The Benefits of Teaching English as a Second Language

esl teacher working with international students on language skills
esl teacher working with international students on language skills

When you decide to become an ESL teacher, you enter into the lives of immigrants as they learn the rules and rhythms of everyday speech, and the modes of interaction in the United States.

An integral part of the transition and acculturation into American society, teaching English as a second language provides the fundamental language skills that equip non-native speakers for future success in school, business and our society at large.

To help you make educated decisions about your education and career path, we’ve put together a complete page on teaching English as a second language in the U.S. Read on for links to articles on degree and career options, as well as information about ESL teacher salaries.


ESL is what we call it in the U.S. If you are thinking of teaching English overseas, you are interested in what is known as teaching EFL (English as a foreign language). With fewer requirements and less oversight, EFL teacher salaries can seem less impressive. But the opportunity to live in a foreign country can make the experience very worthwhile.

Keep in mind, though, that agencies often pay for airline tickets and transportation, and living expenses in many foreign countries are relatively low. If you are interested in eventually teaching ESL in the states-but would like to try it out before completing your education and certification requirements-teaching EFL first is a great option. However, you’ll set yourself apart from the competition if you earn an ESL degree before going abroad.


As the United States becomes home to more and more immigrants from all over the world, the demand for English language teachers will continue to grow.

TESOL, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages is a blanket term that covers the teaching of English as a second language (ESL) and the teaching of English as a foreign language (EFL). People who hold TESOL degrees and certification are trained to teach English to students within English speaking regions as well as in foreign countries.

Other Benefits of English Language Teaching Careers

Because of the different environments available to those teaching ESL, benefits packages and vacation time will vary. The best packages are available to public school teachers and university professors who enjoy excellent health coverage, pension plans and enviable vacation time.

Private instructors generally enjoy similar benefits without the government-sponsored pension. Tutors and part-time teachers at community centers and community colleges are usually paid hourly and often have to provide their own health coverage. They may have to hustle before a semester begins to make sure they get all the classes they want.

Careers in ESL Teaching

If you have a passion for the English language and a desire to help non-native speakers use it to enrich their lives, a career in the growing ESL industry could be for you. Depending on your interests, lifestyle, level of education and professional certification, you can choose from a variety of ESL jobs if you’re interested in teaching English to non-native speakers.

As you might expect, there are more ESL jobs in cities with large immigrant populations, so ESL teachers most commonly find jobs in middle- and high schools in major cities across the country. Large cities (and their suburbs) like New York, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Anaheim/Santa Ana, DC, Los Angeles, and more, offer the most job opportunity. And, if you’d prefer to teach adults, there are also ESL jobs in community colleges in almost every part of the country.

Many ESL teachers also decide to take their teaching skills on the road (or to the air), so there’s always the opportunity to teach English as a foreign language (EFL) abroad. Certain countries pay quite well, such as South Korea, Japan and the Middle East.

But even if you teach in Ecuador, Honduras or Guatemala, you’ll make up for the lower salary with the relatively low cost of living. Although your salary might not seem high at first, you’ll find that you have enough money to travel, eat nicer restaurants, splurge a bit…and even come home with money in the bank for a down payment on an apartment.

And there’s simply nothing like the experience of teaching-and living-in a foreign country. Your foreign teaching experience might even increase your job options when you return home.

Here are the primary career areas you can pursue:

Elementary and Secondary School ESL Jobs

When students immigrate to America with their families and enter the public-school system, they often need help learning English to succeed in their classes. Because of this, almost all school districts in the U.S. offer beginning, intermediate and advanced ESL classes to their students from elementary through high school. Many urban and suburban schools have impressive ESL offerings; however, the quality and quantity of these offerings depend on demand and funding.

Since younger children have been shown to pick up foreign languages with relative ease compared to their adult counterparts, working in an elementary or secondary school setting is especially rewarding.

The Primary ESL Job: ESL Teacher

Public school ESL teachers are classroom teachers that take groups of students for specified periods each week to work on understanding, speaking and writing the English language.

If you become an ESL teacher, your students may come from various countries and speak a variety of languages at home. With higher level students, you may spend more time working individually with students in regular classrooms, helping them integrate their language skills into the regular curriculum or observing their interactions and providing feedback on their progress. This is one ESL job for the truly committed.

To become an ESL teacher, start by completing your state’s requirements for a regular teaching certificate. Then, you will most likely need a certificate endorsement in ESL. Most ESL endorsement programs can be completed in under a year and ensure you can offer high quality instruction to your ELLs.

ESL Department Director

This is one of the highest-level ESL jobs. Districts that offer a significant number of ESL classes often employ ESL department directors that oversee operations, planning, curriculum and employee development. This well-paid position offers a high level of responsibility and requires leadership and management skills as well as significant experience teaching ESL. Most department directors hold master’s degrees in at least one of the following fields or subjects:

  • educational leadership
  • TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language)
  • TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
  • bilingual education
  • linguistics

College and University ESL Jobs

For those who aspire to educate others to teach, ESL jobs at colleges and universities offer you an opportunity to inspire others while teaching them effective ESL teaching practices and classroom management.

Community College ESL Instructor

Community colleges often offer comprehensive ESL certification courses that constitute or lead to an ESL endorsement. If you are interested in teaching these classes, you will most likely need a bachelor’s or master’s degree with and ESL teaching experience.

Teaching Teachers to Teach ESL

Because ESL professors often belong to other university or college departments such as linguistics, bilingual education or foreign languages, it’s not uncommon for these professors to come from a wide range of fields and specializations. ESL professors may teach and do research in their own departments in addition to their upper-level TESL (or TESOL) classes. Many come to ESL through their work in related fields, so there is no set path to this career.

If you are headed in this direction, you’ll need to first earn a doctoral degree and gain relevant experience by embarking on some of the other ESL jobs listed in this article.

Uncertified ESL Jobs

Of course, the higher learning path is not for everyone. If you are passionate about bilingual education but can’t commit to years of school and certification programs, the following ESL jobs are for you.

Teacher’s Aide

The availability of paid teacher’s aide ESL jobs in any given school will depend on the size of the ESL program; however, if you are willing to volunteer your time, you will find positions opening up wherever you look. This can be a great way to gain experience in the field and see if it’s a good fit for you.

ESL Tutor or Private Teacher

Many immigrants, adult and child alike, choose to complete or augment their English language learning at independent ESL schools or with private tutors.

That’s why ESL jobs are also found in the private sector. Since these private companies and language schools are largely unregulated by government, their tutors and ESL teachers seek education-level standards set by market competition instead of through state certification.

Independent ESL schools often offer evening and weekend classes and are a great option for ESL teachers who like to work in a structured atmosphere but are looking for part-time work. These teachers need to have ESL expertise, teaching experience and an ability to work with a variety of students.

Private tutors usually work with a single student or small group in a home or public place, such as a library or coffee shop. Other tutors work for agencies with offices where they can meet their clients regularly. Many ESL tutors are bilingual and share a common language with their students.

Adult ESL Instructor

Adults who immigrate to America often need English language instruction in order to master basic conversational skills that will help them function in society. Some adult literacy classes are offered at universities, but most are found at community centers or community colleges as part of their remedial education programs.

If you are interested in finding an ESL job at a community college, you will find differing requirements depending on the supply of ESL teachers in your area.

Often, a bachelor’s degree and experience with adult teaching are basic requirements, but completion of certification courses, familiarity with immigrant issues, and experience interacting with people from other cultures are also helpful qualifications.

Learn About ESL Salaries

According to the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median national salary for adult literacy and GED teachers is $58,590. Actual salaries vary greatly based on location, years of experience and a variety of other factors, and typically mid- and late-career teachers can make considerably more. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Growth for ESL Teachers

Demand for ESL teachers is growing as immigrants arrive from all over of the world. In the U.S., there are certainly a lot of public-school students from Mexico, Central and South America. But the face of immigration is changing, and depending on where you live, you may also have Chinese, Korean or Filipino students. You may also have students from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and more. It’s more important than ever to find great ESL teachers to service the needs of these new populations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) current Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of ESL teachers (grouped together with Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers) is expected to decline by -12.6% through 2032. The BLS says declining enrollment in adult education and ESL programs and an increase in the national high school graduation rate play a factor in this projection.

Traits of Successful ESL Teachers

You have great language skills You’re a creative problem solver
You want to help students succeed You are proud of the work you do
You’re a lifelong learner You know how to teach English
You love learning about other cultures You believe in the power of education

Length of Program

A bachelor’s degree program in ESL usually takes four years, but some people take longer, depending on their circumstances. And if you go on to get your master’s, it’ll take about two more years. But don’t forget the many convenient online options for getting a bachelor’s or master’s in ESL.

What You’ll Study

In a bachelor’s degree, you’ll take the same core courses as other undergraduates, but you’ll then specialize in ESL, with a heavy component of grammar, reading, writing, oral comprehension and expression.

Sample Classes

As a future ESL teacher, you’ll take specialized coursework for ESL teachers:

  • Second Language Acquisition
  • English Grammar and Pronunciation for Language Teachers
  • Classroom Management
  • Second Language Research
  • Second Language Evaluation
  • Curriculum Development
  • Assessment of Diverse Students
  • K-12 Methods of Teaching ESL
  • Sociolinguistics

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