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Government English Teaching Programs Abroad

Alternatives to Private TEFL School Jobs Can be a Great Option

Paris street scene.

Teaching English has become a typical job for many college graduates, regardless of their major. In the U.S., Teach for America visits countless universities yearly to recruit graduating students, many of whom teach ESL in underprivileged schools nationwide.

However, teaching English can open doors well beyond the 50 U.S. states. Now more than ever, aspiring teachers do not need to venture independently to find a job in a foreign country. Recognizing how important it is that their inhabitants learn English, numerous governments all over the globe have implemented programs designed to bring native English speakers to their local classrooms. Here are the details on a few of these initiatives and how you, as a prospective English teacher, can take part:

France: The Teaching Assistant Program in France

This program is an initiative of the French Ministry of Education of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Every year, about 1,300-1,500 U.S. citizens and permanent residents between 20 and 35 are recruited to teach English in public schools all over France and in the overseas departments of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and La Réunion.

The program lasts 7 months, and students aged 20-35 are eligible. Teaching assistants receive a net monthly salary of approximately €810, which is enough to cover the everyday expenses of a French student. The details for the yearly recruitment are on the Teaching Assistant Program in France website. A helpful detailed report on the program is also available on our website.

Spain: English Language Assistant in Spain at the Programa de Bilingüe de la UCETAM

Spain invests in the education of its teens. The UCETAM program offers stipends for graduates of North American universities to allow them to participate as auxiliares de conversación — teaching assistants — in selected schools around Madrid. Being an auxiliar involves working 16-26 hours a week, for a stipend of 1,000/1,300 Euros.

Madrid is expensive, and earning 1,300 Euros alone might be challenging to cover your expenses. However, given that you teach only 16-26 hours, it is still a good deal. Since the school day ends in the afternoon, teaching additional classes in the evening is always possible, and many auxiliaries do so. Expect to earn between 15-25 Euros/hour for a private class.

UCETAM visits U.S. universities each spring to recruit candidates. You may find more information on being an English Language Assistant in Spain. Recruiting is done during the spring for a school year from October to June. You receive regular and paid vacation, which in Spain includes not only winter and Easter break but countless puentes — long weekends, literally meaning bridges, throughout the year.

For those who cannot commit an entire year and still want to teach English in Spain, the following non-government program is worth mentioning: Pueblo Inglés. The program recruits volunteers to spend a short time, usually a week, in a secluded place, speaking only English to Spaniards. It is an intense schedule that runs from morning to evening and is filled with activities. Meals and accommodations (3-4 star hotels) are included. You will also see a town or village in Spain that you might otherwise not have visited. Application details can be found on their respective websites. We also have a helpful detailed report on the teacher assistant program.

Japan: The Jet Programme

The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) supervises the JET Programme along with local government organizations; the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA); and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

There are three ways in which to participate:

  • Assistant Language teacher: The most similar to the joint initiative discussed above.

  • Coordinator for International Relations: Requires fluency in Japanese as you will work alongside government officials.

  • Sports Exchange Advisors: Involves extensive use of sports as a universal language to communicate between cultures.

Placements are usually for a year and may be available throughout Japan, though mostly in rural areas. Application details can be found on the Jet website. We have a useful detailed report on the Jet teacher assistant program is also available on our website.

Government Program vs. TEFL Degree?

You may ask yourself: what is the difference between going abroad via a government program and getting a relatively inexpensive TEFL degree?

Here is a chart which summarizes some of the differences:


Government program


What does it involve?

Usually, a teaching assistant position at a public school is employed for the entire year.

A certificate (obtained either online or in-person) that will allow you to teach at institutes as well as offer private lessons.

Where do you teach?

Public schools. You can supplement them with the private personal or online classes.

You choose. Institution, school, and/or private classes in-person or online.

Who finds the placement?

You apply, and the program finds you a placement. Usually, you can put down a preference, which you may or may not get.

You choose, but you also have more responsibility for finding the placement. The TEFL school can assist you.

What about work permits?

Taken care of by the program.

You are in charge. Many teachers also get paid in cash “under the table,” especially for private classes.

Which is better for my resume?

This depends; a government program can give you more prestige, but you can present your TEFL teaching experience effectively in your resume.

Which will offer an easier expatriate life?

It's hard to say, as it depends on your desire. If you teach in a government program, you will have a support network for that specific time. In the case of working in TEFL, you are relying more on yourself (and a bit on the TEFL school) to make connections.

A summary

Overall, the government program provides you with much support. At the same time, TEFL requires more initiative on your part. TEFL programs also find you a placement, but those are usually a lot more expensive. Overall, if you feel confident and independent, go for TEFL. Try the government initiative if you want a steady schedule and a support network.

The Ins and Outs of Teaching English Through a Government Initiative

Do not expect to…

  • Make a lot of money. On the contrary, going to teach English abroad is more about your experience in a foreign country than making a significant salary. Though you can expect to earn more in Asia than Europe, always be prepared to shell out some cash. This is especially the case in the beginning since programs often expect you to pay, and then they give you the stipend at the end. Government programs generally want to make sure you stay.

  • Get your first location of choice. Many people going to Chile ask to work in Santiago, Valparaiso, or Viña del Mar. However, only a few teaching positions are available in each location, so you must be open. Be especially prepared to go to a rural area; this is usually where English teachers are most lacking.

  • Work with your age group of choice. Again, working with some age groups may be more popular than with others, so you need to be open. If you do not feel comfortable with the assigned age group, you may be able to switch, but do not count on it. The most important thing is to give it your best shot.

Do expect to…

  • Get to know a foreign culture. Though you will teach English, you will also go to a different country. If you are open to them, you will soon become acquainted with their customs. Immersing yourself in a distant lifestyle can be challenging at first. Yet, it can also be the most rewarding aspect of your time abroad. It is not a coincidence that many teachers stay beyond their initial year, reapply, or even find a different job in their host country.

  • Have fun. Enjoy your time with everyone around you, the children, your host family, and all the other locals. Learn about their traditions and tell them about your own. You will see how crucial cross-cultural interaction is and come back with skills that will last a lifetime.

  • Make a difference! The children you teach will often look up to a foreigner as an idol. On the one hand, this becomes a great responsibility. Conversely, it is a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in another person’s life. The best thing about these government initiatives is that you can walk away knowing they are sustainable. Since you are usually recruited as a teaching assistant, not a full-time teacher, the kids will still have someone there for them the following year. And the teacher, too, is bound to learn from your input. Ultimately, it’s a win-win for all, and you will be proud to have participated.
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