Learn How to Become a Foreign Language Teacher

language teaching cards
language teaching cards

In addition to the typical French, Spanish and German classes offered in America’s secondary and even elementary classrooms, Chinese, Japanese and Russian are being taught in more public schools. In addition, American Sign Language has become popular in some districts. No matter what language you specialize in, here’s a breakdown of how to share your expertise and become a foreign language teacher.

What Is Teaching Foreign Languages Like?

If you become a foreign language teacher you must be fluent in both English and your target language.
In addition, you will be required to teach your students about the culture and history of the countries where the language is spoken.
Whatever language you teach, here are a few duties you can expect as an elementary or secondary language education teacher:

  • Handling day-to-day needs, such as preparing lesson plans and correcting student work
  • Obtaining special language materials and programs for your classroom
  • Organizing special events related to your language and culture classes, such as dance performances, cultural displays, target-language dinners and other events
  • Planning and attending parent-teacher conferences and administrative meetings

Once You Become a Foreign Language Teacher

As a language teacher, you may travel from classroom to classroom, or you may have your own room, depending on your school or district size. A growing trend in public and private education today is language immersion schools, where students attend all or some core classes such as math, social studies and language arts in another language all year long.

Degrees and Teacher Training

If you’ve ever wondered how to become a language teacher, you’ll first need at least a bachelor’s degree. And proving fluency in the language you teach usually means you will need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in your chosen language. As a language major, your coursework will include extensive language education as well as classes in your chosen country’s literature, history and culture. With an advanced language degree, you can teach language at a community college or university.

Since teaching in primary and secondary schools requires completion of a teacher-education program as well, you may choose to double major in education to complete teaching certification requirements at the same time. Otherwise, you may need to focus on either education or your language while completing separate degrees.

Median Annual Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t specifically capture salaries for middle and high school foreign language teachers, but it does list salaries for postsecondary foreign language teachers.

Foreign Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary

National data

Median Salary: $77,030

Projected job growth: 7.8%

10th Percentile: $46,560

25th Percentile: $60,550

75th Percentile: $99,190

90th Percentile: $129,130

Projected job growth: 7.8%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $80,330 $61,830 $102,090
Alabama $62,510 $48,660 $101,010
Arkansas $59,640 $37,110 $76,790
Arizona $63,670 $48,740 $97,450
California $125,390 $61,830 N/A
Colorado $61,580 $49,990 $122,900
Connecticut $77,170 $59,840 $127,230
District of Columbia $76,350 $48,040 $99,710
Delaware $77,170 $38,480 $122,470
Florida $77,170 $30,720 $122,840
Georgia $62,460 $39,170 $95,170
Hawaii $97,090 $30,920 $124,520
Iowa $62,460 $38,480 $122,840
Idaho $63,900 $39,090 $123,350
Illinois $77,440 $47,730 $108,760
Indiana $63,740 $45,560 $103,600
Kansas $49,990 $18,090 $81,460
Kentucky $61,550 $43,650 $97,840
Louisiana $75,960 $48,000 $152,020
Massachusetts $78,400 $59,690 $156,240
Maryland $64,030 $48,420 $122,840
Maine $77,440 $49,860 $123,350
Michigan $79,830 $48,200 $103,900
Minnesota $75,960 $48,000 $104,000
Missouri $75,320 $43,630 $123,350
Mississippi $60,520 $38,280 $76,840
Montana $62,100 $37,920 $122,470
North Carolina $63,740 $48,000 $98,410
North Dakota $60,550 $39,170 $81,460
Nebraska $63,230 $30,440 $97,700
New Hampshire N/A N/A N/A
New Jersey $79,550 $47,890 $157,760
New Mexico $60,550 $47,870 $69,760
Nevada $63,900 $31,090 $103,520
New York $80,660 $47,930 $163,920
Ohio $64,520 $38,480 $122,840
Oklahoma $50,100 $38,130 $77,440
Oregon $97,830 $48,380 $161,140
Pennsylvania $77,880 $48,740 $127,160
Rhode Island $78,160 $61,290 $161,170
South Carolina $63,900 $39,170 $100,310
South Dakota $61,010 $47,730 $81,250
Tennessee $63,740 $38,550 $97,450
Texas $63,740 $30,260 $105,110
Utah $63,900 $47,960 $132,720
Virginia $63,900 $39,860 $103,900
Vermont $77,440 $39,090 $103,600
Washington $76,340 $48,740 $125,660
Wisconsin $63,900 $48,490 $103,890
West Virginia $45,790 $20,080 $78,520

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Language Teacher Certification

If you wish to become a foreign language teacher at an elementary, middle or high school, you will be required to complete teacher certification requirements, which typically include completion of an accredited degree program, classroom experience and an examination, depending on the state in which you work.

In addition to the regular teaching certificate, some states also require an examination in your language. In other states, a different exam is given, so check your requirements at your state Department of Education before you proceed.

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