Teaching English In Order to Learn Another Language Abroad. Is It a Good Idea?

Unlike countless other articles, this article is not an “it depends” article.

I’ve taught English in Mexico and China and I consider both these two jobs to have been good “learning experiences,” but bad jobs overall. In this article, I want to explain why that is.

Living abroad provides total immersion, right?

Total immersion in a foreign language is so often touted as the most surefire way to learn a language.

I cannot disagree there, total immersion has its merits.

But teaching English is one job in particular that deprives you of total immersion (or rather, immersion in itself).

Let me use my two previous English teaching jobs to give you a better idea.

We will go with the most recent instance first: China.

After a dozen Skype interviews, I landed a “good” job teaching English in at a public school in Nanjing, China.

The company organizing everything seemed reputable and I had negotiated a salary of 10,000 Reminbi per month. It’s no Wolf of Wall Street, but it allowed me to live well enough.

Now here comes the catch. I went into this job with many unanswered questions.

I was never told which school I was to work at (not for lack of asking, they said a school would choose me when I got there), and I was told I would teach 5th grade, which ended up not being 100 percent true (I taught 5th grade once a week, and the rest of my teaching was 1st and 2nd grade.)

So shortly after landing in China, they took me to my school, where I was to live and work.

I was placed in a tiny dorm in the back of the school, requiring me to walk five minutes just to get out of the school grounds and another couple minutes by moped to get to the metro.

For my goal — to learn Mandarin Chinese — this wasn’t immersion at all. I was at a school where they expected me to only speak English, and it was rather hard to get out of this controlled environment.

Now Mexico City, Mexico.

In Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, I taught English at a Wall Street English.

I worked from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. each day.

Yes, this is a double shift, which left me depleted.

It also left me very little time to meet people and practice my Spanish. Plus, Wall Street English wanted me to come in on Saturday every other weekend to work 4 hours.

This schedule was made worse by the fact that I rarely got off right at 11:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m.

Often, I had to stay later because a student arrived late or I had to simply wait for students to finish their lesson on the computer.

So what’s my takaway?

My opinion is that teaching English doesn’t grant language immersion and is often exploitative.

The English teachers I met in China were often career-less, which is a term I just came up with (though I’m sure I’m not the first to say it).

What I mean by career-less is that if they were to return to their country of origin they wouldn’t have a career to fall back on.

In my opinion, career-less people are often careless and unmotivated. This lot does not make the best friends, either

Back To Learning Mandarin Chinese!

In China, I would try to speak Chinese with the other teachers (that is, Chinese people) at my school, and I really had to search out the ones who would speak to me in Chinese because most of them would want to speak English with me.

It was really an uphill battle, and I urge everyone to take caution when they commit to a long-term contract in another country.

In the case of China, anything that that is not in the contract, they won’t honor. That was my experience at least.

What should I do?

I would get a decent job in your home country, save money, and enroll in a language learning program in the target country.

Once you are there, if you still want to teach English,  you can find a good teaching job there and avoid the bad ones, which might look good on paper.

You can probably set up a job before you leave, therefore, circumventing the dangers of entering into an agreement blindly like I did.