Learning to Teach English as a Second Language


Learning to teach English as a second language can open the doors for many rewarding opportunities.

Requirements for Teaching ESL

Qualifications for teaching English as a second or foreign language may vary, depending on the type of institution and state or country's designated requirements. A formal degree may not always be required, but having appropriate training and certification will expand the range of opportunities for an individual interested in this type of work.

Requirements for teaching English as a second language may include:

  • A Bachelor's degree in English, Linguistics, or related subject
  • Training or coursework in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)
  • Cross cultural or bi-lingual certification, training, or other credentials
  • Teaching certification at some level
  • Teaching experience

ESL Training Programs

There are many institutions that offer teaching English as a second or foreign language coursework. These include colleges, community centers, and online training programs.

When considering training courses, look for accredited programs that offer authorized certification.

There are several terms for teaching English as a second language. The terms are often used interchangeably; however, there may some differences in courses:

For teaching English to international or immigrant students in English-speaking countries:

  • TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language)

For teaching English to people in their native countries to enhance education or for business purposes.

  • TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
  • TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

Check with the localities where you anticipate seeking work to determine which type of course will be required or most beneficial. Training programs in teaching English as a second language include:

  • Bachelor's Degree in TESL
  • Master's Degree in TESL
  • Distance Learning TESL Certificate programs
  • Online TESL Certificate Programs
  • Community or college based TESL Certificates
  • Certificate or Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA or DELTA)

There are also courses available to meet specific needs, such as teaching ESL in elementary or secondary schools, for currently certified teachers.

Basic TESL courses may take as little as four weeks, while others may be longer in duration. Courses may include foundations and instruction about the English language as a system, practicum or teacher training, and job placement assistance upon completion of the program.

Choosing a TESL Program

Choosing the right TESL program can be difficult. Some individuals choose to enroll in TESL workshops to make sure they want to pursue this type of work prior to spending the time and money for certification. A college or university based program is a good choice, or a program recognized by a professional body such as:

There are also many other recognized professional organizations that may recommend TESL programs based in individual states or localities, such as CATESOL, the California Teachers of English as a Second Language association.

Help for Students Learning to Teach English

Learning to teach ESL can mean opening doors to exciting new paths. Students who choose to take TESL training come from all backgrounds and are of many different ages. Some aspects of the training or coursework may be stressful or confusing.

There are many resources to help students interested in becoming ESL teachers, whether they are looking to become a community center tutor to an elementary teacher specializing in working with English language learners.

The first place to seek additional help with coursework would be the institution where you are completing your training. Colleges and universities may offer tutoring or one-on-one assistance, while online and distance learning programs may offer live chat or e-mail support.

Students taking TESL courses can also visit various forums to chat with others and obtain suggestions and support. Once their training is completed, new teachers can also share ideas and get inspiration from visiting forums and English teaching sites such as:

  • English Clubhouse offers forums, blogs, and chat for English language teachers and learners.
  • 4ESL offers quizzes, puzzles, podcasts, and other resources helpful for new teachers.
  • ESL Go offers teaching resources, activities, and forums.