Belgium has plenty to offer in terms of food, art, architecture and history. It goes without saying that it is home to first-class chocolate, excellent beer, and many fine cheeses! It’s handy for France, Germany, Holland and the UK, and has a number of big cities and pleasant costal areas. In addition this it is, of course, home to the European Parliament. So don’t be surprised if you bump into a Euro MP.
Dutch is the official language, but in practice this spoken in the north, with French being in common usage in the south. Brussels, situated in the middle is one of the world’s truly bilingual capitals. The population is made up of two parts Germanic Flemings to one part Celtic-Latin Walloons. English is widely spoken - particularly amongst younger people who often have a high degree of fluency.
Home to the EU capital, there is great demand for EFL services, but with this said there is also considerable supply, due to the fact that there are many ex-patriot spouses of diplomats or support workers who teach. One area where there is more demand than supply is in that of private schools, and this is worth considering. Also telephone teaching has caught on here, and there are often openings in this area.
Anyone wishing to teach in a state or private school must expect to have a degree, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education and a TESOL qualification. As with most teaching opportunities in Belgium, two-years’ language teaching experience is a requisite.
With language institutes you can, in the main, expect to find yourself teaching Eurocrats or ancillary workers. Enthusiasm for English amongst the general population is not as high, for example, as it is in Germany or Holland, meaning both the market is not as broad, and the motivation of those being taught is not quite as great.
In the main you will find yourself teaching students who have many years experience of English. Hence, expect intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced students. Whilst it is exhilarating and rewarding to teach such students, it is important to prepare your classes well and make sure you are clear about the areas you are teaching - particularly with grammar. You don’t want to find yourself being corrected about tenses by your students! Your TESOL certificate should prepare you perfectly.
Visas and Regulations
Most state schools are not prepared to go through the difficult process of hiring native English-speaking teachers from outside of Europe. However, in some cases it is easier to place teachers from the US than from other countries, such as Australia and New Zeeland. Non-EU citizens should check with the Belgian consulate in their native country to look for language exchange programs, etc. Americans may wish to contact Interexchange, of New York, who run an exchange programme.
One of the complications is the reciprocal social security system that exists within the EU. High schools are required to register their staff for a social security card and also pay part of their contributions, they are generally not willing to take on anybody who is ineligible.
Most individuals working for institutes are self-employed, or ‘freelance’. Therefore, they are responsible for paying their own tax and social security. New arrivals are required to register with the police, organise a bank account into which their wages will be paid, and get a tax number from their local tax office.
Whilst Brussels is a big draw for EFL teachers, due to the EU connection, it is also worth considering Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent, all of which have great history and much to commend them. It goes without saying that having moved out of the orbit of Brussels one finds that the prices drop considerably for key things such as accommodation.
Getting a Job
When trying to get work in advance it is useful to contact the British Council in Brussels. They keep a list of language schools, both private and state. In addition to that, the on-line Yellow Pages runs to four pages of language school entries.
The new arrival would do well to consult the weekly English language paper, Bulletin, which publishes a schools guide every April. The publishers of Bulletin also produce a semi-annual publication called Newcomer, which contains contact addresses and a great deal of information of interest to the newly arrived teacher.
The British Council keeps a register of individuals who teach privately. To be entered on this register you must have a degree, a TESOL qualification and two-year’s teaching experience. If your achievements are not quite up to this it is perfectly feasible to put up notices in the larger town offering conversation practice.