January 2001
Foreign Eyes

You're hired!

You will earn much more teaching English in Brazil
than many college educated Brazilians working
in their respective professions.
This is an unfortunate reality but an opportunity for you
to keep your standard of living intact.

Benjamin Googins

On my first visit to Brazil three years ago I was so enchanted by the people and the language (and the idea of getting out of the U.S. for awhile) that I started considering the possibility of my living here. A friend of a friend knew a woman who was the director of an English school and I was able to set up an interview with her. I remember my nervousness and excitement as I entered the office. From what my friend had told me about the need for English teachers in Brazil I was sure I would be hired on the spot.

The director asked of my experience in teaching of which I had none. She asked about my education in the English language. I hadn't had any since high school. As the interview progressed my enthusiasm diminished. Wrapping up the interview I was told that it was unlikely that I'd be hired but that I could send my résumé again once I was settled in Brazil. I left the interview disheartened and wondered how I would ever find work teaching English sans experience and sufficient English schooling. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have been worried a bit.

You are in demand

Thanks to the power of the Internet I have been in contact with many people looking for a way to really live in Brazil, not just visit. Their reasons are usually centered around a love connection and a spirit of adventure. Their backgrounds are varied and most have had little success at finding work in their respective areas. Brazil's unemployment rate is very high and the taxes and bureaucracy to sponsor a foreigner to work here are immense. These factors combined with the salary a foreigner might expect make the chances of employment slim.

With globalization in full force however, the market for English teachers continues to grow. It is imperative that Brazilians learn to speak, read, write, and understand the English language in order to grow professionally. Just as you would prefer to learn Portuguese from a Brazilian, a Brazilian would much prefer to learn English from you; a "native." English schools know this and will readily hire you as having a "native" speaker on staff directly translates into more clients, and thus, more revenue.

You are qualified

You may have forgotten what your high school English teacher taught you about auxiliary verbs, the rules of past participles, and when we use the gerund form of a verb. It doesn't matter. The books you'll be teaching from will explain all of this, in English of course. A British ex-patriot friend of mine gave me some wonderful insight that I'd like to share with you. When a student asks a Brazilian English teacher a question and the teacher doesn't know the correct answer the teacher is seen as unqualified to teach the language. When the same happens with a "native," the student feels great. They have stumped the professor. Your only obligation is to be honest and bring the correct information to your next class.

The majority of your classes, at least in the beginning, will consist of conversation classes. Advanced students need to practice their English in order to keep it fresh and they're always looking for new slang. Speak normally using your own expressions. If something is "far out" say so but be prepared to give several synonyms. Don't translate if you speak Portuguese. This defeats the purpose. Speak at your normal speed.

Everyone knows that the president of the next Fortune 500 company to put down roots in Brazil won't speak slower or clearer than he/she does at any other meeting. Your students will appreciate the practice in trying to figure out what the heck you're saying. Also, your life long experience in speaking English gives you the ear to hear when something seems off or could be said in a better way and that's the kind of expertise an advanced student needs.

A note on training

There are many different methods to teaching English as a second language. The most popular nowadays is the Communicative Method which emphasizes speaking and using the student's real-life experiences much more than repetition and translation. The idea behind this method is that, as long as the student is communicating, even with errors, we're making progress. Schools will ask you which methods you've used (if any) and may suggest that you need training in their particular teaching method.

My personal opinion is that you do not need to spend weeks, often without pay, learning how to teach English for a particular school. If you feel the need for training, by all means, accept it. There are however, many schools which will not require you to train and may not even meet with you face-to-face. You'll get the address and time to show up. Consider this an initiation by fire. Remember, you are qualified.

You can make a living

Your income depends on the amount of hours you work but I can promise you that you will earn much more teaching English than many college educated Brazilians working in their respective professions. This is an unfortunate reality for Brazilians but an opportunity for you to keep your standard of living intact.

I'd like to give you a very general idea of the going rate for English teachers from my experiences in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Hourly pay is higher in São Paulo as the general feeling is that the cost of living in São Paulo is higher as well. Most schools start paying $9 an hour. In Rio you can expect $8 an hour starting out. After you spend more time with a particular school you can demand more money. You are an asset to the school and your presence at businesses will most likely bring new students to the school.

The good money lies in private classes. You will begin making contacts the day of your first class. You will charge by the hour and may ask for payment monthly (most common), weekly, or after each class. Maybe you'll make a package deal with your new client. It's all up to you. How much to charge is also up to you. I can tell you this. Most schools charge between $20 and $40 an hour. If the student's company is paying for his/her classes this price is not so steep. When it's coming out of their own pockets though, it may seem high.

Shoot below and you'll find students who are willing to pay for your services. Please remember, once you have your first private student you are in business for yourself. Everyone knows the old "you get what you pay for." It holds true for English classes as well so, if you're charging a high hourly rate, be sure to give the client what he/she expects and needs. Your students will be your best advertisement and recommendations are the best way to expand your business and income.

Where to find work

The first place to look for your new job in Brazil is the newspaper. In Rio, I recommend O Globo. Every Sunday you will find several advertisements seeking English teachers. Give the school a call or send them your résumé. You can also simply take a walk around and drop in on the schools. There are many and the opportunities are out there. I recommend you avoid the chain schools like Wizard and Yep. They pay lower wages and may not give you the chance to get to businesses where the private students await. As these schools are franchises you may be surprised to find out, as I once did, that the owner/director doesn't even speak English.

The ups & downs

Everything has its good side and bad side. We've all come to accept this fact of life. Let's get the bad out of the way first. You won't be able to work straight through the day. Most people need classes early in the morning (we're talking 7 a.m. folks), at lunch time, and in the evening after work. You may find yourself with two or three hours with nothing to do and no time to get home and return before your next class.

My suggestion is to always have a good book on hand or some paper to right the family back home. You will also need to travel around the city a lot, as most probably your classes will be in different businesses or different schools. This can mean several hours on a bus per day. Depending on how much you like roller coasters this could get old very quickly.

Now, on to the good side. You're your own boss. You make your own schedule (more or less.) You'll learn proper English. You'll meet many interesting people and learn many new things. My various students have taught me things like how to set up an intranet, how pharmaceuticals are marketed, and what the difference is between cement and concrete. Your students will also love the fact that you are here; learning about their culture and their language. You'll get the best recommendations for restaurants and places to visit and you'll probably be invited to many churrascos. What more do you need in a job?

Legality and my personal disclaimer

Working in Brazil without the proper work visa is illegal!!! Now, with that said you can come here and find plenty of work, no questions asked. Schools don't care if you have papers as they won't be hiring you legally anyway. As I've mentioned, taxes are too high and no one wants to pay you benefits when you may be gone in six months. It's better for them to pay you "under the table." You probably won't have a bank account so be sure to tell them to please not "cross" the check. This will allow you to go to their bank and cash it using your foreign identification. Again, no questions asked.

I'd like to sum up this information by saying that there are many wonderful Brazilian English teachers here. They have studied diligently and probably speak English better than you or I ever will. These people are true "teachers." I am honest with my students and tell them that I'm not really a teacher but a guy who speaks English and is paid well based on this fact. I think it is lamentable that a foreigner can come here and make more money than many doctors and other professionals, but that is the economics of Brazil and the economics of Brazil is another lesson all together.

Ben Googins is a twenty-six year old American who is broadening his horizons in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Please feel free to contact him at

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