Hollywood TEFL: Famous TEFL Teachers And Learners

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Teaching English as a foreign language is a very flexible career. You can teach in your hometown, abroad or online. You can teach for a month, a year, or the rest of your life.

Every year, tens of thousands of people decide to teach English as a foreign language. At the same time, hundreds of thousands – if not millions – choose to learn English.

This is why you never know who you’ll bump into on your TEFL journey.

Here are a few famous names who might know have dabbled in TEFL.

Prince William

Prince William, Prince of Wales, spent ten weeks volunteering as an English teacher in southern Chile. During his gap year in 2000, King Charles III and Prince William agreed that his gap year should be educational, vocational, and above all safe.

Prince William would participate in British Army training exercises in Belize, where he would work on a dairy farm, visit other countries, and teach English to children. During his time in the Raleigh International Program, William lived with some of the other volunteers. Can you imagine eating breakfast with the future king of England?

J.K. Rowling

Before she wrote a series about a boy who lived under the stairs with a lightning bolt scar, Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts author J.K. Rowling was an English teacher in Portugal.

After graduating from the University of Exeter in 1986, she answered a job advertisement looking for people to teach English abroad in Portugal. Rowling would write by day and teach by night.

Magic wasn’t the only thing in the air as Rowling met and married her husband, Jorge Arantes. In 1993, Rowling gave birth to her daughter Jessica and soon would divorce her husband and move to Edinburgh.

Four years later, J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

JK Rowling is possibly of the most famous TEFL teachers


British singer and songwriter, Sting a.k.a Gordon Sumner, is better known for his hit songs and musical abilities and not his teaching skills. After graduating from Northern Counties College of Education in 1974, Sting got a teaching position at St. Paul’s First School in Cramlington. He taught English, Music, and soccer for two years before returning to music. Since then, Sting has been sweeping Grammy awards and inducted onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Jesse Williams

Before playing pretty-boy doctor on Primetime Emmy award-winning television show Grey’s Anatomy, Jesse Williams taught English in the Philadelphia public school system. He followed in his father’s footsteps as his father taught History up in northern Maine. Williams was a teacher for six years and taught subjects such as African Studies, American Studies, and English.

Lucky for us he decided to give up teaching and don scrubs on our TV screens!

J.R.R. Tolkien

Hobbits, dragons, and precious rings, oh my! The best-selling author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien taught English language and literature at Oxford University.

Tolkien was a professor from 1945 until his retirement in 1959. During his teaching years, he published some of the most well-renowned books ever written, The Hobbit and the sequel, and The Lord of the Rings.

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Benedict Cumberbatch

Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch taught English in Darjeeling, India, before returning to England to study Drama during his gap year. Cumberbatch told a journalist, “I was teaching English to Tibetan Buddhist monks in a Nepali home near Darjeeling”.

He explains how they taught him a lot and described the people as “amazingly warm, intelligent, humorous people”. His time in Darjeeling helped him become cool, calm, and collected in his personal life.

Cumberbatch said he has a new ability to focus on the present and not be distracted by outside forces. There was no doubt Benedict Cumberbatch could relate to the role of Doctor Strange!

John Krasinski 

The American actor of The Office (US) and director of A Quiet Place wanted to become an English teacher in college. He spent six months teaching English in Costa Rica as a student-teacher. He attended Brown University, where he studied English.

According to an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Krasinski said, “I was in college, and I was going to be a teacher up until the end… I went to a theatre school, and it changed my life”.

Stephen King

Child-eating clown, pig’s blood prom queen, and terrifying ten-year-old twins are exactly what you want your English teacher to write about in their spare time… right? Best-selling author Stephen King used to be an English teacher at Hampden Academy in Maine.

After graduating from the University of Maine, King could not find a teaching position at first. Not long after starting his teaching career, King would write short stories and work on novels during the evenings and weekends. He soon would write and publish his novel Carrie.

Due to the novel’s popularity, King stopped teaching to pursue his career as an author full time. Stephen King has written at least eighty-one books, and the majority have been adapted into movies and television shows.

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Lin Manuel Miranda

Lin Manuel Miranda is a triple threat: Broadway legend, creator of Tony-winning musicals and an English teacher!

After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2002, Miranda’s first job was as a seventh-grade English teacher at Hunter College High School, where he was an alumnus. He described the position as being one of the most rewarding jobs he has ever had. Miranda explained that teaching would simply entail performing. “I invariably found the more I listened, the less I spoke, the more effective I was as a teacher”.

His favourite literature pieces to teach were Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare.

But it’s not only teachers that bring Hollywood to TEFL. There are a fair number of celebrities who sat on the other side of the classroom, as learners.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Terminator (or the Governator, depending which era you know him from) is originally from Austria. He moved to the United States when he was 21 and hardly spoke English. He learnt English while he was training to be a bodybuilder by taking lessons and working in a fitness store to force himself to speak English.

Penelope Cruz: Born in Spain, Cruz learnt English when she was a young teenager but, she admits herself, not very successfully. She moved to the United States when she was 20 and this was when she became fluent in English, by memorising her film scripts. In 2009 she became the first Spanish-speaking actress to win an Oscar, for her English-speaking role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Sofia Vergara: Another famous Spanish-speaking actress, Vergara was born in Colombia. She learnt English while at private school. She is now most famous for her role as Gloria on Modern Family.

Heidi Klum: Klum is a German supermodel who has made a name for herself not only in Europe but in the United States as well. She is known as the host of the popular Project Runway reality TV series and one of the judges on America’s Got Talent. Klum only learnt English when she moved to the United States.

Diane Kruger: Kruger is another German celebrity who has made a name for herself internationally. She speaks German as her first language, but can also speak French and English fluently.

Mila Kunis: A famous actress, many people don’t realise that Kunis does not speak English as her first language. Born in Ukraine, Kunis grew up speaking Russian and only learnt English when her parents moved to the States.

Jackie Chan: Chan is an actor famous for performing all his own stunts and for his incredible martial arts skills. He was born in China and his first few movies had to be dubbed into English. As he became more famous, he taught himself English by listening to song lyrics.

As you can see, TEFL is a stepping stone for any number of other careers. Keen to get involved? Sign up for one of our TEFL courses and you never know who you could be teaching next!

Read more: 13 Different Jobs For TEFL Teachers


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