How to Become an ESL Teacher in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an ESL teacher. Learn about education requirements, career duties, and credentials to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching ESL degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is An ESL Teacher?

ESL teachers teach English as a second language. Their students have a native language that is not English. Their specific tasks may vary slightly, depending on the age of their students. They may help their students understand common expressions and customs, and may also work with students to help them understand their school homework. They develop a curriculum based on the needs and skill level of their students, and help them read, write and pronounce English effectively. As part of their program, they may use quizzes, videos and other materials to familiarize their students with the English language.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree, master's degree if you plan to work abroad
Education Field of Study English, education, foreign languages, teaching English as a second language, linguistics
Certification TESOL certification, public school ESL certification (varies by state)
Key Responsibilities Help students learn about English culture, English speaking and writing, and help second-language learners understand English grammar, mechanics and vocabulary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7%* (for all adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers)
Median Salary (2016) $40,173**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Step 1: Research ESL Teacher Career Duties and Education

ESL teachers work with students of all ages who are in an English-speaking country but speak a language other than English. ESL teachers guide students learning English grammar, reading, speaking and listening, vocabulary and writing. They also teach them about the culture of English-speaking people. ESL teachers can work in elementary, middle and high schools or colleges, universities and community education programs. Potential ESL teachers should earn a bachelor's degree and TESOL certification from a 4-year institution. Pursuing a master's degree may lead to higher pay and more and better job opportunities, especially for those who choose to work abroad.

Step 2: Learn a Second Language

Although knowing a second language isn't required to become an ESL teacher, the experience of learning one may help you be more patient and understanding with your future students. Begin studying a foreign language in high school, which is a requirement for acceptance into a bachelor's degree program.

Step 3: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree

ESL teachers can hold an undergraduate degree in nearly any major, but some may be more beneficial than others. These include a Bachelor of Science in English Education, Bachelor of Science in Language Teaching or a degree in another subject, such as English, education or linguistics with an emphasis on TESOL or on Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). Aspiring public school ESL teachers should minor in education or take classes to prepare themselves for state teaching certification.

Step 4: Earn Your Credentials

ESL teachers must earn TESOL certification through an undergraduate program, community college, independent language institute or online course. You also will need to obtain a work visa to work in a foreign country from its embassy. You must earn your teaching certification to work as an ESL Teacher in public schools in the U.S.; certification requirements vary by state.

Step 5: Continue Your Education

ESL teachers in community colleges or universities should pursue a master's degree, such as a Master of Arts in TESOL. A master's degree in applied linguistics, English or education with a TESOL or TESL concentration is also beneficial. Public school ESL teachers may need to earn a master's degree to work for some employers after they're hired.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Career and technical education teachers teach students trade skills and vocational programs. Similar to ESL teachers, they develop lesson plans, instruct students and review their progress. A bachelor's degree is typically necessary for this career, as well as experience in the field being taught. High school, middle school and elementary school teachers have many of the same tasks. They may teach one specific subject, or two or more subjects, depending on the grade level. They need a bachelor's degree and a teaching license.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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