The world of English as a Second/Foreign Language teachers is a delightful one, whether we are teaching it where it’s the dominant language to non-native speakers (English as a Second Language) or in another part of the world where it is a non-native language (English as a Foreign Language). There are literally so many situations you can find yourself in if you love other cultures and languages. You can:
- build an American dream in an immigrant child or adult learning ESL
- teach brilliant international students in English for Academic Purposes programs
- teach English online in dozens of countries from your own office
- go abroad… and have a “Dream Abroad!”
However, every dream has a road, and every road has a starting point. How do you get to all of these places above? After all, you’re going to need some formal training to explain such cases like “I have eaten,” which means “I previously ate, my previous eating still affects me now, and will continue to affect me into the future” kind of grammatical teaching and understanding.
Where to Begin with ESL Certifications
Here are a few steps to gaining ESL/EFL credentials in specific situations.
- Earn a Bachelor’s or higher. This is true in nearly every English teaching case. I suggest majoring in ESL Education or in a related field.
- Gain cross-cultural experiences as a volunteer, either abroad or both.
- (Recommended but not required) Study a second language.
Steps 1-3 are your “launch pad.” Once you’ve done these things, you have three other options to figure out where you wish to be:
Option A: Earn your ESOL certificate or endorsement to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in public K-12 schools.
Option B: The universally-accepted TEFL certificate lets you teach abroad or in many online English teaching platforms. In my case at EF, my degree credentials substituted this requirement.
Option C: If you wish to teach ESL in a university or in a college, a Master’s is usually necessary. Again, you can either major in ESL Education or a different field such as linguistics, English, Education, etc. Note that teaching English as a Second Language or English for Academic Purposes is usually for non-credit courses. If you wish to train future English as a Second Language teachers, a PhD in one of the fields mentioned above might be necessary.
My ESL Journey
I want to end this on a personal note, as I realize this article has been on the technical side thus far. Teaching English as a Second AND Foreign Language in my case has been a delightful experience, but figuring out how to get where I wanted to go was overwhelming in my early days of undergrad.
I come from a tiny community in the rural southern United States. There were no opportunities in my hometown that would prepare me to be an ESL teacher. Instead, I had to leave. I had to volunteer in Texas, travel overseas multiple times, and volunteer with international students at my university. This was all in addition to learning Spanish and getting both degrees before I was even truly qualified to teach ESL. I’ve held several positions in different cities and states as my personal life changes. While this field requires a unique set of skills, it also allows flexibility.
Start Seeking Opportunities with ESL Certifications
This guide is coming from someone who knew in the very beginning of undergrad that I wanted to teach both Spanish and ESL. For some of you, you may not have even considered ESL/EFL until recently. Oftentimes, there are many interests, goals, and dreams that might not happen the way we imagine. In other cases, we don’t realize a passion that we have for a cause until later in life. If that sounds like you, figure out the skills and education that you already have and start seeking opportunities to add to your repertoire. For example, a former colleague wanted to teach English as a Foreign Language overseas for the Peace Corps. Despite her education, she was rejected for lack of ESL experience. She made up for this volunteering at one of the last schools I taught at, and I hope she’s gotten where she wanted to go.
Teaching English as a Second Language is both satisfying on the intellectual and humanitarian level, not to mention, quite fun! I hope to see many of our Dreams Abroad readers join me in obtaining their ESL certifications!