Instructors who specialize in teaching English language learners work primarily with students who are learning to speak, read and write English. Some ELL teachers work in the public school system with elementary or secondary level students, while others teach adults. Many even work overseas teaching English to students in foreign countries. The requirements for certification vary widely depending on the state or country in which the instructor plans to teach.


Teachers who intend to work with students in elementary or secondary public schools within the United States must complete an accredited teacher training program and earn a bachelor's degree in a concentration such as English for speakers of other languages, English as a second language or teaching English to speakers of other languages. The acronyms vary from state to state. Prospective teachers study subjects like linguistics, phonetics and second language acquisition theories, and they often complete coursework in a second language such as Spanish. Prospective teachers who plan to work with adult learners might take coursework in multiculturalism, language theory or class preparation.


After graduating from an accredited teaching program with a bachelor's degree, the prospective teacher must pass exams and obtain a teaching license. The exams vary by state, but as an example, the Praxis test for English Speakers of Other Languages takes approximately two hours to complete, and it evaluates the teacher's understanding of teaching techniques and second language instructional theories, assessment methods and cultural understanding. Educators who teach in private schools do not have to be licensed. Potential teachers do not need an ESL teacher certification to teach ESL overseas, but they do need a bachelor's degree from a reputable college or university.

Transitioning to ESL

Licensed teachers who specialized in other areas of education and wish to transition into ESL sometimes obtain a teaching endorsement. Teachers can expect to take classes such as cross-cultural education, English linguistics and ESL methodology. Some states require their teachers to obtain a master's degree in ESL before they can teach. These individuals study methodology and learn about different teaching techniques. They must also take research-based courses in which they study language acquisition theory to develop culturally sensitive teaching methods as well as classes such as essential linguistics, assessment design and the use of technology in English language instruction. Most prospective teachers are expected to complete a graduate project and a practicum before they can graduate.


Teachers who have earned Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages certification are able to teach English as a foreign language or ESL to students in the United States as well as overseas. The teaching requirements vary depending on the country and grade level of the students. Teachers in the United States must hold at least a bachelor's degree, but English teachers in China may only need a high school diploma, while Korea requires teachers to have an associate degree. Most language schools require proof of TESOL certification course work before they will hire a prospective candidate.

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