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ESL Instructor Education and Training Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an ESL instructor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, certification and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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If you are considering a career as an ESL instructor, you will need a bachelor's degree in English, education or linguistics. You may also need to hold a state license, particularly if you teach at a public school. Upon becoming an ESL instructor, you can join a professional association for continuing education or certification.

Essential Information

ESL instructors are responsible for teaching native speakers of other languages to speak English, including instruction in grammar, spelling and literacy. ESL instructors may work with adult students or children, and may work in a variety of public and private educational institutions both within the United States and abroad. While all ESL instructors must possess bachelor's degrees, many positions require a master's degree as well.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Teaching certification required in some states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% (for all adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers)*
Median Salary (2015) $50,280 (for all adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers and instructors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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ESL Instructor Education Requirements

Undergraduate Studies

All ESL instructors must have a bachelor's degree, regardless of the age of their students and their employer type. Not only is an undergraduate education required by individual employers, but for those who aspire to teach ESL in public secondary schools, possession of a bachelor's degree is necessary to obtain mandatory state-issued teaching licensure.

Students may earn bachelor's degrees related to English or education. Many schools offer concentrations in teaching English as a second language within their education curricula.

Linguistics bachelor's degree programs with ESL concentrations are also available through some institutions. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that public secondary school teachers are required to complete state-approved teacher education programs in order to obtain teaching licensure (www.bls.gov). Therefore, students taking ESL instructor courses as part of linguistics curricula should check licensure requirements in their states to see if their program coursework qualifies. In some cases, students in these situations can pursue post-baccalaureate certificates to complete the additional course requirements necessary for licensure.

Bachelor's Degrees in Education

Education bachelor's degree programs with concentrations in ESL generally offer dual-edged curricula, with required courses in both general instructional methods and more specialized studies in teaching English as a second language. Topics commonly covered in courses related to general teaching include developmental psychology, curriculum planning, child literacy and more. Coursework required for ESL instructor degree concentrations educates students in such relevant areas as cross-cultural communication, child and adolescent literature, second language acquisition, English grammar and linguistic analysis.

Bachelor's Degrees in Linguistics

Linguistics bachelor's degree programs with ESL instruction specializations provide students with in-depth education in the science of the English language. This includes courses in teaching English to speakers of other languages, grammar and reading for ESL students, principles of bilingualism and more. Students also take linguistics-related courses like syntax, phonetics, phonology and discourse analysis.

Graduate Studies

After completing an undergraduate education program as outlined above, most aspiring ESL instructors enroll in graduate programs in teaching English as a second language. While completion of such a program is not always compulsory for adult education ESL instructors, some employers prefer to hire master's degree-holders, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov).

Aspiring ESL instructors may face graduate school admission requirements in addition to state or employer-mandated guidelines. In order to be accepted to ESL instruction master's degree programs, students often must be proficient or at least fluent in a second language, as well as having completed hours of supervised field experience while enrolled in undergraduate programs.

Master's Degrees in ESL Teaching

Master's degree programs combine theoretical coursework with required applied field experience, aiming to provide students with full understandings of ESL instruction methods and techniques. Course curricula review and expand upon the concepts taught in bachelor's degree programs. Students also learn about the science of linguistics and the cultural issues facing non-native English speakers, as well as becoming well-versed in linguistic academic research methods. Prior to graduating, students are often required to conduct original scholarly research studies into an issue related to teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Training and Continuing Education

With most ESL instructor degree programs requiring students to complete numerous hours of ESL student teaching, students generally obtain much of the training necessary to be an ESL instructor throughout the course of the degree programs discussed above. However, ESL instructors may advance their industry knowledge beyond the areas required to obtain state licensure via membership in any number of state, national or international professional associations.

One such organization, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Language (TESOL), provides frequent continuing education courses, workshops and conferences. They also offer professional certifications, which ESL instructors can earn via completion of 130 hours of relevant coursework offered by TESOL (www.tesol.org).

ESL instructors typically hold a bachelor's degree, but many earn a master's degree in English as a second language. In both undergraduate and graduate programs, they have studied subjects like cross-cultural communication, second language acquisition, English grammar and the science of linguistics. Demand for all adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers, including ESL instructors, is growing at an average rate, with an expected 7% rise in job opportunities through the year 2024.

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