Top Tips for Teaching English in Ecuador
Ecuador is sometimes overlooked as a TEFL destination when compared with better-known Argentina and Chile. However, although earning potential is not perhaps as high as in the richer southern countries, it is a very rewarding place to live, to teach and to travel. I spent the first stage of my ongoing career, teaching English in Ecuador and I’ve come up with some top tips for those of you who might be considering this fascinating, beautiful and action-packed country as your new teaching destination.
Before you leave
Do your research about teaching English in Ecuador
There are some questions for you to consider below:
How are you going to find work teaching English in Ecuador? Will you make sure you have a job offer, signed contract and work visa before you arrive, or will you arrive on a tourist visa and then look around?
Where within Ecuador would you like to live and teach? Aside from what teaching opportunities there are, think about the climate, the location, the safety reputation, what there is to see and do, whether you’d prefer a big city, somewhere touristy or somewhere more off the beaten track. Check out potential destinations on Wikitravel. Most opportunities will be in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, but opportunities within smaller communities do exist. If you’re hoping to teach private students online as a freelancer, is the place where you want to be set up well for working from home – what’s the internet connection like? Are there places where you could get computer equipment fixed, should you need to?
How easy will it be to find somewhere to live? Is accommodation provided by the employer, will they assist you in finding your own place, or will you be on your own from the start? What do the other teachers at your new workplace do? If there’s a way you can find this out in advance (by asking the Director of Studies or Academic Manager, for example), I’d recommend doing so.
It’s easy to overpack, but try to resist! A lot of what you’ll need you can get once you’ve arrived and are settled in somewhere. Note however that electronics are generally expensive to buy in Ecuador because they are nearly always imported (I remember it seemed relatively common for my adult students to take trips to Miami partly for the purpose of buying cheaper electronics) so you might want to bring these with you.
Be aware that Ecuador is a developing country.
Don’t expect things to work in the same way as things do in your home country. Depending on where you’re from, the geography might also be very different to what you’re used to. The city of Quito is the second-highest capital in the world (9,350 ft altitude) so be aware of initial altitude sickness if coming directly from a low-altitude place. Ecuador has several dormant or active volcanoes and there are frequent earthquake tremors; most of the latter are very mild, and in over a year I only experienced a couple of these, but more major ones can and do happen. The last major one happened in 2016 and was devastating. Also be aware that like in other South American countries with a Pacific coast, the weather in Ecuador is affected by El Niño events. There is a lot of rainfall, and in severe El Niño episodes, major flooding occurs along the coast.
Teaching English in Ecuador tips
I must preface this section by mentioning that in Ecuador, 99% of my students were adults, with the occasional 16- or 17-year-old included within adult classes. Therefore, the tips below were written with my experience of this age group in mind.
Demonstrate your interest.
Your students in Ecuador are highly likely to be interested in you. Give information about yourself and be just as interested in them in return. I can’t overstate how important this is if you want to build a great rapport. See your students as people rather than as receptacles of your teaching. Be genuinely interested in them and their lives. Remember things people say, and make references to these in future lessons. In group classes, encourage an atmosphere of interest between students and provide opportunities for this to develop. Encourage small talk before and after class (and join in). Personalise class activities so that people get the chance to talk about themselves and find out about their classmates.
If your students are locals, take advantage.
If your classes are filled with locals of the place where you live and/or are teaching, then use this to your advantage in class – not just because it can benefit your life outside of class, but also because you can use this situation as a basis for classroom activities. For example, you can make comparisons with your own hometown, or you can ask for recommendations about such things as ways of staying safe, what local cuisine you should try, which places are good to visit, what local customs or festivals there are, etc. You can get tip-offs about special events and good but less well-known things to do or see. There are so many ways in which you can work with giving recommendations and advice in class – so many in fact that this could be a blog post in itself. One thing I did was to ask for recommendations when I first started; I found that it worked very well as an icebreaker.
Make the most of any variations between where your students are from.
Your classes are likely to be monocultural and monolingual; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any variations. There are quite distinctive regions within Ecuador and if you have students who are from different regions, this can be valuable in terms of the activities you can do in class, for example discussions about differences in culture, cuisine and lifestyle. For example, when I was teaching English in Ecuador, in the port city of Guayaquil, and the majority of students were from the same city or surrounding area, but I also had students originally from other regions such as the Galápagos Islands, the Andean highlands and villages, the city of Quito, the Peruvian border and the coastal ‘Banana Centre of the World’, Machala… I also had the occasional student from other Latin American countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Chile.
Always aim to give students a bit more, in terms of language.
Take advantage of opportunities within classes to introduce more natural language which an expert speaker would use, as opposed to sticking strictly to teaching only what appears in a coursebook. By this I don’t mean that you should be bombarding students in an overwhelming manner. Instead, consider bringing in a bit here and a bit there, and whether it’s something you’ve planned in advance to introduce, something you spontaneously identify a need for in-class based on something you’ve overheard in pair or group discussions or activity feedback, or something you introduce as part of delayed error correction, always make sure the language is both relevant and useful. It’s very much appreciated when you introduce more natural phrases, expressions or other pieces of language in class – and facilitate practice of it. I’ve found this to be the case in every country I’ve taught in; Ecuador was no exception.
Use music in class.
Another top tip for teaching English in Ecuador. I found that students in Ecuador often had a great interest in music, and appreciated the use of it in class. Music is everywhere in Ecuador; salsa, bachata, merengue, pasillo, indie rock, pop, reggaeton… It’s a great topic for discussion, for example as an icebreaker in a new class, or to help you teach music- or dance-related vocabulary. Music can be the topic of a reading text or the subject of a debate. You can bring in songs in English to use as a base for listening activities or as a text from which you can draw out examples of vocabulary or a specific grammatical structure. Use rhythm and beat to teach intonation and pronunciation – sentence stress, for example. You can have music on quietly in the background to some activities. Regarding singing, however, with adult/ teen groups I would only do this if a group specifically asked to do it; otherwise, I’d avoid it.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Note that I don’t mean you should be acting like a clown, or trying too hard to be funny, and nor am I saying that you shouldn’t take teaching English in Ecuador too seriously. It’s perfectly acceptable to be a more serious teacher, and if that’s your natural teaching style then it’s certainly not for me to say that you’d be any less effective a teacher than someone who is not particularly serious. Plus, of course there will be situations where seriousness is necessary for any teacher. I just mean that in Ecuador, from my experience at least, it goes down well if you can smile or laugh at yourself, see the funny side in different situations, and allow your students to joke with one another and with yourself once you’ve built up rapport with them. A sense of humour is appreciated while teaching English in Ecuador.
Be aware that students will often be late.
When I was teaching English in Ecuador at any rate, being late for class was common; it appeared very deeply ingrained in some students. Being between 5-15 minutes late was seen as completely and totally normal, and later than that wasn’t rare. Lateness was so widespread that it happened to every teacher, and indeed we were warned within our teacher’s handbook to be aware of this relaxed approach to time. It’s a cliché to talk about Latin American lack of punctuality, and it wasn’t of course true for everyone (within every class there were some who were nearly always on time), but I did find that it had some basis in reality, at least from the evidence my colleagues and I could see.
Take what opportunities there are to explore the local area and other destinations within the country. Don’t sit at home all the time and then realize, with regret, nearly at the point of departure that you hadn’t managed to see much of the country at all. I did take what opportunities I could to explore, and I’m really glad I did, because I would have missed out big time otherwise. Aside from my explorations of the city of Guayaquil and nearby locations, just a few of my most memorable trips were;
- The beautiful, historic capital Quito and near-ish locations such as the cable car up Pichincha Volcano, the thermal baths of Papallacta, the village of Mindo within the biodiverse cloud forest, the famous market town of Otavalo, the Line of the Equator at the Quitsato Sundial (a more scientific and truthful location than the more famous ‘Mitad del Mundo’ elsewhere) and Cotopaxi Volcano
- The edge of the Amazon for the 4-day Carnival celebrations
- The colonial city of Cuenca for All Souls’ Day and the Independence of Cuenca celebrations in November
- The Galápagos Islands
- The adventure capital of Baños de Agua Santa
- Loja and Vilcabamba in the far south of the country
- Several coastal locations including surf capital Montañita, quieter Olón and a wonderful weekend spent humpback whale-watching, eating amazing seafood dishes in Puerto Lopez, swimming with green turtles, and wildlife-watching on Isla de la Plata, which is known as the ‘Poor Man’s Galápagos’ due to the blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigatebirds and other wildlife which live there.
Inter-city bus travel is easy and cheap (roughly $1 per hour of travel), there has been big investment in quality of roads and other travel infrastructure over the last decade and a half, and as Ecuador is relatively small, you don’t get the massively long, 24h+ bus journeys which you can get in larger South American countries. You can also get pretty cheap domestic flights – I took a few of these without any issues at all.
Try the local cuisine.
Ecuadorian cuisine isn’t as well known as Peruvian, but in my opinion it deserves to be! It varies depending on whether you’re on the coast, in the Andes or in the Amazon rainforest, though there are dishes which you can find pretty much anywhere too. My favourites included;
- Shrimp ceviche (which differs from Peruvian ceviche in that the seafood is cooked, and it isn’t steeped in chilli – there’s a separate accompaniment of hot sauce for you to add yourself if you so wish. Sometimes tomato juice is included too) with accompaniments of salted popcorn and chifles (plantain crisps)
- Garlic crab (be aware: this can get messy!)
- Fish in peanut sauce
- Various secos (stews) such as seco de pollo (chicken), seco de chivo (goat) and seco de pato (duck), which all come with rice and slices of plantain
- Encocado de camerónes and encocado de langosta (shrimp or lobster in coconut sauce with vegetables and the inevitable rice)
- Humitas (especially those with melted cheese in the middle) and quimbolitos
- Fried yuca
- Llapingachos (cheese & mashed potato cakes, often served with chorizo sausage, a fried egg, a slice of avocado, tomato and lettuce salad and chopped beetroot)
- Churrasco (in Ecuador, this is a thin steak topped with a fried egg and a ratatouille-type of vegetable sauce, often served with chips and rice)
- Fanesca (a soup with 12 types of beans and grains, traditionally served during Holy Week)
- Buttery-tasting bizcochos (savoury biscuits) from Cayambe, a village up the road from the line of the Equator
- Guanábana (soursop) juice and drinking yoghurt
- Amazing hot chocolate
- Sugared churros (I only ever saw these sold on street stalls, and never served with chocolate like they are in Spain)
- Fresh pineapple and sugar cane
- The incomparable Ecuadorian version of the Alexander cocktail (condensed milk, créme de cacao, brandy and crushed ice)
- Morocho (similar to rice pudding, though in drinkable form and made with cracked white corn rather than rice; the best morocho I had was in Guayaquil)
- Colada Morada (a purple, sweet drink traditionally consumed on and around 2nd November, All Soul’s Day – can be served hot or cold, it’s made from black corn flour, cane sugar and fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, pineapple or naranjilla)
- Guagua de Pan (roughly human-shaped sweet bread roll, traditionally served with Colada Morada on and around 2nd November) See picture:
- I also had some very nice Ecuadorian Chinese food at different Chinese restaurants, which are known locally as chifas
In addition to the above, if you like bananas, avocados and mangoes then you’ll be very well placed in Ecuador, as these are very widely grown there and are particularly good.
As I mentioned before, the earning potential in Ecuador is not very high (the average TEFL wage is between $400-$800 p/m; the lower end of this scale in smaller communities, the upper end is more likely in the cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca), but the cost of living is low in comparison to a lot of other places, so you should still be able to live comfortably unless you’re splashing out more than occasionally. I was paying $250 a month as part of a 2-person flatshare in Guayaquil, and this wasn’t the lowest rent out there in the city. Rent is likely to be lower outside of the big cities, too.
Whether you earn, and therefore save, much or not will depend on the institution you’re working for, how many hours you teach (as you will almost certainly be paid a monthly rate for a certain number of hours per month) and how well certified you are. It isn’t always necessary to have a BA degree, but TEFL certificates are required by any reputable organizations. I would highly recommend a Level 5 certificate if you want to increase your chances of getting the best teaching jobs.
See below for some websites you can use to research paid work and volunteering opportunities in Ecuador:
Tefl.com – Sometimes I see paid jobs and volunteering opportunities here.
Dave’s ESL Cafe (International Job Board) – The same as above.
I highly recommend Ecuador as a TEFL destination. I have a great many very fond memories of my students and classes, the opportunities to explore the country, and everyday life too. It’s a stunning, endlessly interesting country with an incredible amount to see and do. If you have the opportunity to go to Ecuador, I would grab it with both hands – it’s 100% worth it!