“Oh, great, another European who wants to teach English in Vietnam”, read one of the 127 comments I received to a question I posted in a Facebook group.
But my question had nothing to do with teaching jobs.
I asked what would be the best areas to live in Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve done my research and already narrowed it down to 2–3 districts but I could use some insight information. 8 million people are living in the city, almost half of the population of Romania, my home country. So I’ll admit moving there in 2 weeks feels a bit overwhelming.
I’m currently in Da Lat, which is about 230 km away from Ho Chi Minh. It’s the rainy season here so I spend most of my time moving from one coffee shop to another. As I wait for my order, I scroll on Facebook for a few more minutes.
Just below a sponsored ad, I see that Daniel, a guy from the USA, is looking for a teaching job in Da Lat. But James quickly cuts him off. “There are no foreigners teaching English in Da Lat and we intend to keep it that way”, read the comment.
I watch the coffee drain slowly through the Vietnamese filter and wonder when did it become a disgrace to teach. The schools in Vietnam have been closed for about 4 months because of the pandemic. But since they opened mid-June, I’ve seen a lot of hateful comments online.
Getting a TEFL(Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate is not rocket science, and if you have a clear accent, you can easily find a teaching job in Vietnam. But is it a shameful one?
The Journey of Getting a TEFL Certificate
A few weeks ago, I thought about getting a teaching job myself. I even got my TEFL certificate at the beginning of May. More out of curiosity to see what the course was really like. They say you should complete it in about 3–6 weeks. I managed to do it in 2 weeks, studying for about 4–5 hours every day.
A simple Google search will bring up dozens of companies that provide a TEFL certificate. Prices usually start at around $200 for the 120-hour course and go up if you’re looking for a more advanced one.
However, unless you’re holding a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), issued by the University of Cambridge’s English Language Assessment, you’re in the same boat as everybody else.
A $200 TEFL certificate is the same as a $450 one for most employers. The company’s popularity and the quality of the course itself make the difference in price. But all of them will open you just as many doors to public schools and Enligh centers in South-East Asia.
The company I chose is Premier TEFL, one of the top ones. When I signed up, they had some sales going on so I paid $149 for a 120-hour course, instead of the full price of $439. Three months later, the offer is still on their homepage so it’s safe to say it’s just a marketing strategy.
To my surprise, the course provides a lot of value. You go through 10 modules of 30–50 pages each and take a quiz test at the end of every one of them.
From teaching grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation to planning lessons, they give you all the materials you may need. There are videos, infographics, practical examples, and you even get a 70 pages grammar guide and a 45-page lesson planning guide.
But there’s only the theoretical part. You don’t get to teach in a classroom.
You go through all of these materials, pass the exams, and then start looking for a job. And finding one can take just a few days if your turn to the many Facebook groups aimed at English Teachers.
In 10 minutes of scrolling on five of these groups, I came across at least 50 job offers. Some of them are specifically looking for native English speakers but most of them are accepting anyone who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in any subject and a 120-hour TEFL certificate.
The War Between Native English Speakers and Non-Natives
“There are at least 2 grammar mistakes in your post but you’re looking for a teaching job. Good luck”, read a comment. Just one of the many sarcastic answers some native English speakers throw at non-natives.
After a short holiday, the new school year in Vietnam will start in mid-August or early September, depending on the school. So there are a lot of teachers looking for a job on these Facebook groups.
They post a picture with themselves and state their qualifications. If they have some teaching experience, they are usually surrounded by smiling children in the picture.
I’ve read a few of these posts and almost always someone is saying you should not teach English if it’s your second language.
I won’t even try to understand the need of leaving useless, mean comments. I’ve accepted it as being part of this messy online world.
But as a non-native English speaker, I don’t agree with this statement. Not when it comes to teaching young children who know less than five words in English.
While I don’t plan on getting a teaching job myself, I have some friends who have been teaching for a while. So I’ve called them up and asked them what it’s like. I can’t walk around too much in Da Lat with all this heavy rain so I might as well dig into it.
They all said the same thing. Even if they wanted to, they can’t teach grammar or anything that would require a deep understanding of the language — which they have, might I add. The children’s level of English is low so it’s all about teaching vocabulary and playing games.
If you’ve passed an interview with the principal of the school or the manager of the English center, I think it’s safe to say you know basic stuff like body parts, days of the week, pieces of furniture, and so on.
And even if it were more than this, why can’t a non-native speaker teach English? If nothing else, we would know tricks on how to learn a second language.
Yet, it’s also true that a lot of young people who are looking for a teaching job in South-East Asia are not in it for the long run. It’s a way of making money. And quite a lot of money, considering the cost of living here.
You usually get paid around $18/ hour and teach at least 20 hours every week. So you can easily make about $1,500/month. In a country where the rent for a modern 2-bedroom apartment starts at $200 and eating out can cost as little as $2, that should be enough for a comfortable life.
Are most of the foreigners teaching English for money? Of course. Some of them come with this in mind, some start doing it because they were backpacking and ran out of money.
But are they harming someone by doing it? I don’t think so. Is it disgraceful to work for money? No. So why the hate? Why are some people label-shaming foreigners who teach English in South-East Asia?
I’ve heard people referring to them as the new begpackers but how is that the same? How is sitting on the street begging for money to travel the same with teaching young children English vocabulary while playing fun games?
There’s Enough Room for Everybody
For decades, people from western countries have been traveling around South-East Asia. Some would do it for a few months, some would try to make a life here. And it’s easy to see why.
You get to live a luxurious life for a fraction of what you would pay back home. The weather is fantastic and the food is as good as it can get.
But what we seem to not understand is that there is enough room for everybody. I’ve never heard local people complain about foreigners coming to South-East Asia. In fact, the ones that I’ve met and talked to are more than happy to learn from us and improve their level of English.
I’ve had people stop me on the street, in supermarkets or coffee shops just to make small talk. 30-seconds in, most of them admitted they only wanted to improve their level of English.
Some don’t find the courage to approach me but I can see them smiling and waving at me. I always smile back and say hello.
So why do some westerners throw shade at other people who are trying to make a living here, too? Aren’t we all immigrants after all?
It’s both ironic and sad how locals seem to welcome foreigners with open arms and the expat communities try to shoo them away.