TESOL in Seoul: A “Korea” Move?

David A. Leaper, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


The recent change in government in Korea has opened up new opportunities for teachers who hold an MA in TESOL or Applied Linguistics. Since coming to power in December 2007, Lee Myung Bak has been attempting to shake up South Korea with a series of business-friendly policies and education reforms. One of the many controversial proposals is a plan to employ 23,000 Teaching English in English(TEE) teachers over the next 5 years. A minimum requirement to be a TEE would be to graduate from a 6-month TESOL certificate course, either in Korea or overseas (Song, 2008).

President Lee’s proposed reform has met with ferocious opposition from the teachers union (Strict criteria, 2008) and it is uncertain if the TEE scheme will be carried through in its current form. Nevertheless, teaching in public schools remains a prestigious jobin Korea and is seen as a secure career in times of a troubled economy,so it’s not surprising that the university run TESOL programs experienced a surge in interest. Institutions that would normally enroll 80 students found themselves admitting nearly 300, and had toscramble to ensure there were qualified personnel to teach them.

Whether the students who graduate with TESOL certificates end up in public education or not, it seems likely that the increase in teachers with this qualification has expanded the market. Student numbers on these programs will probably remain high for some time to come, along with a parallel demand for MA (TESOL) holders to teach them.

What’s so special about teaching on a TESOL program? As somebody who taught at Japanese universitiesfor 5 years, I know that opportunities to teach content-based courses are limited, and although it’s more demanding to prepare for Speaking and Listening Methodology than English Speaking 101, it’s a challenge that I find refreshing. Also, there’s a substantial difference between teaching university students who may not be majoring in English, and teaching well-motivated adults trying to improve their career. Another positive is that teaching in Korea often proves more lucrative when you take into account lower costs, subsidized or free accommodation, and extra work. Starting salaries should be between 2.5 and 3.5 million won per month, but you can count on a chunk of overtime and some easy money for teaching holiday programs on top of that.

On the negative side, Korea has a longer university year and, as mentioned above, you may be required to work an extra couple of weeks during the holidays (at overtime rates). You should also consider that living in Korea is not as easy as living in Japan. Amongst many ex-pats there is a more openly critical stance towards their adopted country, and amongstsome Koreans, strains of xenophobia are less well hidden than in Japan.

However, one thing that will remain constant is the ongoing shortage of MA (TESOL) qualified teachers, which the current TESOL boom has exasperated. Those who hold this degree and can prove they are capable of teaching content courses have an excellent chance of developing their career in this intriguing country. For job hunting, it pays to do a search for TESOL on the Korean job board at Dave’s ESL Café <www.daveseslcafe.com>, and you can use the forums there to ask about living in Korea.


Song, S. (2008,Jan. 1). S. Korea to hire 23,000 more English teachers. The Korea Herald.[Online] Available:<filipinotefl.wordpress.com/2008/02/09/s-korea-to-hire-23000-more-english-teachers/>.

Strict criteria urged for TEE teachers. (2008, June 24). The Korea Herald.[Online] Available: <english.kfta.or.kr/board/news2/view.asp?bName=eng_news&page=1&search=&search_field=&search_value=&s_div=b&num=231>.