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What you need to know about teaching English in Germany

Teaching English is one of the most sought-after jobs for internationals arriving in Germany. But do you have to speak German? Or be a native English speaker? Here's what you need to know.

What you need to know about teaching English in Germany
A teacher at a German school. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

Do I need any qualifications to teach English in Germany?

Ideally, yes. It’s best to have a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate under your belt such as the Cambridge ELT Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) or the Trinity College London Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOl).

These courses usually consist of a set amount of hours of training plus teaching practice combined with homework. They can usually be completed either on an intensive course, usually lasting four weeks, or part-time, which normally takes three months.

SEE ALSO: Everything you need to know about becoming a freelancer in Germany

For some language centres, instructors only need a Bachelor’s degree. But John Wills, manager at the Berlin School of English, which runs a CELTA teacher training facility, told The Local that it’s best for budding teachers to have a TEFL qualification — even if they already have a teaching degree from their home country.

“We really encourage the CELTA course or the Trinity TESOL, even if people have a background in teaching subjects, because it does tend to give you the tools,” he said.

Wills advised anyone looking for teacher training courses to make sure that they are externally accredited and involve teaching practice.

He said some TEFL courses don’t have teaching practice in them. “I’d say that renders them virtually useless,” he added.

SEE ALSO: 10 ways to optimize your application for the German job market

Justin Beard, who co-runs the not-for-profit company InterACT English, told The Local teaching qualifications are not always needed and that it depends on the type of teaching you are doing. His company provides language training in an arts setting in German schools. 

“I’d say about 50 percent of our staff have a formal teaching English as a foreign language qualification,” he said,” said Beard who is a trained actor. “There are alternative approaches to the more traditionally cognitive linguistic training.” 

Is there a lot of competition?

In larger cities there is a huge amount of competition, especially in Berlin which is home to a lot of internationals.

“Berlin is a very difficult market,” Wills said. But that also means that there’s high demand. “So if you’re prepared to be tenacious, keep putting your name out, keep putting your CV out you will find work and once you find work you accumulate more work quite quickly,” said Wills.

For this reason, a qualification will give you an edge. In smaller German cities or places with fewer internationals it is easier to establish yourself or pick up teaching work. 

An adult education class. Photo: Depositphotos/lisafx

What can I earn teaching English as a foreign language in Germany?

It varies and it depends on a number of things, including where you are, your experience and what training you’ve had. Look on sites where teachers advertise their services such as Ebay Kleinanzeigen to see what instructors’ prices are. Ask around and contact teachers you find via blogs if you’re not sure to figure out the going rate. 

In sprawling cities such as Berlin you could charge anywhere between between €30 and €50 for a 90-minute class when teaching privately. Payment from language schools varies. You can earn more by specializing in a topic, such as business English, or if you teach at companies. 

Do you have to be a native English speaker?

No — but sometimes students want a native speaker as their teacher.

Wills describes it as a “contentious issue” in the industry. “To an extent it’s what the market demands,” he said. “I think a lot of schools want native speakers because that’s what students demand but certainly we’ve had people who’ve been very good English speakers, who have grown up bilingually or studied English to a very high level.”

The advantage that non-native speakers often have is they’ve learned English themselves, rather than acquiring the language as children, so they analyze it in a different way.

“They can be very effective teachers,” said Wills. 

Do I have to speak German?

You don’t have to be fluent but it helps to know the basics. Being able to speak other languages will make you more attractive to schools and language centres.

“We’ve taken on people without German in the past but I think it would be really disingenuous to pretend that you’re not at an advantage,” said Wills.

As a teacher, you’ll be encouraging students to speak English at all times in the classroom but it’s good to know the language of the country you’re living in to hear what the students are saying to each other.  

But remember that a lot of students, especially in diverse places, will be from other countries and might not know German themselves. So try not to alienate non-German speakers by sticking to English as much as possible. 

Can I get a staff job as an English as a foreign language teacher in Germany?

It’s unusual to step into a staff job. Teachers are mainly offered freelance contracts at language schools in Germany. To prepare you have to register as a freelancer, get a tax number and get your Visa sorted out if you’re from outside the EU. 

SEE ALSO: Why you should consider becoming an English language teacher in Germany

Can I work in the German school system teaching children?

Teaching children is a different ball game to teaching adults and you may need or want further specialist training to do this. Beard, whose company is now operating in 140 schools throughout Germany, said it’s “extremely difficult” to get into the system. 

Photo: Depositphotos/DragonImages

“We’ve been doing it for 10 years,” he said. “When you start to operate in the school system you very much encounter the German education system and that is a complex landscape.”

Beard said getting to grips with the different regulations and systems throughout the 16 states is tricky.

“As a freelancer trying to make your way through that it’s quite complex which is actually why our Organization is there,” he added. “We try to leverage organizational expertise and experience in the field to try and create opportunities for instructors.”

What else should I think about?

Away from the job itself, it’s important to note that freelance English teachers are required by law to pay into the German pension system. If you don’t you could be asked to pay backdated contributions if you’re found out down the line. Again, talk to other teachers and school staff to find out how they set up.

“You are required as a freelance teacher to pay into the German pension system,” Wills said.

“That does sound really scary because you have to pay 19 percent of your gross annual income into it. But what it actually does is lower your taxable income so it’s just a question of: do you give it to your tax authority or give it to your pension fund.”

So how do I go about getting work as a teacher?

Once you’re qualified and have your documents in order, you could start by approaching language schools and centres. Wills advises going to the schools in person to make yourself stand out.

“Most schools receive about 30 or 40 unsolicited applications a week,” Wills said. He said visiting the schools wearing smart clothing, and talking to the manager or director of studies can make a big difference.

“Have a quick chat and leave your CV with them, because it gives you the opportunity to leave an impression,” Wills said. “It means you might be in the right place at the right time and it means you won’t end up at the bottom of the pile.”

Any other tips?

Emphasize your personal experience. If you’ve worked as an office manager, in the tech industry or with people from different countries or backgrounds make sure you highlight this on your CV. 

“If you’ve got work experience – been in a job where you’ve been to meetings, written emails, had customer or client contact then I would say emphasize those skills in the CV as well,” said Wills.  “It can make your status as a business English teacher more credible.”

Beard added: “There are opportunities in the start-up industry and the new corporate side of things in Germany. There’s lot of international people moving to cities.”

“Figure out what your unique skill set is. Our strength happens to be in the arts so that’s where we focus our efforts.” 

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language vacancies in Germany

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For members


7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network.