Teaching English in German-Speaking Europe

So you think you want to teach English in Germany (or Austria, Switzerland)… Well, you’re certainly not the first American (or Brit, etc.) to come up with that idea. The good news: There is a demand for qualified native speakers of English to teach the language in German-speaking countries. The bad news: The pay and working conditions are often poor. Do you know the questions you should be asking (and answering) before you accept a job teaching English in Germany?


Do you know that Germans normally learn the British version of English?

In our German Way Forum and other expat forums the pros and cons of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL, ELT, TEFL, TESL, TESOL, not ESL)* in Germany get discussed from time to time. Complaints about low pay, poor work conditions, and bad management are not uncommon from people who have taught English for private schools like Berlitz or a public Volkshochschule (VHS, adult education night school) in Germany. Nevertheless, for some people, teaching English may be a good job option, but you need to have the facts before you can make that decision, and definitely before you get on a jet headed for Germany thinking you’re making a brilliant career move. Here are some of the questions you need answered before venturing into the EFL field.

QUESTION 1: Which level or kind of English are you planning to teach? Someone teaching a business or technical English course for a private language school will usually be making better money than someone teaching basic English at a VHS. Do you want to do private tutoring? That’s difficult for a beginner, and it requires a high level of training and ability. It also takes time to build up a client base of businesses requiring English training. Do you want a university position? That can be a good job with good benefits, but you’ll have lots of competition. By the way, German college and public school students learn British English, not Amerikanisch, but that is usually not a big factor in private teaching, and Germans like American English.

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QUESTION 2: What type of students do you want to teach? This is related to Q1 above, but also concerns the type of school and its typical students. Some schools are more exclusive, while others take government subsidies for retraining people on welfare. Such students tend to be less motivated to learn English than those who are paying their own fees and trying to get a better job than they currently have. But maybe you like a challenge. Private tutoring, on the other hand, means you’ll have a wide variety of ages and abilities, but usually highly motivated students.

QUESTION 3: This is really several questions… What are your qualifications? Do you have a strong CV to offer? Can you speak German? How qualified are you to teach English to German-speaking students?

Just because you speak English doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach it as a second language. And please don’t be one of my biggest pet peeves: an EFL teacher who has never gone through the process of learning a foreign language herself/himself — and has the nerve to try to teach English as a foreign language! You really should know at least some German if you’re going to teach in Germany. Knowing any foreign language will help you empathize with your students trying to learn English as a foreign language.

Most language schools in Germany expect instructors to have at least a B.A. or B.S. degree, if not TEFL or TESOL certification. Many schools require at least some ability to speak German. The lower your qualifications, the lower your pay will probably be. Some schools will hire anyone with a pulse and English abilities, but they don’t pay very well and probably aren’t the best places to work. A university or technical school (TH) will have much higher requirements.

QUESTION 4: How much money do you need to earn? If you think private schools like Berlitz and others pay well, you should talk to some of the unhappy people who started out teaching for 12 euros or less an hour. (You can earn more at Berlitz and other private schools, but it depends on your qualifications and other factors.) The typical teacher pay at a VHS ranges from about EUR 15.00 to 20.00 per instructional hour (usually 45 minutes). For some people, that may be adequate, but when you look at your actual take-home pay, even EUR 20.00 an hour gross isn’t a lot of money. Although there are jobs paying more, most language-school teachers earn less. (The good money is in English training for business.) If you take a freelance position (very common), you’ll also be subject to a high pension deduction. (See the next question for more.)

QUESTION 5: Do you know what benefits (if any) are included in your position? What expenses will you have to pay yourself? Most English “trainers” or instructors in Germany work as freelance, independent contractors, which has certain legal and monetary ramifications. (See the guidelines below.) Some instructors can average up to 200 instructional hours per month. At EUR 15.00 per hour that comes out to EUR 3000.00 a month (before income taxes, pension fees, and other deductions). That may sound good until you look at your out-of-pocket expenses. And how does that compare to the cost of living in Germany?

Instructors going to another location to teach may get a modest travel allowance, but you have to have a car and buy your own gas (twice the U.S. price per gallon/liter). As an independent contractor, you get no health plan, no sick leave, no vacation time, and no other benefits. You have to buy your own health insurance (required for all foreigners living in Germany). Not only that, before you start, Berlitz and some other schools make you attend a one or two-week training course — without pay. Berlitz also does not allow its “independent contractors” to teach English privately or for any other schools. Some schools are notorious for paying late — sometimes as long as two or three months after your work. Add to that Germany’s relatively high income tax rate (average of 17 percent) and the 19.1 percent pension deduction, and you may be taking home less than half of your EUR 3,000 a month (about EUR 1,400)!

QUESTION 6: Where in Germany (or Austria, Switzerland) do you want to teach English? English-teaching jobs (low-paying or not) are more plentiful in large cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, or Munich than in smaller towns or rural regions. In Berlin alone there are over 100 language schools offering English courses. On the other hand, some people claim it’s actually easier to find a job teaching English in Germany’s smaller, medium-sized towns, because there’s less competition. (The downside is you may feel more isolated as one of the few English-speakers in a smaller community, but on the plus side, it may be good for your German.) Another advantage of living in a smaller town: a lower cost of living. While English training is in high demand in Germany, that demand is concentrated primarily where you find business people. Ultimately, the location question may depend more on where you can find a job rather than where you actually want to live.

GUIDELINES – Below is a summary of the key factors you should consider before teaching English in Germany…

Application: You can apply for an English-teaching position in Germany before you go to Germany or after you are in the country. But it is wise to be in Germany and in a position to see first-hand what you’re getting into. Your CV should stress firms or schools you have worked for (if you’re experienced) or your training (if you’re a beginner). In any case, Americans and Canadians need to get a residence permit from the Ausländeramt that allows them to work in Germany (or Austria, Switzerland). See below.

Visa: Any non-German, non-EU person planning to live and work in Germany must obtain a residence/work visa. North Americans can do this within 90 days of arriving in Germany, but must do so before taking a job!). See this helpful visa information for more details for US citizens from The German Way.

Kaiser Wilhelm’s Revenge: This is the ironic term for a German law that requires freelance teachers to contribute to the German pension system. This 19.1 percent deduction comes out of your monthly pay as an English teacher in Germany. If you do not plan to retire in Germany, you can get this money back when you leave the country — but it takes effort and the usual fight with red tape. It is also possible in some cases to get an exemption, but that is beyond the scope of these guidelines. If possible, get a contract position (as an employee, not a freelancer). Although more difficult to get, it will save you money and give you benefits.

Some Private Schools: Arenalingua, Anglo, Berlitz, English Business, and Inlingua. Also see the web links below.

Link Up: Once you’re working (or even before), become a member of your nearest English language teachers association (ELTA). There are ELTA’s in Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Ulm, and other German cities, as well as for Austria and Switzerland (see links below). The ELTA’s offer career advice and job listings! – Don’t try to go it alone! Be a pro.

Berlitz Trivia: Berlitz was started in Providence, Rhode Island in 1878 by a German-born immigrant named Maximilian Berlitz (1852-1921). Known as the Berlitz Corporation since 2010, Berlitz is now a subsidiary of the Benesse Corporation in Japan. The publishing division was acquired by the German Langenscheidt Publishing Group in 2002.

*See Wikipedia – EFL for more about the EFL, TESOL, etc. alphabetical soup!

Related Websites:
Below you will find some websites related to an EFL/ESL career and finding English-teaching jobs in Germany and Europe.

School and Institution Websites

Job Sites and Advice

EFL/TEFL Organizations


NOTE: We are not responsible for the content of external websites we link to.

One thought on “Teaching English in German-Speaking Europe

  1. I teach ESL and have never made it to the 3000€ a month mark. Still I prefer teaching monolingual to the multi-lingual teaching I did in the UK. It is much easier to help the students with their first language interference. I have been lucky to have some really fabulous experiences with my students and that makes me happy. As long as money is not your first love, you can be highly rewarded as an ESL teacher.

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