Teaching English in Korea
- November 5, 2015
- Posted by: TESOL Direct
- Category: Teaching Abroad,
These notes provide basic information about what to expect when seeking work teaching English in Korea. Note that there will be considerable variation between schools, employers’ preferences, and government regulations, and requirements will change from time to time. Before entering into any commitment, you are advised to check with an appropriate authoritative source such as the embassy in your country.
The desire for English language skills is very high in Korea. However, in Korea there are few native-English language speakers at any one time and so the demand for their services remains significant. Many institutions want to have one or more native-speakers of English on their staff and if you are interested in working in this country you will not find it difficult to find a teaching post.
The type of work available varies considerably. In some cases, teachers are simply asked to provide a model for the students and we have heard of a teacher sitting at a console and saying sentences which are then dutifully repeated by students in several different classes at a time. This is not really teaching, and is very unlikely to improve the students’ skills either. Others work together collaboratively with a Korean teacher and this is likely to be more productive, although it is not always easy. Teaching styles tend to be very traditional so be prepared to be patient and to try to influence a Korean colleague over time rather than seeking to change approaches overnight.
Teachers need to have a degree or college diploma (something employers also set great store by) to get a visa but some institutions do not require their teachers to have a TESOL or TEFL qualification. However, whatever they require, it would be irresponsible to go to Korea without appropriate training as this is likely to mean that you will be letting down the students by coming without the necessary skills to really improve their English language skills. It is important to have either a one-month TESOL or TEFL certificate or a 150-hour qualification by distance learning accredited by an independent professional body such as the College of Teachers. Short courses are of little value and weekend courses least of all.
British and UK citizens (and some others) do not need a visa for a visit of up to 90 days but visitors are not allowed to work on a tourist visa. It is not possible to obtain a visa to teach English in South Korea without a three-year university degree – a TESOL/TEFL qualification alone is not sufficient. If you wish to work, contact the nearest South Korean embassy before you travel for visa information and documentation. Teachers of English must be native speakers. Some people have found the Korean visa regulations slow and cumbersome so be prepared to be asked for a range of different documents and also to have certificates and other documents notarised.
Research the school, college or company you intend to work for as thoroughly as possible. There are agencies both inside and outside Korea that recruit teachers for schools and colleges in Korea but, as always, try to find out what sort of reputation an agency has. Some are good but others can be short term businesses with little interest in the teachers or the schools. Some teachers have found that their contract conditions have not been met and their pay has not met their expectations. Disputes have caused problems in the past. If you go through an agency, choose carefully. Korea Connections (www.koreaconnections.net) and Flying Cows (www.flying-cows.com) seem to be two companies that have a good reputation although there are others too. Salaries are commonly around 2.0 million won (about £1,100) but can be higher. Flights are generally paid for (sometimes at the end of the first year of work) and there is often also a final bonus.
There is also an organisation (English Programme in Korea – EPIK www.epik.go.kr) which is run by the Ministry of Education in Korea and which recruits teachers for state schools and colleges. The EPIK program was established in 1995 to improve the English speaking abilities of students and teachers in Korea and to encourage cultural exchanges. Through the EPIK Program, around 1,500 teachers are placed as English language teachers every year. The salary is between about 2.0 and 2.7 million won per month which is about £1,100 to £1,500 per month and there are free flights, an end of contract bonus and 50% of medical insurance costs. People can save on this salary whilst also making trips around the country. A contract with EPIK is arguably the most reliable because of the Ministry connection.
Teaching styles are traditional and in many schools and colleges the standard of English is low. Korean English-language teachers are sometimes poorly trained and some have little confidence in their own language skills. Working conditions vary enormously with some employers being welcoming and helpful, while others are determined to squeeze what they can from teachers while avoiding their own responsibilities with regard to working conditions and, for example, the end of contract bonus.
Working in a large city may tend to isolate teachers from Korean society and make it more difficult to make friends locally. Working in a smaller community is often more rewarding as visitors can learn more about the culture and the language. Korean is not an easy language to learn but being able to function at a day-to-day basic level would be very helpful.