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How to Get English as a Second Language Teacher’s Certificate

ESL teachers with certifications are a growing job industry globally. These teachers have an great opportunity to teach in exotic places around the world and experience new cultures. In the U.S., the ESL teacher specially is a growing part of education needed to support incoming immigrants.

The global demand for teachers with English as second language (ELS) certification has been increasing. In English speaking countries, such as the United States, immigrants require English instruction to become vital members of society. Other countries, such as China, have come to understand that English is the unifying language of business globally and encourage their citizens to learn English as a second language.

In the United States, ELS teachers must be state certified in order to teach ELS courses. Many teaching organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of English, encourage ELS instructors to have training, if not certification, when teaching ESL courses internationally.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Anyone with undergraduate degree can become an international ESL teacher. Accredited schools in the United States require state accredited teachers. A part of that accreditation requirement is a bachelor’s degree in education. For ELS teachers a degree in English is also expectable in some states.  

Learn a Second Language 

ESL instructors are not required to know a second language for employment, however, while taking ESL certification courses it is recommend to take a second language.  According to the National Council of Teachers of Education, ESL teachers with experience in a second language increase their chance for employment.

Evaluate and Research ESL Programs

ESL certification programs have become popular since the demand of ESL teachers has increased. As a result, some schools have opened that are not accredited and do not meet the requirements needed for legitimate accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education recommends that student confirm their school’s accreditation as a teaching institution. Students can determine the quality of a school’s ESL certification program by requesting job placement records and student recommendations.   

Take ESL Courses

To earning accreditation as an ESL teacher in the United States, a student must learn the assessment tools and policies established by their state’s English language proficiency (ELP) standards. Students must pass all required course work in order to receive permission for certification testing. ESL teaching requirements vary from state to state and internationally, so new students need to know the ESL certification requirements for their area.  

Obtain ESL Teaching Experience

Some states, such as Illinois, require ESL teachers to have a certain number of hours in “bilingual clinical” experience. Illinois requires ESL teachers to have 100 bilingual clinical hours or three months of experience in a bilingual teaching program. 

Apply for ESL Certification

Once a student completes the state’s ESL teaching certification requirements, they can apply for certification by the state’s department of education.   This ESL certification qualifies teachers to work as ESL teachers within the state and provides an opportunity for teaching positions overseas. Estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expect a 15 percent increase in employment opportunities for adult literacy and remedial education teachers through 2018.


New Jersey Department of Education: Guide to Certification in New Jersey 2010-11; page 31

U.S. Department of Education: Diploma Mills and Accreditation

Arizona Department of Education: Requirements for ESL K-12 Endorsements

National Council of Teachers in English:  Position Statement Prepared by the NCTE Committee on Issues in ESL and Bilingual Education

State of Indiana:  State English Proficiency Standards-pages 4 and 5

Illinois State Board  of Education: Educator Certification Requirements for Bilingual Approval

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