The short answer is no. You really don’t need to have a full grasp of the local language to be an EFL teacher. In fact one of the guiding principles of TEFL is that English teachers never use the local language when they’re in the classroom. Since you’ll probably be working in a language school or institute, there will be lots of people around who speak English. However, your experience will be greatly enhanced by being able to order a meal or booking a train ticket in the local language and will make your time overseas a lot easier and a lot more rewarding.
So while you don’t need to know the language to be a teacher, you’ll get more out of the experience if you can master a few basics. There will be loads of language schools in the country you go to, so it might be an idea get there a few days early and book yourself in for a beginner’s course.
It’s at least a good idea to know a few basic words, so that you can communicate and of course request help in an emergency situation. Basically the more of the local language you learn the better your experience will be while working abroad.
So pick up a small phrase book and learn a few basics before arriving. You will be glad you did and have a much happier lifestyle in your home away from home.
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