Teach Abroad Frauds

I’ve taught English as a foreign language in three countries for nearly 20 years, and I’m going to tell you about a widespread fraud that targets young people, even university graduates.

A lot of people would like to spend a year or more working in an exotic foreign country, and some unscrupulous companies exploit that dream by trying to sell brief but expensive courses that claim to “qualify” and “certify” you to teach abroad. Worse, there are web sites that publish fictitious job ads from non-existent schools to promote the myth that if you’re naïve enough to spend a thousand dollars or more for a brief course you’ll be “qualified” to get those non-existent jobs.

The courses are called by various names, such as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and the web sites are even linked to by some universities!

Well, here’s the real story: First of all, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to learn how to play a few classroom games that are passed off as effective teaching methodology. You can get the same information by reading one of various books that cost less than fifty dollars. By investing less than a hundred dollars you can read several books on the scholarly research about second language learning and find out the claims that scammers make about their teaching methods have no verifiable basis.

Second, getting a certificate from scammers is not going to increase your chances of getting a job. Any experienced and honest school administrator knows that such brief courses can’t turn somebody into a good teacher, and having such a certificate doesn’t verify anything except that you spent a lot of money for nothing.

The scammers selling those courses are on all the blogs and in discussions on the online bookseller sites, pretending to be a satisfied customer and your good buddy, in order to steer you to buy a course. They point you to web sites where there are lots of jobs posted, nearly all of which say “TEFL required.” So you think: “Well, I’d better buy one of those courses advertised on the bottom of the page.”

Or there are fictitious job ads that invite you to apply and don’t mention any requirements, but when you send them your application they reply: “Oh well, since you don’t have a certificate you’ll have to get one!” But by the time you take a course and get a certificate the imaginary job is no longer available. So you apply for others and there is never any response.

The scammers are also active on the online encyclopedias, feeding biased information into articles on teaching abroad, and quickly deleting any criticism of teacher training frauds. A few scammers are even official editors who delete the accounts of persistent critics and whistleblowers like the present author when we try to add some balance to the blatant commercial promotion.

There are a few international language school chains that really do hire teachers, and incredibly they require that all teachers who want to work for them must buy their company’s brief course. Even if you’re an experienced state-qualified teacher with six years of professional training and a master’s degree, you have to pay the chain a thousand dollars just for the opportunity to work for them – with no guarantee that you’ll get a job, and no guarantee that if you do get a job there will be enough income for you to live decently in the exotic country.

The reality is that honest employers who advertise in mainstream media like The New York Times and the Manchester Guardian don’t look for TEFL or other short course certificates.

In sum, nobody should patronize any web sites or companies that try to sell brief teacher training courses. And no honest university should link to such scammers. There are some honest web sites with genuine job openings that don’t accept advertising from scam TEFL sellers.