When I first returned to the UK, after teaching in South Korea for just over 3 years, I soon discovered that things were not as simple from abroad. In this post and accompanying video, I will be sharing my experiences of teaching English as a foreign language in the UK.

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1. Salary Expectations

If you return back to the UK, or your home country which has English as their first language, you may discover that your lucrative employment is not as well remunerated as abroad. When I first returned from a well paying job, usually charging many of my private clients a figure commensurate to what was expected in South Korea with my experience, I was shocked that this was much lower in the UK.

I arrived back in England in late January 2009 and decided to find work, with my first interview with a well-known language school based in the UK and in America. Unfortunately, the Director of Studies decided that my salary would be at the bottom of the scale, due to not having experience of teaching at British Council accredited schools, with my hourly rate around £15.50 per class hour. I grabbed my coat and looked elsewhere for other work. My second interview was a little more positive and had a rate a little more per hour, around £16.50 per class hour.

When I talk about a class hour, it is the hour you spend in the lesson. This was another thing that I learned very quickly. If a school offers you three hours of teaching in the morning, plus an hour and a half of teaching in the afternoon, then you will be teaching a total of four and a half hours. Morning hours are usually broken into half (09:00-10:30, followed by a thirty minute unpaid break, then 11:00-12:30), with afternoon hours usually being an hour and a half (my school had afternoon classes from 13:30-15:00 for adults, and young learners were 13:30-14:15, then a 15 minute break, followed by another lesson 14:45-15:30).

You are usually paid for just the hours you spend in the lesson and not usually remunerated for lesson planning, liaising with students outside of lessons nor attending staff meetings. This is especially the norm with private language institutes in the UK. This equates, if you were paid £16.50 per hour as a newly certified EFL teacher, to £49.50 for 3 hours of lessons in the morning and £74.25 for 4 hours 30 minutes of lessons for mornings and afternoons. And usually morning and afternoon lessons are for four days with one day being half a day – a total of 21 teaching hours per week which is a whooping £346.50.

The above examples, as explained, do not include time that is outside of the allocated hours of teaching. So, if you have a lesson at 09:00, then you may find yourself arriving at the school an hour before, at 08:00, to prepare materials or to organise your classroom for the lesson. After you finish teaching at 15:00 or 15:30, you may hang around an hour later to get things organised for the following day, to mark student work or to attend a staff meeting. Essentially, you are working eight or nine hours for £49.50 for a full day of teaching, which is around £6.19 per hour – this was lower than the current National Living Wage! However, when I left my last private language school back in 2019, their hourly rate for EFL teachers were around £18.00 per hour (an increase of £1.50 within a period of 10 years).

The National Living Wage increased above £0.50 from the previous year, while there is no significant increase for EFL teachers working for private language institutes

Another thing that needs to be considered is that while the National Living Wage increases each year, the salary of English language teachers working for private language institutes have remained stagnant. So essentially, those that are involved in menial jobs related to the operation of a private language school (such as cleaning classrooms, tidying up halls of residence, etc.) have had salary increases but the salary of those teaching EFL have little to no increase. This caused issues in my last private language institute where EFL teachers found their salary being squeezed even more.

2. Relearning English Teaching

When I first arrived back in the UK, I soon discovered that teaching EFL was very different to how it operated in South Korea. My Director of Studies decided to place me in an Elementary class of monolingual Arabic speakers studying English. It was incredibly challenging and I find myself having to deal with things which were unfamiliar. The experience that I had gained in Korea revolved around teaching students who had that intrinsic motivation to acquire English. Working learners whose first language is Arabic was a very different kettle of fish.

After a week, my Director of Studies decided to observe my lesson and I was worrying. Questions circled in my mind: “How do I get the learners to interact in their L1?”, “What happens if the students don’t understand my instructions?”, etc. I remember setting up a PowerPoint for my learners, included a projector (in what was a very technological-light school), and having various tasks organised (listening, discussion, etc.) for my students. All was going well, until one of the students piped up, “What do? Teacher?”, half way through the listening. I was mortified and thought my instructions, questions and demonstration were clear enough to avoid any possible confusion. Funnily enough, the Director of Studies thought that they were very clear during our brief catch-up and also remarked during a staff meeting that they have issues with listening and maintaining focus.

This experience served as a reminder of all that I had to learn dealing with nationalities that I had to teach within a multilingual setting but also gave me the drive to continue my professional development (CPD). I then undertook an MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Sussex and took a year off from teaching at the private language institute during my period of academic study. Fortunately, I was offered a chance to teach a closed group of Japanese learners at the University, and this was broadened my horizons with opportunities post-EFL.

3. Continue Professional Development

Should you wish to professionalise and further develop within this industry, then I strongly urge others to undertake a Diploma or a post-graduate degree related to English language teaching or second language acquisition. If you continue your professional development, opportunities will emerge and schools or higher educational institutes will soon start to offer you more than just teaching EFL. In terms of Diplomas, the most widely recognised course is the DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) but there is an equivalent such as the Trinity DipTESOL.

You will also soon find that the DELTA will also hold some weight in terms of potential universities offering credits towards their MA courses in related subjects (EFL, ELT or TESOL). However, if you find a British Council accredited Diploma course being offered as part of an MA (much like what the University of Sussex offered when I undertook their course), you could find yourself holding a Diploma as well as an MA once you graduate.

Another reason why you should consider undertaking an MA or Diploma course would be for the reason of specialising within English teaching, which is why there are opportunities to teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP) or get involved in teacher training.

So that has been my experience of teaching English as a foreign language in the UK. What has been your experience of teaching EFL in your home country or in the UK? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.