ESL Instructor Training Programs Overview

English as a second language (ESL) instructors teach English to children and adults in both verbal and written forms. ESL instructor training programs can be found at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Essential Information

In order to work as an ESL instructor, applicants are typically required to have a bachelor's degree with a concentration in ESL, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) or teaching English to speakers of others languages (TESOL). Often, ESL concentrations are pursued by education, English and linguistics majors.

ESL programs can be completed in the form of bachelor's degrees, master's degrees or post-bachelor's endorsements, with some schools offering online programs. While uncommon, some hiring organizations and schools require ESL teachers to have a master's degree. While not typically required, knowledge of Spanish is often helpful in acquiring employment as an ESL instructor.

Bachelor's Degree

At the bachelor's degree level, students take classes in theories and practical applications of sociolinguistics, semantics, phonetics and linguistics. They may also study a secondary language. Most programs prepare students to earn ESL instructor certification. Some course topics might include:

  • Environmental science
  • Linguistically diverse learners
  • Inquiry into classroom practice
  • Earth science
  • Conceptual physics

Post-Bachelor's Endorsement

This certification is generally intended for licensed public school educators who do not have a background in ESL and wish to cross over. It is also aimed at those who are limited in the grade ranges they can teach and wish to earn a more general ESL certification. Topics of study include:

  • Strategies for teaching English as a secondary language
  • Culture and language
  • Sentence construction

Master's Degree

At the graduate level, ESL students take courses in ESL curriculum development. They also learn tools and techniques for instructing ESL learners. Graduate students participate in research-intensive courses and typically complete a practicum and graduate project before completion. Some coursework might include:

  • Assessment theory and practice
  • Subject specific pedagogy
  • Culture
  • Language production, theory and acquisition
  • Field experience in ELL

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that adult basic and secondary literacy teachers, including ESL instructors, make a median annual wage of $50,280 as of May 2015. For adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers, the job outlook is expected to grow 7% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education

While adult ESL instructors do not need to be licensed, public school instructors who wish to teach ESL to children in kindergarten through twelfth grade need to be licensed instructors. Each state has its own requirements for licensure.

ESL organizations, such as Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (, offer workshops and conferences to help train professionals in the field. Events typically run 3-4 days. Attendees participate in networking events and learn about trends in classroom technology. For daily enrichment, ESL instructors can look to state-run education websites, which often have links to ESL resources, such as learning activities and lesson plan development strategies. ESL instructors can read relevant blogs, participate in online discussion forums or sign up for ESL-industry newsletters. There are also ESL books available through libraries and online and local bookstores.

Depending on your prior education and ambitions within the field, there are several options for those looking to become ESL instructors. Whether you choose to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree or take the route of attaining a post-bachelor's endorsement, these programs will prepare you to teach others how to communicate in English.

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