ESL Teaching Career Path

Anyone interested in pursuing an exciting, challenging and rewarding career in the teaching field should consider becoming an English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher. These professionals can work from a variety of locations all over the world; teaching foreigners and international students how to speak, read and write the English language. Now that technology has advanced to allow distance teaching, many ESL instructors are also able to work from home teaching others.


Depending on their preference, ESL teachers can choose to have children or adult students in their classrooms. Many professionals in this field enjoy the flexibility their careers give them while fulfilling their passion for language and international cultures.

ESL Teaching Requirements

The minimum education required to become an ESL teacher is a bachelor’s degree. Although there is no particular specification needed, it is highly recommended for individuals who are interested in pursuing ESL jobs to major in any of the following fields.

  • English
  • TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
  • Academic subjects

Certification is currently not required in the TSL field. But many ESL employers value and desire potential teaching candidates to have them.

Many organizations will not hire ESL instructors who do not have any practical experience. Most employers prefer for potential candidates to have some sort of teaching, volunteer and internship experience before extending an invitation to interview.

Important ESL Teachers Skills

Having a degree is not enough to secure any of the ESL teaching jobs that are available. Students who decide teach to the ESL language need to have a variety of skills to be successful. Many of these skills they will gain while enrolled in an ESL teaching degree program.

Essential Skills ESL instructors need include:

  • Exceptional Grammar: ESL instructors must be able to read, write and speak the English language proficiently while utilizing grammar and spelling rules. They should also be able to these same skills to others who may or may not have a basic understanding of English. Teaching professionals should also have an excellent grasp of spelling.
  • Communication: Being able to communicate effortlessly and effectively with individuals who are from another country and have a limited knowledge of the English language is a vital skill to have. Without this skill, it would be very challenging for ESL teaching professionals to understand and instruct ESL students.
  • Fluency: Teaching professionals should have an excellent grasp and understanding of foreign languages, especially those that their students will have a native understanding of.
  • Multicultural Sensitivity: ESL teachers need to have a healthy love, respect and understanding of foreign cultures. This is crucial because it enables them to avoid infringing on the culture habits, beliefs and practices of their students. Being aware of cultural differences enables ESL teaching professionals to recognize their students learning styles, so they can adapt their learning materials and lessons to meet their educational needs accordingly.

ESL Teaching Degrees

It is important for individuals who want to earn an ESL teaching degree to choose their school carefully. There are many educational institutions that offer this degree program. However, all of those schools are not accredited. Getting a degree from an accredited institution is more desirable to employers and opens the door to more opportunities.

Bachelor’s Degree in ESL

A bachelor’s degree is required of all ESL teachers. Students who decide to major in English, TESOL or linguistics are able to gain employment as teaching professionals. However, individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in another field may be able to work in entry-level positions, such as TESOL paraprofessionals as long as they have a TESOL certificate.

Students enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program can expect to take a variety of general education courses and career specific courses, such as linguistics, international cultures, and sociology. Two key courses students in the ESL bachelor’s degree program may take include:

  • Linguistic Theory: This course is designed to give students a basic understanding of linguistics, and how it relates to the brain, people, and different cultures. Students will also learn the basic syntax, phonetics and grammatical structure of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
  • Cultural Diversity in ESL: ESL teachers work with students from a variety of foreign and cultural backgrounds. Students will learn valuable concepts that will help them better understand their own students’ cultural differences, so they can modify their teaching strategies as needed.

Master’s Degree in ESL

Students that have obtained their bachelor’s degree and are interested pursuing higher education in the TSL/TFL field can enroll in the master’s degree TSL program. The master’s degree is certainly not required for ESL teaching careers. Many employers are willing to compensate individuals who have it.

Two courses students in the master’s degree program may take include:

  • Grammar for Teaching Professionals: This course is designed to provide graduate students with the skills they need to effectively teach language speaking, reading, writing and comprehension skills and concepts to low and high-level international learners and speakers.
  • Teaching Experience: To help graduate students gain practical experience, they may spend some of their time teaching on campus in the ESL center. Some schools offer graduate students a small wage for participation.

The master’s degree is a valuable marketing tool that can give professionals in the field an advantage over the competition. Graduates of this program may work in universities and government positions while earning a higher salary than their bachelor’s degree holding counterparts.

ESL Teaching Certificate

Individuals who are interested in teaching ESL but have not yet earned an ESL teaching degree can get a TESOL certificate. Many employers also require ESL teaching professionals to get one during their employment. The TESOL certificate program requires students to complete a least 120 hours of coursework. Many certificate programs can be taken online. The online option is suitable for students who are unable to attend class on campus. Individuals who are interested in the online option should be aware that many employers prefer for TESOL certifications to be earned by attending class onsite at an accredited college or university.

Practical Work Experience

Finding an entry-level ESL teaching job fresh out of graduate school may be a bit challenging at first. Graduates who are willing to relocate and teach in foreign countries, such as China or Japan are often able to secure entry-level ESL jobs with teaching degree without much experience. Graduates who decide to pursue employment in the Middle East or the United States may find it more difficult. Many employers require ESL teaching candidates in those areas to have at least several years of experience.

ESL Teaching Career Outlook

English is a language that is spoken all over the world. Because of this reason, ESL teachers who are native English speakers are in huge demand. They can work anywhere in the world. Their salary varies greatly depending on experience, location and demand in the area of employment. Individuals who have more experience and a master’s degree have access to more rewarding and lucrative opportunities.

ESL Teaching Jobs

To reduce the time it takes for graduates to find their first ESL teaching positions, it is recommended for them to utilize the career resources that their school offers. Many colleges and universities offer a variety of career placement services to their students that can provide them with valuable information on positions that may not be advertised to the public. These resources also provide assistance with resumes, cover letters and more.