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Teaching English Abroad in Southeast Asia

The Best Places to Teach English in Asia

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In addition to sharing chunks of the world's largest continent, quite a number of nations in Asia are also sharing another striking similarity: most are experiencing a rather acute demand for English teachers. From South Korea to Vietnam, Asian countries are in high gear towards getting their population to learn the lingua franca of globalization. In fact, the learning of English is being required by law in several Asian countries such that English is now being taught as early as the primary grades in many Asian cities.   

According to some recent reports, Asian countries offer some of the juiciest job opportunities for native English speakers who are qualified to teach English as a second or foreign language. Given that English has become a mandatory subject in grade schools in many Asian cities, many native speakers of English have flocked to teaching institutions in their home nations to learn the rudiments of teaching a foreign language. Their aim is to travel to and temporarily live in key Asian destinations to teach different levels of English. For many of these native speakers, teaching English in exotic Asian locations is not only a financially rewarding career move but also an opportunity to experience different cultural environments.

Different Asian countries vary in their adopted strategies concerning English learning, however. Furthermore, Asians across the region radically differ in how they are receptive to learning English. These two factors plus the varying levels of economic development and industrial sophistication among Asian countries make the process of choosing the country in which to teach English a bit tricky.  The following are general tips that should give prospective English teachers some idea regarding the best Asian locations to ply their trade, based upon cultural, economic, or other factors.

Brunei

Brunei is an oil-rich sultanate in the North East coast of the fabled island of Borneo. Situated between rainforests and the sea, Brunei Darussalam is economically advanced compared to many of its neighbors. For adventurous native speakers of English who want to literally live just next to a pristine rainforest, Brunei is the best and safest bet Asia has to offer. The population is small and economically propped by the country's vast oil reserves. Once a British colony in the 19th century, a fairly large expatriate community of Australians and Britons live in Brunei, lending it a modern cosmopolitan flair. In addition to Malay, Chinese and English are spoken by many Bruneians. There are robust English Language Training (ELT) programs in Brunei and teachers are currently in high demand.  The benefits—ncluding comfortable accommodations—are generous given the mandate from a cash-rich government. Common requirements (these could vary considerably) include being a native English speaker, an appropriate degree, teaching qualifications and 2- to 3-year teaching experience.

China

On the road to becoming the next economic powerhouse, China is opening its doors to English teachers with the goal of equipping their next generation of entrepreneurs, diplomats, scientists, engineers, artists, and businessmen to better engage the global community. In addition, the growing number of middle class families are willing to spend on private language lessons for their kids. However, China's labor market is yet to become lucrative for the employed even when its national economy is slowly exceeding that of the US. Hence, salaries for English teachers still tend to be lower compared to other countries like South Korea and Japan. Taiwan generally offers much more lucrative benefits and is almost comparable to South Korea in that regard. On the plus side, getting immersed in the culture and language of the world's next most powerful economy can have potentially rewarding advantages in the long run. Common requirements for securing a work permit in Taiwan include a college diploma, and relevant health documents including HIV test results and chest X-rays.

Japan

Given the postwar relationship between Japan and the U.S., English is well-respected by the Japanese and the demand for qualified English teachers still attracts many native speakers to set up residence in this culturally rich nation. However, the prolonged economic recession diverted domestic funds that were formerly allocated for English learning to more basic necessities. As a result, fewer English language schools are currently operating compared to their number a decade ago. This makes the top English jobs very competitive, and only the most qualified practitioners of TESL/TEFL usually get a position. Down the line, however, there are still vacancies with acceptable benefits. The cost of getting the job, however, can become prohibitive as costs-of-living in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities are some of the highest in the world. Yet schools and companies are some of the best employers. Native speakers who dream of teaching in Japan can also try out the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

Malaysia and Singapore

Malaysia and its close neighbor, Singapore, are probably the top English users in the region, based on average scores on online tests conducted by language-learning organizations. Both have also experienced periods of British rule such that English has a secure place within both countries' communication infrastructure. Malaysia now implements a balanced language policy between Malay and English, such that educators are encouraged to use media and the Internet as tools for teaching English. One ad for an English teacher in Malaysia highlights a hefty package of $2000 a month, including accommodations, food, and other in-country support. Many Malaysian locations are great for would-be language teachers who appreciate a laid-back, unhurried, and nature-inspired lifestyle.

Philippines

The country is considered the fifth largest English-speaking nation, with English as one of two official languages being used in all branches of government as well as in business, education, and popular media. Practically all broadsheets are written in English and read by a substantial portion of the population. Even in new digital channels, the dominant influence of English can be seen in blogs, entertainment portals, and other websites. Unlike the case in most of its neighbors in the region, there is an adequate pool of English teachers in the country such that the Philippines actually "export" professional English trainers abroad. English tutors also thrive in the home front, especially with the emergence of Korean-established online training schools that help service the huge demand for English teachers in South Korea. Perhaps the local niche where native speakers can flourish is the BPO industry wherein some customer engagements require intensive accent training. For native speakers who intend to teach in the country, the Philippines offer both a unique cosmopolitan experience and unmatched natural landscapes.

South Korea

South Korea is among the best places in the world to teach English. Culturally rich and economically advanced, South Korea is among the most technologically innovative nations as ranked by many research organizations. Korea is also vibrantly cosmopolitan with thriving entertainment and tourism industries. Given the decades-long US military presence in the country, English has been an entrenched language in the northeast Asia peninsula.  Native English speakers who are also qualified as teachers are in high demand in South Korea. Even native speakers who have very little training or no teaching experience can travel to Korea and help meet the demand for private English tutors. Reportedly, more than 60% of the available English teaching jobs are for teaching the basics of written and conversational English to Korean children and adolescents. A typical employment arrangement of this type includes a monthly salary of US$1,500, airfare, accommodations, holiday benefits, and bonuses upon contract completion. Generally, a work visa, a college degree, and certification from an accredited TEFL organization are required.

Thailand

Thailand has one of the most robust tourism industries in the region, making the country a melting pot of different cultures. Compared to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, however, Thailand's average English proficiency is very low. Still, the country and its population recognize the need to learn the lingua franca of globalization, making the demand for English teachers on the uptrend. In addition to Bangkok, several other Thai cities such as Hat Yai and Chiang Mai experience a healthy demand for English teachers. Unlike in Bangkok, competition is less steep in these areas. Most native speakers of English, especially those with college degrees and English teaching certifications are certain to find a favorable employment in Thailand. Given the huge demand, even those less qualified will find good job offers.  

Vietnam

Since its open door policy (doi moi) was institutionalized in the mid 1980's, Vietnam has been in the process of transforming its backward, dogma-driven economy into one of the most promising in the region. Its society has also regained its former vibrancy such that the country's welcoming people now ranks with its natural beauty and cultural heritage as the key attractions that draw in millions of tourists annually. In 2010 alone, disclosed tourism receipts reached US$ 3.05 billion and is expected to grow to as much as US$ 8.7 billion in 2013. Many factors, including the steady influx of tourists and the globalization of its industries have necessitated the need for qualified English teachers in the country. In fact, English is now considered as the second language with a deeper and more practical influence than French has historically had. Today, proficiency in English is increasingly becoming a critical requirement for employment in many of the country's business sectors. Given this demand, English teaching in Vietnam provides a huge opportunity for native speakers who, in turn, can benefit from the rich cultural immersion the country offers.

Asia is clearly emerging as the world's economic and demographic center for this century. With English now entrenched as the language of globalization, the demand for English teachers in Asia can only parallel the continent's phenomenal economic growth.