How can I become an ESL teacher?

There’s an itch, it’s been in the back of your mind for a few months now. Your looking for a new challenge, a new adventure, and you’ve finally found it. Teaching ESL is an incredibly rewarding profession for a number of reasons. But you can’t just jump head-first into this game and not know what to expect. If you want to become and ESL teacher, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Every person on earth has a language of some sort. The youngest children learn the basics of language before they learn how to walk. Children learn the intricacies of the language along side math and the sciences. Highschool students learn how to manipulate their words in new ways to get what they want out of universities. Universities teach even more words to adults, who then go out and use those words in the workplace. Language isn’t just a tool you use, it’s part of who you are.

How can I teach ESL
Pictured, almost 7000 languages

The mistake people make is assuming that because you speak a language means you can teach a language. This is an easy mistake to make, and can be fatal to your students’ enthusiasm. If your teach English with the correct outlook, understandings, and motivations, then you hold the key to unlocking your students potential.

How can you tell if you have what it takes to be an ESL teacher? The most direct way is to get yourself certified. Certification isn’t just about having a piece of paper. In fact, if you’re not certified, often you’re not legally allowed to be paid for your time. Most education centers look for certification of one sort or another. It may not be as difficult as you think to get an ESL certification, but not all certifications are created equal.

The Proof is in the Accreditation: How can I get ESL certified?

Just as with anything, potential employers are going to want to know you have what it takes to do the job. ESL is especially sensitive to the need for quality schools and teachers, as it is much younger than Math or Chemistry. Because it’s such a new and growing field, it isn’t difficult to get into an “ESL Certification program. The issue is figuring out which ones are quality or not. The only way to tell if your program is good is to find out whether or not it is accredited.

In order to be accredited, the school needs to include some very intense practices in its course:

There needs to be at least 100 hours of practicum and training

It needs to be taught by someone with a Master’s degree in TESOL,Education, or linguistics

At least 6 hours of actual teaching, with actual ESL students.

Confirmed by a reputable external board, such as the Education Department. 

The first qualification alone disqualifies any program you can finish over a weekend. Weekend courses are good refreshers, but ask yourself a question: Would you trust a surgeon  who only had training over a weekend? I know many people would say “No, but ESL isn’t life or death.” To that I would answer that you’ve never lived in a foreign country. Language may not be life or death on a daily basis, but in the rare instance it is (and I have experienced it), then you don’t want to leave that moment in the hands of someone who studied over a weekend…

Teaching ESL Certified
If you don’t know the words, there’s always the river


Do right by your students, and yourself: Get certified at an Accredited School.


TESOL? TESL?TOEFL?TEFL? Which one do I want?

So you’ve found a good school, and know it’s a solid school with a great reputation. You’ve had your first class, and you’re still trying to sort out what all of these acronyms mean. Does TEFL and TESL mean different things? How can I teach one and not the other? Isn’t English teaching fairly straight forward? What the hell does any of this mean? Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here today. If we’re going to sort out what all of this means, let’s take them on one at a time.



English teaching is giving a new language to people who speak another language. However, depending on what language those people speak, they can fall into two different categories:

TEFL is “Teaching English as a Foreign language.” Let’s say you’re in grade school, learning your mother tongue. If you’re in China, Your mother tongue is probably Mandarin, and the common language is a dialect or sister language. English is nowhere except illegal television shows. In this case, you would be a TEFL teacher, teaching English the same way American children learn Spanish or German. It’s a required course, but it’s more trivial than necessary.

TESL, on the other hand, is Teaching English as a Second Language. These courses are geared towards everyday conversations and important keywords to listen for. Instead of a curiosity that will be forgotten, these courses are built around “Survive and Thrive” English. Your students aren’t pursuing a curiosity, they’re pursuing food, water, and entertainment. They’re building a  new life in your country, and you’re there to help them do it.

TESOL is the general name for both of these programs: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages applies equally to both types of learners. If you’re looking for the most complete courses to get the best education, TESOL courses cover the most material.

TEOFL Tests and IELTS Tests: What do I need to know to help?

Occasionally (Or often if you’re in Japan, or China) you will be called on to teach a TOEFL or IELTS Course. These tests are designed to test proficiency in English, and are some of the highest marks English learners can get. Passing one of these tests is a mark that English learners put on resumes to prove language proficiency. Like any tests, it’s best to know what you’re getting into before you start.

How to get ESL Certified


The TOEFL is a long test, just over 4 hours. It covers all parts of the language including reading, writing, listening, and speaking. According to the official TOEFL iBT website, the reading section is between 60-80 minutes long. There will be 4 sections of text, and participants will have to read them, and answer questions about those sections. Even though reading may be the easiest section on the test, the time constraints can cause stress and anxiety. Next there’s a listening portion. This portion may be between an hour and an hour and a half long. Then there’s a break. After 10 minutes, the speaking part starts. Your students will have to have to express an opinion about a familiar topic, or maybe based on the reading section completed earlier. To wrap things up, your students will have just under an hour to write about a topic or response to a prompt.


That’s what the TOEFL looks like, and as a teacher you need to be prepared to set your students up for success. Understanding the various prompts and possabilities is key to preparing your students for success. If you’ve chosen to work with students preparing to take the TOEFL test, you need to understand the gravity of the situation.


The International English Language Testing System is a high-stakes high-reward English proficiency test. This is the test people take 2,000,000 times a year in order to work in almost 10,000 different organizations. If your students want to show that they know English like the back of their hand, then IELTS is the way to go. Like its sister test, IELTS covers all four sections of the language. Unlike TOEFL, IELTS is started and finished in less than three hours. IELTS is a bit more intense, due to it’s shorter time span, and it’s one-on-one speaking section. Unlike TOEFL, there are no breaks, your students are in for the duration.


If your student is training for IELTS, then you need to prepare for a high-intensity mental workout during class. If English is your first language, than you may not fully understand the complexities and rigors of the language. The best way to prep for the IELTS is to craft your classes around that format.


3 steps to get into a good ESL program:

You can be the best ESL teacher on the planet, but if you don’t have the right training or certification, your teaching career will go nowhere fast. Before you get started on your journey, you need to make sure your certification is solid. To get you started, here are five quick points to ensure you get started on the right track.

1) Do your research: Believe it or not, not everything on the internet is true. If you want to be sure that you get a good program, you can’t simply pick the top listing on a google search result. Look for real accreditation, and positive reviews from people who have been through the program.

2) Don’t pick the cheapest option: Sure, you can find classes that finish in a weekend, and for less than $100. You can also find people who will repair your car for less money than you spent on lunch. However, neither one of those instances are trustworthy, and you are better than that. ESL Certification is an investment in your future, make sure it’s a quality investment.

3) There’s a difference between Job guidance and Job Placement:

Some programs offer guaranteed job placements. This could be a good thing, or not so much. Usually, it’s another marketing scheme trying to bring in as many people as they can. If you take a course that offers job placement, you may be required to take that specific placement after the program is over. If you’re ok with that, then go for it. But be aware, if you have an open ended ability after your course, you could go anywhere in the world. It could be intimidating, but it’s always an adventure.

Job guidance is geared towards more opportunistic people, eager to get out into the world and see what it has to offer. These guidance counselors are trained in getting you into the best situations possible. If you’re looking to get the best first footing on your ESL adventure, than you need some advice. Whether you choose job placement, or job counseling, be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *