How Can I Become ESL Certified?

ESL stands for English as a Second Language, and an individual with ESL certification helps others learn how to speak, read and write in English. Certified ESL instructors are typically trained and licensed elementary or high school teachers. Becoming certified as an ESL teacher requires completing a teacher education program. Schools offering Teaching ESL degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

ESL Teacher Overview

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers work with both children and adults to help them learn to speak, read and write English. Within public schools, they are state licensed professionals who conduct classes in elementary, middle and high school environments. ESL teachers who work with adults are often state licensed teachers. Additionally, ESL teachers might require licensure if they're teaching within government agencies or programs.

Important Facts About ESL Programs

Common Courses Linguistics, Teaching Methods, Grammar, Cross-Cultural Communication, Language Acquisition
Degree/Certificate Levels Undergraduate and post-graduate certificates; associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees
Online Availability Some certificate programs are available online.
Possible Careers Domestic ESL teacher, international ESL teacher, hospitality employee, English tutor

Initial Teacher Certification

Becoming ESL certified requires completing a teacher education program to earn an initial teaching certificate at either the elementary or high school level. Bachelor's degree programs introduce you to teaching methods and techniques. Additionally, you're exposed to developing curriculum and lesson plans, as well as assessment and evaluation. Teacher education programs require completion of a student teacher internship. Completing a general teacher education program prepares you for continuing education in ESL.

Language Requirement

Most ESL teachers have some experience with a language other than English. Additionally, ESL graduate programs may require entering students to have a background in a second language. For example, you might be required to have four semesters of a commonly taught foreign language, such as Spanish, French or German, or three semesters of a foreign language less commonly taught, such as Chinese.

ESL Credential

To become a certified ESL teacher, you're required to complete post-bachelor's training such as an ESL add-on licensure certificate program. ESL programs train students in phonetics and applied linguistics, as well as multicultural communication and experiences. Additionally, this training will enhance your curriculum development and assessment skills. ESL graduate programs may also require students to complete an internship.


Requirements for licensure or certification for teachers vary by state. A part of the licensure or certification process requires completing exams on subject knowledge and practicum comprehension taught within teacher education programs. The most commonly accepted and used exams are the Praxis Series, which are tests covering reading, writing, and mathematics. The three components can be taken separately or together. As an ESL teacher, you're usually required to complete an additional test on ESL, which is an add-on endorsement to your original teaching certificate. State licensing often requires a background check as well.

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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