Teaching English in Istanbul
A Cultural Crossroads in Turkey
One of the many smaller, but often
no less distinguished, mosques in Istanbul dotting
the Bosphorous shoreline.
Turkey is a fascinating place with
a rich history. Secular in many respects, but with a large,
relatively homogeneous and Muslim population, its ongoing
quest to develop economically and progress socially, as
can be seen by the present round of EU membership negotiations
and a more general opening-up to foreign exchanges of all
kinds, is bringing inherent political, economic, and social
tensions and contradictions to the fore.
I came here several months ago to teach
English as a foreign language (EFL) at a private merchant
marine academy on Turkey’s rather splendid southeastern
Mediterranean coast. I spent an intense month there before
moving on to work at a language center in Istanbul,
the country’s financial, business, and cultural center.
Teaching English is a growing business in Istanbul and throughout
It’s a Tuesday night in
mid-March and I’ve been hanging around my language
school and office most of the day waiting to teach my
first class. It begins around 6:30 p.m. and comes together
in piecemeal fashion as five of my scheduled group of
eight intermediate English language students assemble
first in the kitchen to have a nosh of simit, something
of a cross between a sesame seed bagel and a pretzel,
and then head over to the small, efficient modern office
As I’ve found is typical
on the first day or night of a class, the students eye
me somewhat warily. I’ve been told by my teacher
trainer that they liked their previous teacher, so I
expect that they will look to judge me against that standard.
The class turns out to be a
mixed and friendly group eager to learn about foreigners
and practice their English. Two are engineers from a
company that manufactures boiler systems for export,
another tough-talking but good-natured middle aged woman
is a criminal lawyer, one is a young wife who has traveled
abroad and just landed a secretarial job with a Turkish
company that also does international business. The group
is rounded out by a new father who is the limousine service
manager for Shering-Plough’s Turkish subsidiary,
two software engineers, and a well-read, middle-aged
accountant who has also worked abroad.
Most come here on their employer’s
tab and are taking English to help them at work and in
their careers. But in class, which begins at 7:30 p.m.
and lasts two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night,
they mostly want to talk about life in general, their
likes and dislikes, popular culture and to share their
experiences and opinions.
Three of the five have taken
the previous class together while the other two
are new to the group. I quickly break
the ice and happily find out that their English is better
than I had expected and for the most part really is at
an intermediate level. Though their comprehension and
vocabulary are good, their spoken English lags a bit,
particularly their grammar and pronunciation, which is
not at all surprising or uncommon given that outside
the classroom they don’t communicate orally in
English much. This is English as a “foreign language” after
At language school franchises
you are trained to follow and urged to adhere strictly
to a particular method, usually a communicative approach
to second language acquisition that involves relying
as exclusively as possible on the target language, using
dialogues, conversations, role plays, and visual aids
that have to do with common situations in order to model,
illustrate, learn, and acquire spoken language skills
and aural comprehension.
Invariably, teachers wind up
meandering from the textbook material a bit, going off
on tangents suggested by students and mixing in their
own materials that cover more practical aspects of the
modern English language.
As the group is small and my
students are adults honestly interested in other people,
cultures, and the world any barriers quickly collapse.
If you really tune in and listen to them, you can tailor
the course to fit their needs, get along well, and still
cover the material that is required. We hit it off well
from the first night of class and as they are quick learners
with a good basic foundation, I don’t mind meandering
off the textbook path, letting students lead us into
topic areas that otherwise would not be covered and using
them to illustrate new language skills.
As to why Turks want to learn
English, the reasons are numerous and varied. But there
are a few common threads. Perhaps the single most important
reason Turks are signing up for relatively expensive
English language courses is a very practical one: English
has become the de facto international language of business,
education and diplomacy. Even if you are doing business
with a European, German or Japanese person, chances are
that your common language will be English. And as is
true in a large and growing number of countries, Turks
are exposed to English at an early age.
Most Turkish primary schools
provide a basic English language course or courses as
part of their curriculum. This is even more true at the
university level, where most students are either required
to do a year’s worth of preparatory English coursework
or where a sizable percentage of courses, typically around
30 percent, are taught in English. Most of the 30 percent,
however, were given in the first year and a half of their
studies and by non-native English speaking Turkish professors.
Istanbul is filled with great architecture.
Excellent examples of turn-of-the-century Beaux
Arts buildings can be found along the Istiklal
Mall. This one is home to English Time,
one of the city’s many English language schools.
The Business of English
The Istiklal mall is home to
around numerous English language schools, including other
international franchises, as well as
homegrown competitors, such as Dilko. Make no mistake
about it, when you work for a language school franchise
like the Wall Street Institute, you’ll quickly
learn that English language teaching is a business. Sales
and student satisfaction take precedence over everything
else and the demands on teachers can be tough and rigid.
Favored teachers were logging an excessive 40-plus class
hours per week while those out of favor struggled to
get 20. And don’t
plan on saving up a nice nest egg.
Istanbul is an expensive city,
and while the pay at language schools in Istanbul can
be fair to middling, EFL teachers are in large part viewed
as rather expendable and easily replaceable. In some
respects, this attitude is justified and pragmatic as
EFL teachers are a transient and, in too many cases,
impulsive lot. There is no shortage of stories about
teachers breaking their contracts and taking off without
notice because they didn’t like one particular
aspect of an organization, had an argument with someone
or another in management, or just decided they would
rather be somewhere else.
All things considered, I would
recommend journeying to Istanbul and Turkey to teach
English. If you have an M.A. in education or a related
field and some experience, you will have a good shot
at landing a position at a public or private university
where conditions are better and more stable and where
you will earn more money. If you have an undergraduate
degree or have decided to try your hand at teaching after
working in another field, I would recommend getting a
TEFL or TESOL certification and gaining some teaching
Turkey is a modern secular yet
Islamic country with an amazingly rich cultural and natural
heritage that is opening its gates to the world once
again. Its people are for the most part proud, open,
and friendly. The rewards of living and working in Istanbul—a
beautiful, fascinating, and diverse city at the crossroads
of East and West—although not monetary, are there
to be had. Just be sure you know the whys and whatfors
underlying your travel plans; and prepare yourself a
bit by reading some good, timely, accurate, and diverse
sources of information before setting out.
More Information on Teaching
English in Istanbul
Colleges and Universities
If you have an MA and
some teaching experience, you should be able
to land a relatively well-paying teaching job
at a private, or even a state-run public university
in Turkey. These are considered the plum jobs
by Turkish educators and are much sought after.
One advantage, of course, is the yearly salary
offered. Here are a few universities that have
posted job opportunities for native speaking
University, Şile Campus
The university looks for EFL
instructors for its programs. Preferred qualifications
are an M.A. or Diploma in EFL and two years relevant
teaching experience. Preference is being given
to candidates that are able to interview locally.
To apply, send a cover letter, CV and three references.
University and Boğaziçi
University are options to find
There are a host of language
schools large and small in Istanbul. You can walk
up and down the Istiklal
avenue and find them; fill out an application
and leave your resume/CV, a letter of introduction,
copies of your academic qualifications and letters
of recommendation if you have them. Here are contact
details for a few.
TEFL certificate courses in many of the world's
most popular teaching destinations, including Istanbul.
During and after your TEFL course, you will receive
extensive job guidance and assistance from Via
International TEFL Academy
The reputable school offers
a 4-week TEFL class
in Turkey and subsequent help with job placement in
Istanbul, Turkey, and worldwide.
Training Institute (ITI)
CELTA and DELTA training center
that is also an excellent place to find jobs teaching
English in Istanbul.
One of the vast network of
English training schools with placements.
One of the bigger EFL schools
Dilko English is a
chain of language schools that has been operating
in Istanbul since 1977. They offer classes in
English and German for adults and children.
Teachers will be expected to attend and participate
in monthly workshops designed to continue teachers
training, as well as the normal administrative
duties of class management. Dilko teaches a
syllabus that is designed to the criteria of
the Common European Framework (CEF) and geared
towards Standard English. North American teachers
should be aware of the differences that separate
the common language. Students are generally
adults, but there is a children´s program
as well. Competitive hourly wages (US$1,250
- US$1,750 per month), housing allowance bonus,
accommodation upon arrival, travel bonus, end
of contract completion bonus and private health
insurance are provided.
Teach children ages 2-6 English
at various locations in Istanbul.
Living in Istanbul
Istanbul is a relatively
expensive city and, as in any sprawling metropolis, finding
housing can be difficult and time-consuming.
My advice: don't spend too much time searching
for an abode. If you find something that fits
your needs, preferences, and budget, take it
and start settling in. But check the neighborhood,
the apartment, and the landlord out as best
you can. And don't expect the standard you would
typically find in a newer, more modern city
in the U.S.
I was fortunate in
that my employer offered me a subsidized room
in a shared apartment with two other teachers
in Cihangir, a very nice, if expensive neighborhood
within walking distance from the Istiklal mall
and the school.
It's definitely worth
inquiring about such a possibility with your
employer, and anyone else at the office who
seems open, friendly and willing to lend a new
foreign teacher a hand. Tapping into
the knowledge and experience of other teachers
is also recommended. And then there's always
the standard practices of browsing the
bulletin boards at popular cafes, restaurants,
bars and pubs where English-speaking are known