What's the Job Description of a Language Teacher?

Research what it takes to become a language teacher. Learn about training and education requirements, job duties and career outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching & Learning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Language Teacher?

Foreign language teachers teach students to speak, comprehend and write in a foreign language. They also provide instruction in the culture and sometimes the literature of countries where the language is spoken. Foreign language teaching jobs are available at the K-12 levels as well as the college level. At the grade school level, it is usually easiest to get a job teaching Spanish, although other common languages, like French, are also taught. Colleges and universities may offer jobs for teaching a wider variety of languages, such as Arabic, Russian, Italian and Chinese. Professors at universities are often expected to publish in addition to teaching a language. They may do research on linguistics or language acquisition, prepare translations, or produce their own literary works in the language. In addition, they mentor graduate students who are earning master's degrees or Ph.D.s.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Master's degree required in most states, doctoral degree to teach in colleges
Key Responsibilities Train students to read, write and pronounce foreign languages
Plan lessons
Keep records
Assess student progress
Certification State-required certification
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for all K-12 teachers)*
13% (for all postsecondary teachers)*
Median Salary (2015) $54,890 (for all elementary teachers)*
$57,200 (for all high school teachers)*
$61,380 (for all postsecondary foreign language teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Foreign Language Teacher Do?

As a foreign language teacher, you teach at all levels of education as well as in corporations and government agencies. Your job responsibilities often depend on where you teach. For example, a foreign language teacher working at a high school may not have the same responsibilities as a teacher working for the government. In general, all foreign language teachers train students in the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, reading and writing of a foreign language. Like other teachers, you are also responsible for lesson planning, recordkeeping and student assessment.

If you teach at the middle school or secondary levels, you might also serve as an academic or career counselor, tutor or extracurricular activity organizer. If you teach at the postsecondary level, you could be required to publish research, present your work at conferences or participate in administrative committees. Working for corporations or government agencies requires you to help individuals with language training specific to their professional field.

What Training Do I Need?

If you plan to teach in a school, you will need to be certified by the state. While a bachelor's degree may be the minimum requirement to secure teaching certification, most states require you to have completed graduate study in a foreign language or in foreign language education. Bachelor's and master's degree programs in these fields commonly include study abroad components.

If you want to teach in corporations or government agencies, you may be required to be a native speaker. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) only hires native speakers (www.cia.gov). You must usually have a teaching credential as well.

If you want to teach at a college or university, you usually need a doctoral degree in your foreign language of choice or in foreign language education. A doctoral degree culminates in a dissertation or piece of original research. These programs also usually require you to complete an extensive reading list in your language of study and to take a fluency test.

You can also prepare to be a foreign language teacher by gaining real-world experience in countries that speak the language you study. You could do this by participating in extended programs like the Peace Corps, by volunteering or traveling.

Is the Job Market Favorable?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment for teachers in grades K-12 is expected to increase 6% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The growth is due to a rising general population and a high number of retiring teachers. The BLS reported that employment of postsecondary foreign language teachers is expected to grow 13% during the same time. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for elementary school teachers was $54,890 and $57,200 for high school teachers. Postsecondary foreign language teachers earned $61,380 per year, according to the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another possible job in education is a career as an instructional coordinator. These professionals develop curricula, measure student outcomes, and alter standards to improve student success. Those with expertise in foreign language may focus specifically on curriculum development in the field. To get this job, it is usually necessary to have a master's degree and/or a degree in their subject of specialization, as well as a teaching license. Alternatively, language experts may want to work as translators or interpreters. Jobs in this field are sometimes available at schools. The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor's degree.

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