How Can I Teach English As a Second Language?

Traveling internationally while working as a teacher can sound fun, even glamorous, but just like any job, teaching English as a second language requires training and knowledge. If you're willing to make the necessary preparations, though, you could have a career helping others learn English. Schools offering Teaching ESL degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

English as a Second Language Overview

English as a second language (ESL) teachers assist native speakers of a language other than English; in the U.S., these students often strive to attain enough English proficiency to enter the workforce. As an ESL teacher, you would use teaching methods focused on real-world situations to teach these students, sometimes called English language learners or ELLs.

Important Facts about Teaching English as a Second Language

Online AvailabilityFull coursework online for certificate and master's; hybrid programs for doctorate level
PrerequisitesTwo to four years of experience may be required for admission to doctorate programs
SpecializationsProgram administration, international education, teaching foreign languages
Common CoursesLiteracy instruction, course design, sociolinguistics, language testing

Common Acronyms

The variety of acronyms used by professionals in the field can be daunting, but in most cases, many terms are used to mean the same thing. Common abbreviations include English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages). Other acronyms include English as a foreign language (EFL), TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) and teaching English as a second language (TESL). The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, should not be confused with the acronyms used to denote ESL teachers; students take the TOEFL to prove academic proficiency in English.

Paths to ESL Teaching

Depending upon where and what level you'd like to teach, you have several options for becoming an ESL teacher. You can work domestically or internationally, for a school district or as an independent tutor, and with either children or adults.

Certificate Programs

When you earn a certificate in ESL, either from a community college, university or independent ESL institute, you may be qualified to work as an ESL teacher internationally or in the U.S. as a tutor. Many certificate programs require that you earn a bachelor's degree prior to admission, while some certificates can be earned concurrent with a degree.

Traditional Teacher Certification

To find work in a U.S. school district as an ESL teacher, you need to acquire teaching licensure with an emphasis or certification in ESL. To obtain ESL certification, you can complete college courses related to ESL while you earn a traditional education degree. You will also have to pass a test to prove your proficiency in ESL topics.

Postgraduate Studies

If you'd like to educate potential ESL teachers at the postgraduate level or engage in ESL research, you'll need to pursue a graduate degree. Schools offer both master's degrees and PhDs in TESOL, some as separate degrees and some as a specialization within a language arts or linguistics program. Courses offered in postgraduate programs might include grammar, writing and reading, cultural diversity, second language acquisition and independent ESL research.

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:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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  • George Mason University

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    • Master

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  • The George Washington University

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  • Strayer University

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    • Florida: Winter Park
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  • Saint John's University

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  • Purdue University

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  • Capella University

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