Can I still teach English abroad if I don’t know the local language?

By Katie Baxter
Guest blogger from

Can I still teach English abroad if I don’t know the local language?

By Viault (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The simple answer is yes. You really don’t need to have a full grasp of the local lingo to be an English teacher overseas. In fact because schools expect students to be fully immersed in the English language, it’s frowned upon for English teachers to speak the local language when they’re in the classroom. And because you’ll probably be working in a language school or institute, there will be lots of people around who speak English.

However, you’ll have a life outside of the school gates and it’s such a great feeling to be able to order a meal or book a train journey in the local language. It shows you’ve made and an effort and it’ll also make your time overseas a lot easier and a lot more rewarding.

Learn the basics

So while you don’t need to know the language inside out in order teach English in a new country, you’ll get more out of the experience if you can learn at least the basics of it. There will be loads of opportunities to learn in the country you go to, so you could get there a few days early and book yourself in for a beginner’s language course? Attending a local language course is also a great way to make new friends! Hurrah!

Useful terms to know:

We’ve put a list of useful things to make a note of to learn in the local language to make your experience as smooth as possible:

My name is…

Thank You

I don’t understand.

I am allergic to…
Is this water safe to drink?
I can’t/don’t consume/eat this…
Can I have a/some?
Do you have a vegetarian option?

I need help
My blood type is.
I need to go to the hospital

How much is this?

I’m lost.
Can you give me directions?

…is the market?
…can I buy something to eat?
…is the airport?
…is the train station?
…is the bus stop?
…is the telephone?
…can I find the internet?
…is the toilet?
…is the police station?
…can I get help?

You can easily find these terms on the internet, buy a little phrase book to take with you or take an introductory language course when you arrive.

Having these key terms behind you will make a huge difference when you arrive, but don’t stress yourself out by trying to become fluent! You’ll pick up a lot of local language as you go along. But to ease into the transition of teaching English abroad, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of the language when you get off the plane.


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