How to Get Certified to Teach ESL

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ESL stands for English as a Second Language. ESL teachers specialize in helping students who are learning English while simultaneously learning skills and concepts for the regular curriculum. ESL teachers do not have to speak the same language as their students; in fact, they might have students speaking several different languages in one classroom. As American society grows to include more immigrants, schools are hiring more ESL teachers. Most states require a special certification for ESL teachers, showing they have received specialized training for this unique population of students.

  • Decide what kind of ESL teacher you want to be. Some ESL teachers are based in the USA, teaching English to immigrant children, college students, or adults; however, other ESL teachers live in a foreign country and help foreigners learn English. The requirements vary greatly based on the type of teaching you'd like to do, so you should make this decision before you begin the certification process.

  • Visit the TESOL website to explore your certification options. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is a professional organization for ESL teachers of all types. On its website, you can learn which universities offer each type of certification, the course requirements, and other general information. Locate a university that is in the location you desire and offers the type of program you need.

  • Apply to a university ESL program. If you do not have a bachelor's degree, many universities offer ESL as a minor. If you plan to be a K-12 ESL teacher, you should consider choosing a major that relates to the type of teaching you'd like to do (early childhood, for example) and add a minor in ESL. Visit the Certification Map website to learn more about teacher certification requirements in your state.

    If you already have a bachelor's degree, you can return to college to take the ESL certification courses or to obtain a master's degrees in ESL education.

  • Pass the ESL certification exam, if applicable. Some states and university programs require ESL teachers to pass a test to receive certification. If study materials are available, be sure to review these before the test.

  • Apply for ESL certification once you have met the requirements. Your university adviser will know what your final requirements are and will be able to help you prepare. Fill out the required paperwork for your state or university program to get your certification processed. Once this procedure is complete, you will have your ESL certificate.

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