What is an ESL Certification?

Have you ever wanted to become an English as a second language (ESL) teacher? ESL teachers have the unique opportunity to interact with students from several different cultures on a daily basis. They also have the privilege of teaching immigrants and refugees one of the most valuable tools for their daily lives: the English language. But how do you learn the specific skills and pedagogy used to teach ESL? And what are the ESL certification requirements for employment in the field? Read on to find out.


Several different kinds of English as a second language teaching certifications exist, and it is important to understand the differences between them.

TEFL Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is a pedagogy designed for teaching English in countries where the native language is not English.  TEFL normally takes place in a student’s origin country or within a specific time set aside for the learner. It’s important to note that TEFL teachers can be native or non-native English speakers.

TESL Teaching English as a second language (TESL) is a pedagogy designed for teaching English to student groups who already speak another language or languages and may never need to operate primarily in English. In nations such as Kenya and India, English is commonly used for business and educational purposes, but also coexists with several other languages. These students require some facility with English to function in their daily lives, but most will never live in a primarily English-speaking country.

TESOL Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) is the preferred certification for teaching ESL in U.S. public schools. This pedagogy is designed for teaching students from any number of different backgrounds who live in an English-speaking country, but who learned another language at birth. Students need to learn conversational English and literacy skills in order to fully integrate into public schools, function socially, and be competitive in the job market. TESOL certification will also equip you to teach English abroad in many programs.

Teaching ESL Abroad

Many opportunities to teach English around the world exist. These jobs generally require a bachelor’s degree, working papers in the country of employment and, in many cases, one of the teaching certificates described above. An ESL certification will certainly make you more marketable for any teaching job, even if it is not required. If you hope to teach in a certain nation, you should research ESL certification requirements, visa requirements, pay scale and exchange rate before doing anything else. In nations where English is the primary language, teaching experience or additional teaching certification will probably be required.

ESL in U.S. Public Schools

To teach ESL in U.S. public schools, you will need to become a certified teacher either through traditional or alternative pathways, as well have passed the TESOL exam. One way to fulfill these requirements is to complete a Master of Education or Teaching program geared specifically toward ESL teachers, such as the online program offered by USC Rossier. These steps to certification will prepare you to work in a classroom with challenges distinct from other teaching environments. For instance, your students may not share the same cultural framework and may have vastly differing levels of education in their native languages. This will make the job both challenging and rewarding in a very unique way.

Sharing your knowledge and passion of the English language with students struggling to master it is both a difficult and rewarding job. Earning the proper ESL teaching certification will equip you with the right skills and knowledge to succeed. Whether you want to teach in the United States, Europe, Africa or elsewhere, opportunities for a native English speaker with the right combination of credentials and skills are plenty. Earning your ESL certification is the first step.