What You Should Know Before Teaching English as a Second Language


Teaching English as a Second Language is a worthy endeavor, but it is not for everyone. If you're thinking of entering the field, you should make sure that it's a good fit for your academic and professional needs.

Teaching English as a Second Language

Becoming an ESL teacher is a fulfilling and satisfying career, but it takes a certain kind of teacher to truly flourish in this role. Whereas some teachers enjoy bountiful success, others are better suited for the instruction of other subjects. Before making the decision to pursue this career path, you'll need to be sure that it's the right one for you.


If you're considering entering this profession, there are multiple important questions and hard truths that you'll need to face to confirm that you are making the correct choice.

Knowing English isn't the Same as Teaching English

Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about teaching a foreign language (be it English or otherwise) is the notion that being a native speaker is an automatic qualification for teaching.

The English language is notoriously difficult and full of complex grammar rules, strange pronunciations, and odd spellings. Just because you know how to speak the language doesn't mean teaching it will be just as simple. Becoming an ESL teacher requires years of training that cannot be replaced by a mere familiarity with the English language.

This isn't to say that your knowledge of English won't be useful. As a native speaker, your lifelong experience will be instrumental in helping your students. However, don't be surprised when you find yourself stumped by a question about grammar.


If grammar isn't one of your strong suits, fear not; there are plenty of available resources to help you brush up on your skills. This English Grammar Rules course reviews fundamental grammatical concepts and is a great way to confirm that your grammar skills are sufficient.

Knowledge of Technology is a Must

Recent advances in technology have completely revolutionized the world of education. From online universities to interactive video lessons, modern teachers, especially those teaching English as a second language, need to be comfortable with the vast resources available to them.

Utilizing technology creatively is key to engaging your students. Using Google Translate or watching a foreign film are tried-and-true methods, but don't be afraid to think outside the box. Have your students translate an episode of a popular TV show or find a live stream of a political speech and view it in class. Keeping material relevant and using technology to attract student interest is a valuable tool for any ESL teacher, and knowing how to use it will be extremely helpful in the classroom.

Speaking Another Language is Not Always Necessary

It may seem only natural that an ESL teacher needs to be bilingual, but it's not a requirement for the job. In fact, a U.S. News & World Report article found a distinct lack of bilingual teachers when compared to the high number of English-language learning (ELL) students.

Though this may appear to be troubling, ESL teachers who only speak one language can actually be an asset in the classroom. By making your students speak English, you force them out of their comfort zones, which is essential for learning. Without the fallback and safety of reverting to their native tongue, your students will experience a more immersive education that encourages the development of language skills.

teaching moment

Speaking two languages can also be detrimental when only some of your students share knowledge of the same tongue. If you're fluent in Spanish, you'll have an obvious connection with your Spanish-speaking students, but any students in your class who speak other languages will instantly feel excluded.

Of course, speaking the same language should not be viewed as a negative. It can be extremely helpful, especially in cases where they are unable to express themselves in English. If you happen to be bilingual, you should certainly use your skills to help your students, but be careful not to provide them with the type of academic crutch that hinders growth.

Patience is Key

This particular idea is not exclusive to the field of ESL, but it is so critically important that it merits a spot in this article. All teachers, regardless of age level or subject, will need to have deep reserves of patience, and ESL educators are no exception.

Teaching and learning a new language is a frustrating experience for both teacher and student. While you should anticipate steady progress, be careful not to get carried away and expect rapid success. Your students will make plenty of mistakes and there will be days when it seems like you're not making any progress and should throw in the towel.

When you're feeling discouraged, take a deep breath, and remember that English is a difficult language. Complete proficiency will take some time to accomplish, and it's only a matter of time before your next breakthrough. Keep your head up and stay patient, and your hard work will soon be rewarded.

happy relationship

Making the decision to teach English as Second Language is certainly a noble one, but you should only do so if you're certain that it is the right fit for your academic and professional aspirations.

By Bill Sands
September 2018
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