How To Become an ESL Teacher

ESL is an abbreviation for ‘English as a Second Language’ and ESL teachers basically teach English to people whose primary or native language is not English. The information covered in this article is meant as a guide to people who want to become an ESL teacher.

Job description
As an ESL teacher, you will be responsible for teaching students who are learning English as a secondary language, whether based in the US or abroad in a non-English speaking country, or in today’s technologically-advanced world, in a virtual classroom! The teaching plan covers learning how to read, write and speak English, basics of grammar and spelling, expanding the students’ vocabulary and acclimatizing them to a world where English is the language for nearly all activity, such as business, trade, communications, etc.

Apart from the traditional places of learning – schools, colleges and universities – ESL teachers can work in companies where there is a significant population of non-English speaking employees, in BPOs and call centers where there is a requirement for specialized accents and familiarity with the American lingo! Another area where there is a great demand for ESL teachers is adult education, where you will be teaching freshly-arrived immigrants to learn enough English so that they can settle down in a new culture quickly and speak enough English in order to communicate.

Educational qualifications & certification

Educational qualifications and meeting certification criteria will depend on where and at what level you will be teaching ESL. For ease of understanding, this section is split into two segments – within the US and outside the US.
ESL teaching within the US

  1. The starting requirement is a bachelor’s degree in any of the following subjects – English, education or other similar subjects;
  2. Complete the teacher certification requirements in the state where you reside or expect to teach;
  3. The above two requirements are sufficient to teach at elementary and secondary school levels, to teach at college/university level, you may need to complete a master’s degree in education or in the English language.
  4. Additionally, look for special certification courses specifically targeted at ESL or EFL (English as a Foreign Language) accreditation such as Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).
  5. Learning a second language while you complete your education is a good option to have a better understanding of and communicating with your future students, though it is not a mandatory requirement.

ESL teaching abroad
The minimum qualifications are more or less the same as those for ESL teachers working in the US as stated above, but if you’re planning on getting a senior position in a public school or college or university, then you may need to necessarily complete a master’s degree or a doctorate, in either English or education.

To conclude, one very helpful tip – try out tutoring or doing a summer placement teaching ESL while you are studying; it will help you realize whether you have the aptitude and temperament of a full-time career as an ESL teacher!


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