ESL and Bilingual Teacher Education

ESL (English as a Second Language) and bilingual teachers help non-native speakers and new arrivals to the U.S. read and write English. Continue reading to learn more about academic requirements and career opportunities before deciding if a job as an ESL teacher is a good fit for you.

Is ESL and Bilingual Teaching for Me?

Career Overview

According to the National Teacher Education Center (NETC), ESL teachers help students learn English, while bilingual teachers help English-language learners (ELLs) succeed in the classroom, usually by working with them in both English and their native language ( As reported by Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, most countries require prospective English teachers to complete some type of formal education and training ( Candidates for employment who do not have a background in ESL or teaching may be able to tutor non-native speakers in English. Potential employers can include community and 4-year colleges, local businesses, government training programs and public schools.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for adult literacy and high school diplomacy equivalency teachers, including adult ESL teachers, is projected to increase by 9% between 2012 and 2022. As of May 2013, the median annual salary for adult literacy and equivalency teachers was $51,110. At that same time, elementary teachers and middle school teachers earned annual median salaries of $53,590 and $53,940, respectively, while high school teachers made $55,360 a year (

How Can I Become an ESL or Bilingual Teacher?

Undergraduate Programs

A major in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) can help you prepare for the teacher licensing exam administered by your State Board of Education. Most bachelor's degree programs include studies in one or more foreign languages and instructional technology, as well as the educational issues faced by bilingual students. You'll also learn how to teach math, science and reading in the target language, create an ESL or bilingual curriculum and complete a student teaching experience.

Graduate Programs

Graduate programs can provide you with the additional background you need to pursue an advanced career in bilingual or ESL education. For example, you may learn how to develop curricula for bilingual and ESL programs, incorporating new teaching methods or technology into your plan. A graduate curriculum might cover topics in applied linguistics, multilingual classrooms and research techniques. Admission to a master's degree program in ESL can include prior education or experience in an ESL; individual schools may consider applicants with a degree in another field of study.

ESL doctoral degree programs are generally research-based courses of study that culminate in a dissertation. Areas of inquiry might allow for an-depth investigation of foreign language acquisition, instructional methodology or educational policies as they related to bilingual or ESL students.

Required Skills

Bilingual and ESL teachers must be able to work with ELLs who come from diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures. Like all teachers, they need to be patient, motive their students to learn, find unique ways of presenting the information and communicate effectively.


Bilingual and ESL teacher certifications are available through the NETC. Candidates with a 4-year degree who are interested in teaching English in another country, such as China or Germany, can acquire a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

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