Do You Make These Mistakes When Teaching English Abroad?

Today’s guest post is written by Mark Bragi – social media blogger and a lover of travel, photography, and food.

Mark Bragi grew up in Southern California where he developed a love for foreign languages, travel, and food, through an interaction with students from different parts of the world. Mark spent a year living abroad, taking up an internship in St. Petersburg and backpacking through Europe, Africa, and Central Asia. Mark speaks Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Teaching abroad

When teaching English in foreign countries, teachers often unknowingly make mistakes that undermine their position with students. Teaching English as a second language in different countries is an involved process.

As an English teacher, you mustn’t only adjust to the foreign environment, food, music, TV, etc. but also to students themselves. Breaking down the language barrier is the least of your concerns, avoiding a classroom culture clash should be your top priority.

Below is a list of common mistakes made by English teachers abroad and some tips on how to avoid them. By no means is this an all inclusive list that accounts for every possible scenario that may arise. However one way to avoid most awkward situations is to accept the folly of assumption. In other words, by accepting the universal principal of “never assume anything”, you are more likely to avoid cultural dissonance.

1.    Don’t make the mistake of avoiding the dress etiquette

Many teachers make the mistake of not paying too much attention to the dress etiquette. In the U.S. we take many liberties for granted, dressing comfortably may not seem like a big deal, but in most parts of the world a neat appearance goes a long way.

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Make sure to research the appropriate dress etiquette before your first day. In most Asian countries, teachers should generally avoid wearing bright colors. In most Muslim countries, teachers should avoid wearing sleeveless blouses and short skirts.

2.    Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the value of formality

Seeming authoritative and presenting yourself in like manner is often overlooked by English teachers abroad. Formality is very important to foreign students, especially in Asian countries. In the U.S. teachers often transgress the bounds of formality by treating their students as equals, without losing authority. Students in different parts of the world expect their teacher to command authority in the classroom.

3.    Don’t make the mistake of assuming students are willing to participate

Teachers in the U.S. are very much accustomed to student-teacher interaction. Students in the U.S. are expected to participate in class discussions and group activities. In other parts of the world students are often taught to be passive listeners. Therefore promoting class participation and eliciting student involvement right off the bat may undermine your ability to build trust with the students. Make sure to avoid activities centered on class participation at least for the first few days.

4.    Don’t make the mistake of being too democratic

Amongst all the liberties we take for granted is liberty itself. Teachers in the U.S. are not particularly accustomed to censure, therefore class discussions may range anywhere from capital punishment to euthanasia. In other parts of the world, especially those with a history of authoritative control, students are not accustomed to public debate especially on socially sensitive issues. English teachers abroad should exercise prudence when it comes to class discussions and choose topics carefully so as not to offend or upset anybody.

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5.    Don’t make the mistake of assuming students understand

Much too often, English teachers abroad mistakenly attribute various signs of agreement to students’ comprehension. In most parts of the world, especially in Asian countries, students often nod their heads not necessarily because they understand but out of respect or simply because they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. Teachers should often check for real signs of understanding. Make sure to try and recognize signs of boredom which often means that students are not engaged because they don’t understand you.

By no means does this list try and account for every possible mistake or ever y possible situation which may arise when teaching English abroad. Teaching English to speakers of other languages does not necessarily have to be a daunting or complicated task. It can be an extremely fun and a rewarding experience. There is a lot of helpful information and resources available online as well as various TESOL online courses, certifications, and degrees.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at

6 thoughts on “Do You Make These Mistakes When Teaching English Abroad?


    (January 31, 2011 - 11:25 pm)

    Great tips! I’m planning on teaching english abroad once i graduate this year, so thank you for this!


      (February 10, 2011 - 11:54 am)

      Dear Michelle,

      That is great news. I hope you’ll come back for more information about teaching abroad.

    Holiday Abroad

    (February 1, 2011 - 4:18 pm)

    I am not an English teacher, but you provided great advice in here.


      (February 10, 2011 - 11:53 am)

      I’m glad we could be of service!


    (February 5, 2011 - 3:37 pm)

    Very good advice. Too bad I didn’t have this as a guide before my teaching job in Taiwan.

    Henry Williams

    (July 27, 2011 - 12:10 pm)

    Yea I agree with michelle those are some great tips i plan on teaching abroad myself in a few months

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