Teaching English in Russia was always one of your biggest dreams. Finally, you’ve had the balls to pull the trigger and go ahead with it.
If that sounds familiar then I'm glad you found my guide.
Introducing: The Definite Guide to Teaching English in Russia in 2020.
In this guide, I break down all the necessary info that you need for teaching English (or any other language) in Russia.
The requirements for teaching English in Russia
Do I need TEFL certification to teach English?
TEFL certification is not necessary but indeed helpful.
In terms of finding work and becoming a better teacher.
Plenty of schools and private students hire you even without TEFL certification. Most don't even ask for it. Personal fit and experience of teaching English abroad beats any piece of paper claiming you have some sort of qualification.
However, having TEFL certification is definitely a plus. Especially if you want to teach English at schools, or even universities, the recruiter might ask for it. Physical schools are going to be more interested and persistent about this compared to online language schools where you aren't actually employed but give private lessons.
Sometimes schools offer you a better rate if you have a TEFL certificate. The next-best thing you can have is a (postgraduate) degree from an English-speaking country. Ideally, this degree is in a linguistic field but that's not mandatory.
My personal experience is that you do not need a TEFL certificate but in that case, you should be willing to teach yourself everything you need to know. If you don’t have either, you’re probably going to bomb and will notice pretty quickly that you have a lot to catch up on.
The best TEFL certificates are the TOESL and the CELTA. Especially if you're a rookie, unsure of how to teach or not a people person, they'll give you a good framework of how to plan a lesson and what to focus on when teaching. Take a physical course to get a certificate, even if it takes a few weeks, over an online course, which will be less valued and useful to you.
Do I need teaching experience to teach English in Russia?
If you plan to work on a contract, then most probably they’ll require you to have teaching experience. If you don't have that, you’re guaranteed to get a shitty rate. Either way, feel free to bend the truth and put a little bit (1-2 years) of experience on your resumé. No one can or will check it but you need to have a good background story like being able to tell them about the methodology you are using.
Students in my experience almost never ask. You want to make it about them anyway. Their problems, their goals and their experience with other teachers. More tangible benefits are having good reviews and being able to refer to past success stories from other students.
How to get a job teaching English in Russia
Teaching English at schools and kindergartens
A lot of language schools and kindergartens in Moscow are constantly looking for new English teachers. Finding an opportunity to teach English is a piece of cake since demand is very high.
Mail the language school your CV and you’ll get called up for an interview very fast. Make sure it’s a “teacher’s CV”, i.e. highlight relevant skills and experience.
During the interview you can expect the following questions:
- Why do you want to teach English in Russia?
- Do you have teaching experience? Where have you taught and whom?
- What’s your teaching methodology? What kind of books do you use?
- Can you give us a small trial lesson?
These interviews are very easy and you’ll pass more than 50% of the time. If you do, you’ll get a fixed schedule with 30 hours of work per week. Prep time is not included, that’s only the time you actually stand in front of a class and teach.
Work hours are during the day when the kids go to school or kindergarten. You work on a contract that is usually for 9 or 12 months.
In Moscow you'll get about 70,000 - 150,000 Rubles per month (after tax) depending on the language school and the workload. Sometimes they support you with a work visa and accommodation, sometimes not. Each school handles that differently.
If you’re really dead-set on teaching English in Russia and want to gain some experience, then this option is for you. I would recommend against it.
Teaching English to corporate clients
Getting into teaching English to corporate clients is pretty similar to teaching for language schools.
The process is pretty much the same: send in CV – pass the interview – sign the contract – teach. From what I know, you have to travel to the students’ workplaces to teach but some schools also have their own facilities.
Usually, you work on a contract as well although there seem to be exceptions. You teach either in the mornings or in the evenings to accommodate the work schedules of your students.
I’ve seen monthly salaries from 70,000 to 200,000 Rubles depending again on the school and the workload. Work visa is sometimes provided, often it is not.
This is a good option for those who don’t feel completely at ease with children, don’t mind the odd hours but want some sort of stability. The money will be enough to survive and you’ll learn a thing or two in the process.
Giving private lessons
Most people’s idea of being an English teacher abroad probably looks something like this:
Get ready for the day, meet your student, chit-chat a little bit with him, maybe meet another student and around noon you have the day off to go to the beach/meet girls.
Not quite as easy as that.
Private lessons take a lot of effort and time. Your best bets are sites and local language schools where you can offer your services. At language schools, you pass a small interview and sometimes they record a video of you for their website so potential students can get to know you. For websites, you fill out your profile and send in scans of any kind of relevant documents that you might have, such as university diplomas, certificates and the sorts.
At schools, the student pays the school a cut (usually 50% of your rate) and you get paid in cash directly by the student. The student signs a contract with the school, so you are “guaranteed” work. Schools often have fixed rates. You can request a higher rate but keep in mind that students pay another 50% on top of that. The schools throw students your way. Every time they have a potential student, all teachers get notified and the student can pick from the available ones.
Online you set your rates yourself and pay the sites a “finder’s fee” depending on the expected value of the order. Often that’s give or take two lessons worth of fees. From there, the student is your own responsibility. You get students that you work with for months and others that you only see once. Screening for good and reliable people is on you but you can do that (on most sites) before actually paying for the student.
You can make up to 500,000 Rubles per month if you work a lot, have experience and have good profiles with a lot of positive reviews that bring in new students on a regular basis.
But that’s not going to happen for a long time, if ever, because you need to build up a portfolio of students, a good reputation and the experience to get the former two. Moreover, you have to adapt to your students’ timetables, which again means working odd hours and effectively caps your ceiling if you don’t want to work with everyone. Realistically you’re looking at making 100,000 – 200,000 Rubles a month. Those are good months and by no means stable.
This can be a decent way to make and build up some transferable skills that you can make good use of later. If you’re brave, ready to sacrifice stability for freedom and a self-starter, this is the way to go.
Teaching English as a governor
Being a governor means you’re babysitting rich people’s kids and do so in a foreign language.
You find a suitable position on Facebook or one of the sites, send in your CV and pass an interview with the company, pass an interview with the family and the fun can begin. You’ll be expected to babysit or teach kids from 2-16 years and communicate with them only in English (or in another language). Often that’s a full-time job. When the kids get off school is when your day begins, so you’ll work something like 1PM to 7PM every day plus often a day on the weekend as well. There are also governor jobs where you become a part of the family and live for them for the duration of your contract.
The activities you do depend on the family and on how old the children are. That can range from actual babysitting (but only in English), to playing with them to helping them with homework and really teaching them. Some families want someone just for a few hours a week, while others get a governor that lives with them for a few years.
These jobs are well-paid since you work for the elite families in Moscow (don’t know if they even exist in other cities). 50-60$/hour is the lowest I have seen if you work on an hourly basis. Others pay you per month and that can go as high as 5,000GBP/month including visa and accommodation (usually living with them). That also includes vacations to wherever the family might go.
If you’re young and you don’t mind slaving away for a while to save some money, then this might just be for you. This isn’t so much teaching English as it is educating and spending time with children. Proceed with caution because a governor you can only be for so long before it becomes a pain.
My personal experience of teaching in Russia
I've been teaching English and German for over three years now. I remember I had a lot of these questions before I started and I would have been very thankful for some answers back then.
Is teaching English difficult?
Teaching English is a bit like chess, easy to learn but hard to master. You learn the basics of it very fast but you're never fully done with learning and improving. After a while, you feel like you've hit a wall. But there are always new and unfamiliar situations and problems that your students face, which force you to come up with new solutions. Every student is different and as they improve, so do you.
Overall, I'd rate teaching English as not very hard. If you bring the 5 most important things I described, then you have a good chance of being a successful teacher.
Do I need to know Russian to teach?
I've only ever taught in Russia and I can tell you from experience that it's not mandatory but it helps a lot. Especially with adult students, it is very helpful for two reasons.
First, they will ask you for a lot of translations. Of course, you speak as much English as possible but students still want translations. Most don't have a dictionary and it's also faster if you can give them a quick translation.
Second, it's (literally) much easier to find a common language with your students if you speak their language. Even if they specifically want a native speaker, they'll feel more comfortable with you if you speak Russian. Occasionally students also need further grammar explanations, which is easier to do in Russian as well. Especially if the student's level of English is very low or zero, it's very useful and much easier to switch to Russian for organizational questions.
When working with children, knowing Russian is actually not important and sometimes even counterproductive. Children don't organize lessons and learn a language in a different way. You simply speak English with them even if they talk back in Russian. If you do know Russian, it's best to not let them know about that. If they find out, they'll never speak to you in English again.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching English in Russia?
Is it better to teach adults or children?
Is it better to teach groups or individuals?
Both have different dynamics and you learn useful transferable skills at both. I personally prefer individuals because I like to fully focus my attention on one person. Teaching groups can be more lucrative, especially if you manage to put together a small group by yourself. It's not so different from teaching one person but for the students it's cheaper and you get more, so it's a win-win.
What are students in Russia like?
Some are diligent, some are lazy. Some are talented, others need three times as long for the same lesson. Some do their homework, a lot of them don't.
In general, Russian students are pleasant to work with. They're eager to learn, friendly, talkative and easy to find common ground with. For a Westerner, their culture is similar enough to not get a cultural shock but different enough to leave room for lots of funny and interesting talking points. They're always very involved and curious to find out more about "how do you say this in English" or "why/how do people in the UK/US/Germany do...?". These types of topics are always a winner with Russian students.
How do you structure a lesson?
My advice is to stick to the lesson plans the books give you. As a beginner, you don't really know yet what you're doing. Luckily, the book walks you through it from A to Z.
Your only job is to find a good balance of productive and receptive skills and to monitor how students react to the material. You need to know when you want to do which exercise and why. Sometimes things move quicker than you expected, other times slower. That's where you need to be able to adapt. It is always good to have a few extra exercises and explanations up your sleeve.
Over time, as you gain experience, you'll be able to react on the fly and incorporate different types of material and work with extracurricular stuff. Still, you should mentally go through every lesson before you start teaching. The difference whether you come prepared or unprepared is like night and day and both you and your students will notice.
Can I teach another foreign language?
Absolutely possible, yes.
The demand for English teachers is the highest. About 80% of the "teaching foreign languages" market in Moscow is for English. German is second with maybe 10%, French is third with about 5%. Then all the rest like Spanish, Italian, Chinese etc.
Do I have to be a native speaker to teach English in Russia?
Clients pay higher rates for native English teachers. Even if you're a shitty teacher, your passport puts you two steps ahead of anyone else. Plenty of students in Moscow are in love with the British accent and want specifically teachers from the UK to teach them the correct pronunciation. Your reputation as a native speaker is way better.
If you are not a native speaker, you need to have bulletproof credentials of speaking top-notch English to command anything close to a respectable rate. That means having university degrees from English-speaking countries, very high test scores and ideally teaching certificates. Especially schools are often strict with that.
I can tell from experience that it isn't easy to compete with the competent English teachers from the US and UK out there, no matter how good your English might be.
How about the legal situation if I teach English in Russia?
If you work for a school, kindergarten, university or wherever you get a contract, then you're legally employed and they'll take care of your work visa and your taxes. Salary in Russia is always indicated after tax, so no need to worry about that. Also, students can work some hours legally as far as I know.
Anything else is illegal. That is the theory at least. Unless you set up your own LLC in Russia to be self-employed, you can't officially work. The situation on the ground though is that lots of teachers in Russia...find a solution. Let's be crystal clear here: I'm not advocating tax evasion in Russia. But facts are facts, it is sort of a national sport.
In practice, that means that you get paid in cash and no one bats an eyelid. That can work for a long time but tax authorities in Russia are getting stricter, so you should gamble at your own risk. As long as you're a small fish you'll go unnoticed but if you have the means to register your business legally, you should save yourself a headache and do it.
How high is the cost of living in Russia?
Groceries: about 200-250€ per month for one person.
Transportation: the metro is less than 1€ for an unlimited ride (no zones or other garbage). I have a yearly pass that cost me about 250€. That's insanely cheap compared to other major cities. Taxis are cheap too. 10€ for the cheapest ride at peak times.
Housing: I live 20mins away from the center in a fairly new 50m² apartment for about 650€ per month, all amenities included. In the center that would be about 2-3 times the price. You can live for as little as 250€ in a rundown soviet apartment two hours away from the center.
Entertainment: going to the movies is cheap, 10 bucks a ticket at most. Theater tickets range between 10 and 100€, the same for sports events. I train at home so I can't help you with gym prices. Going out to bars and clubs can e from 20 to 200 bucks, depending on how thirsty you are.
Insurances: I get my insurances and healthcare from Germany so no comment on this one.
Overall cost of living: you will need at least 1,500€ to live an acceptable life in Moscow. If you want to teach English in St Petersburg, I would budget 20% less. Living in Russia is not expensive but keep in mind that English teaching isn't a way to get rich.