Czech Republic Wants English Speakers
Terry Prosser teaches new students in Prague
When Prague was called the Paris of the Nineties, hip young foreigners poured in from every direction—Australian university students on break, American would-be writers, and young Irish musicians. By 1996 the city appeared to have reached saturation, but the Czechs still wanted more.
Many of the career travelers living in Prague in the 1990s scraped together a living by teaching English on the sly. In those days few people cared if an English teacher had a "green card" (a residence permit issued by the ominously-named Foreigners Police was a rare token, possessed only by extreme Czechophiles).
Then things changed. The Foreigners Police cracked down on migrant workers and a lot of language teachers got hit in the process. At the same time, Prague lost its cutting edge because too many people had discovered it.
Language schools in Prague are now demanding all applicants have TEFL course certificates. Some companies have taken to demanding very specific qualifications. "A native speaker is not enough any more. One company says it wants a good-looking, female, British native speaker with background in computers and medicine," says Mark Benfer of Languages at Work.
As a result, many private English teachers have left to seek greener pastures in the Far East, leaving many outlying towns in the Czech Republic with a so-called "English crisis."
English in the Countryside:
In January 1999, I moved 100 kilometers east of Prague to the town of Pardubice to start up as a freelance English teacher. I posted a notice at the British Council downtown and within a month I was having to turn students away.
One student, a middle-aged bank clerk, said he really detested studying foreign languages but he had been given an ultimatum—learn English or be fired. Since the Czech Republic has joined NATO and is moving towards the European Union, English competency is required for everyone from soldiers to babysitters.
As a result, in some parts of the Czech Republic (notably East and North Bohemia and North Moravia) virtually any native speaker with a little common sense can make a living teaching.
From 1991 to 1995 the British Council registered around 50 private English teachers in Pardubice alone, 20 of whom were native speakers. Then the numbers dropped sharply. Today there are around 40 private teachers in the entire East Bohemia region and they are all Czech. In the Pardubice region I was the only native speaker offering private lessons.
The native speakers teaching in the area have all been snatched up by prestigious schools and the local university. Towns such as Olomouc, Tr’ebon’, Karlovy Vary, and Jic’i’n have plenty of slots for new freelance English teachers and also offers teachers opportunities to immerse themselves in Czech language, culture, and history. Smaller towns are almost guaranteed to be in need of native English speakers, and they tend to be more friendly toward foreigners than the larger cities.
Making it Pay
The Czech provinces are without a doubt an English teacher’s market, but wages in small towns are low. For a native speaker rates run from ($3 to $6) an hour at a private school and ($9 to $13) for private classes at businesses.
Wages in Prague are nearly twice as high as in smaller towns. Keep in mind, however, that living costs are also nearly twice as high. In addition, competition among teachers and schools in Prague is fierce, with literally thousands of teachers offering courses at the same time. Teachers have to prove their experience to private students and may have to wait several months to get a full class load.
Landing a Job
A native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree and a few months of tutoring experience still stands a chance even in Prague. In East or North Bohemia and in Northern Moravia, the students will knock down your door, even if you haven’t graduated from college.
The easiest places to look for jobs are the numerous private language schools, some of which will even pay health insurance and get foreigners a "green card," the little green book that awards foreigners the right to live and work in the Czech Republic. A few established schools are the Caledonian School, Languages at Work, and Elvis. Charles University, the technical and economic universities, and all high schools also need English teachers.
It is wise to apply from abroad several months in advance because the process of obtaining legal documents takes months and must be done through a foreign embassy.
At schools, a teaching degree is always preferred but a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate from a 4- to 6-week course and classroom experience can quickly land an applicant at the head of the list at the language schools.
The other way is to teach private lessons. Many teachers make a decent living catering to individuals and companies, but it requires more guts and ingenuity than settling into a job at a language school.
The best way to get private students is to post advertisements in business newspapers, on the bulletin board outside the local British Council, or at upscale hangouts. Czech language skills will be a major asset in dealing with beginning students.
Your marketability will be boosted significantly if you have background in computers, medicine, or business. Private lessons in technical and business English at companies are the most lucrative teaching jobs on the market.
The worst part of being a private teacher is dealing with the Foreigners Police. Language teachers are required to set up as a small business, pay taxes, and buy health insurance). A business license (Z’ivnostensky’ list in Czech) will also cost you. For foreigners the business license is almost as difficult to obtain as a residence permit.
Even so, applying to be a foreign language teacher is still the easiest way to gain legal residency in the Czech Republic. Language Teachers are a favored class of applicants and don’t need to prove their skill level beyond a generic bachelors degree.
You must submit your passport, criminal record (both Czech and home country), a university diploma, your birth certificate translated into Czech by a certified translator, a letter from a landlord (or a Czech friend who is willing to vouch for you), and a certificate that you are debt free from the Czech Ministry of Finance to the nearest Czech embassy to apply for a business license.
When you receive the license it will serve as your "employment offer" when applying for a residence permit (the "little green book" or "green card" in street slang). The entire process, which takes about six months if all goes well, must be completed through Czech embassies abroad. If you are in the Czech Republic already, you will have to travel to Vienna or to Bratislava, Slovakia several times to straighten out the paperwork.