Teaching English as a Second Language


The qualifications required for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) will depend upon whom and where you want to teach. For example, do you want to teach elementary school children, adults, new immigrants, or business professionals? Do you want to teach at a university, a community college, a private language school, a public adult school, a non-profit organization? Do you want to tutor students privately in your home?

Whenever anyone asks me how to start teaching ESL, I ask them to consider the above options and then refine their question. First they have to know what “teaching ESL” means to them. Then they can narrow their search for the necessary requirements of their goal. A better question would be, for instance, what are the qualifications required for teaching elementary school students in a public school? Or, what are the requirements for teaching English as a Second Language to adults in a non-profit organization working with recent immigrants?


The answer to these more refined questions will vary as each of these setting has different requirements. Also, you could become a volunteer teacher or tutor with no or very few qualifications at all. If you wish to pursue teaching English as a career, then you will have to meet some minimum qualifications. These could include an English degree, a TESOL or CELTA certificate, TEFL certificate (to teach in a non-English-speaking country) and/or a teaching credential. Again, the necessary requirements will depend upon where you want to teach. Incidentally, speaking a language other than English may be helpful at times, but it is not an absolute bottom-line for the majority of ESL teaching jobs.

Universities and Public Schools

Usually, the highest paid ESL teaching opportunities are in universities. Most of these positions require at a minimum a Master’s degree related to English. Probably the best is MATESOL – Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Teaching in public schools, ranging from elementary through public high schools, requires a Bachelor’s degree (not necessarily in English).

Private Schools and Academies

Private language schools, or academies are another place to teach ESL. These usually require a certificate in TESOL or a CELTA. They do not always require a college degree if you have one of these certificates and meet other school-specific requirements.


Lastly, another option is to become a private ESL tutor. There are no requirements for teaching privately, although there may be some state business licensing requirements. This is something you should look into if you plan to start your own tutoring business. There are some students who do not care about the qualification as long as you deliver a great result. However, most adult students will want their English tutors to have some minimum teaching qualifications. Also most parents of young ESL learners will almost certainly want their child’s tutor to have at least some eligibility. Nonetheless, whether you do or do not have a qualification, it is up to you and your teaching skill and talent, which will reflect in your paycheck in the end.


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