Native Speaker Teacher”.

In this 7-Module program you’re going to learn exactly how to consistently and repeatedly get TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’ (despite the preference for ‘native speakers’ and even if you’ve been turned down before).

I’ll guide you every step of the way so that you know exactly what you need to do next time you apply for a TEFL job.

So that’s it! I hope you found the tips useful (let me know in the comments section).

And I’m confident that if you apply them and put your mind to it you will get great TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’.

To your success!

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Paul
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Paul

The crucial missing element is about qualifications – I didn’t see any recommendations for that, but naturally, CELTA or Trinity TESOL are the “Gold standards”. As someone who IS a native speaker, and was in a position to hire, I was more inclined to take on a highly motivated non-native certified teacher, than a native gap year tefl joy-rider any day of the week. Shocking in fact how the latter couldn’t explain their own grammar to save their lives, much less teach it memorably.

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