Can a non-native speaker teach English in Thailand?

The short answer is: absolutely! You CAN teach English in Thailand as a ‘non-native speaker’.

The longer answer is: you need to know where and how to look. And be prepared to tackle native speakerism.

In this post I’ll show you what the potential challenges are of getting a TEFL job in Thailand as a ‘non-native speaker’. And I’ll give you some tips how to tackle them.

So let’s get right down to it.

Teaching English in Thailand as a Non-Native: Potential Challenges

Unfortunately, as in many other parts of the world, a lot of the jobs advertised will be for ‘native speakers’ only. In their paper “Same same but different: Distinguishing what it means to teach English as a foreign language within the context of volunteer tourism” Berstein and Woosnan analysed 32 job ads on a very popular on-line job board ajarn.com

Here’s what they found.

The vast majority of job ads explicitly required the applicants to be ‘native speakers’ or to come from a ‘native-speaking’ country. I’m putting both in inverted commas as these terms are very problematic and difficult to define (read more about it here). For example, even though English is an official language in over sixty sovereign states, only six or seven make it to the list of the so called ‘native-speaking’ countries…

But back to the job ads Berstein and Woosnan analysed. In fact, only two job ads out of a total of thirty-two did not mention being  a ‘native speaker’ as a requirement. The authors observe that those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are probably used by schools to market themselves and to get more clients. Having said that, there is little evidence that most students prefer ‘native speaker’ teachers regardless of their teaching skills or experience (see more on this here). In fact, as I argued in this post, schools have probably further fueled the demand for those perceived as ‘native speakers’ through their marketing.

In addition, Berstein and Woosnan also note that once hired, those perceived as ‘non-native speakers’ might face salary discrimination. For example, one job ad listed the salary for a ‘native speaker’ candidate as ranging between 40 000 and 60 000 baht a month depending on experience and qualifications. A ‘non-native speaker’ would be looking at 16 000 to 35 000 baht depending on experience and qualifications. That’s less than half!

This is mad – think about it, a ‘non-native speaker’ with a PhD and 20 years of teaching experience could be earning less than a ‘native speaker’ fresh off a dodgy 4-week on-line TEFL certificate. 

I’ve painted a fairly bleak picture so far, but if you’re a ‘non-native speaker’ who wants to teach in Thailand, don’t despair. There are quite a few options for you.

And there are things you can do to get TEFL jobs despite the preference for ‘native speakers’.

Let’s start with the former.

Teaching English in Thailand as a Non-Native: Where to Teach

There are actually quite a few language schools who offer equal opportunities to ‘non-native speaker’ teachers. You can find the full list for Thailand (and other countries) in my Hall of Fame. But let me go through some of them here as well.

The first tip that I’ve got for you is to check British Council and International House schools. You might be thinking, ‘but hey, would such a renown school ever give me a job as a non-native speaker’?

Absolutely. They’re more likely maybe even to do so than a small local school.

Both British Council and International House have a strong commitment to equal opportunities, so you’re much less likely to be discriminated against because you are a ‘non-native speaker’. And since it’s a policy for the whole company, there are also steps you can take in case you are discriminated.

British Council Thailand has various locations around the country. You can find their job ads here

International House has schools in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

Another interesting option to look into is AUA Language Centre. They also have various locations around the country, so you’re likely to find a job offer that suits you.

If you’re more after university jobs and teaching academic English, you could try Assumption University in Bangkok.

There are obviously a lot more other centres that will employ ‘non-native speakers’. You can find a longer list here. But if I were looking for a TEFL job in Thailand, I would definitely start with the options listed above first.

Before I move on to some tips, I just quickly wanted to draw your attention to a few schools you should avoid.

Teaching English in Thailand as a Non-Native: Schools to Avoid

I’d personally steer clear of Wall Street English and Inlingua. If they’re well-known for one thing, it’s their discriminatory recruitment policies. Not just in Thailand, but also in other countries. A quick look on their websites will show you that they seem to be primarily interested in employing ‘native speakers’.

This photo of a massive Wall Street billboard I took some time back in Munich, Germany, sums up this school’s attitude about right.

It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get a job there. I was offered a job at an Inlingua school in Germany which initially only wanted to employ ‘native speakers’. But to be honest, I’m not sure it’s worth going into so much effort. Do you really want to be working for a company that values passports over qualifications and teaching skills?

I don’t.

Teaching English in Thailand as a Non-Native: A Few Tips

The first thing I’d suggest before even starting to look at TEFL jobs in Thailand as a ‘non-native speaker’ is to get a proficiency certificate. The reason is that in order to get the work permit, Thai law requires you to provide a proof of your proficiency. So if you’re applying for jobs in Thailand without one and are getting rejected, or maybe getting zero replies from recruiters, it could very likely be because you do not have a valid proficiency certificate. 

There are also many other good reasons why you should get one, and I did a video about it here. You’ll also learn about the different certificate options and how to choose the best fit for you.

The second tip is to take a good long look at your CV. I help ‘non-native speaker’ teachers improve their CVs, and you’d be surprised how often I see very basic mistakes. For example,

get the spelling and grammar write, oops, sorry: right!

keep it to one page – if it’s two or three pages, you’ve probably haven’t taken the time to think how to personalise it to the job ad in question

keep it relevant – applying to teach young learners? Don’t spend lines and lines listing your experience teaching adults – focus on what’s required for the job.

The third tip is to believe in yourself. You can and will get TEFL jobs in Thailand as a ‘non-native speaker’. But you need to be open to change how you apply for jobs, how you market yourself.

Surround yourself with people who are not only willing to help and support you, but also with other ‘non-native speakers’ who have already succeeded, so you can imitate what they’ve done.

I’d for example highly recommend joining our FB group.

Teaching English in Thailand as a Non-Native: A Step-by-step plan

Now if you’re really want to get TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’ in Thailand and beyond, what you also need is a proven step-by-step plan that will help you along the way. Of course, we can all achieve amazing things on our own, but sometimes it simply pays off to have a guide by your side. It saves you time and effort. You get to your results more quickly.

If this sounds like something you need, download this FREE e-book, where I share a 5-step plan you can follow to get TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’.

Want to learn how to get TEFL jobs as a 'non-native speaker'?

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Bernstein, J.D. & Woosnam, K.M. (2019). Same same but different: Distinguishing what it means to teach English as a foreign language within the context of volunteer tourism. Tourism Management, 72, 427-436. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tourman.2019.01.010

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