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: $76,030

Projected job growth: 1.4%

10th Percentile: $46,420

25th Percentile: $59,250

75th Percentile: $99,570

90th Percentile: $130,250

Projected job growth: 1.4%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $63,750 $43,490 $100,210
Arizona $65,190 $49,240 $79,130
Arkansas $59,740 $37,670 $77,840
California $102,190 $60,930 $220,260
Colorado $65,800 $38,610 $124,420
Connecticut $96,500 $61,690 $173,170
Delaware $58,840 $37,640 $93,820
District of Columbia $80,450 $60,200 $120,800
Florida $59,990 $41,110 $109,680
Georgia $64,700 $46,540 $99,680
Idaho $59,890 $47,590 $102,660
Illinois $79,280 $51,080 $107,680
Indiana $62,820 $45,570 $101,880
Iowa $76,490 $50,540 $125,810
Kansas $63,010 $40,530 $111,430
Kentucky $66,940 $39,980 $104,620
Louisiana $66,580 $44,630 $108,310
Maine $79,390 $53,000 $125,640
Maryland $65,980 $50,320 $104,900
Massachusetts $81,950 $60,420 $152,510
Michigan $81,340 $52,210 $108,770
Minnesota $76,750 $49,340 $127,680
Mississippi $49,350 $28,240 $66,730
Missouri $74,190 $48,060 $122,700
Montana $61,620 $38,640 $129,790
Nebraska $60,450 $37,950 $77,780
New Hampshire $77,650 $47,800 $131,320
New Jersey $97,010 $50,300 $161,200
New Mexico $65,840 $36,790 $79,810
New York $81,750 $47,390 $165,770
North Carolina $65,680 $47,020 $100,580
Ohio $64,960 $39,100 $101,900
Oklahoma $52,400 $49,980 $73,710
Oregon $97,430 $53,460 $167,590
Pennsylvania $77,700 $48,610 $130,290
Rhode Island $82,630 $49,990 $168,200
South Carolina $65,120 $41,000 $101,300
South Dakota $64,010 $50,380 $79,540
Tennessee $63,440 $40,350 $89,160
Texas $79,100 $37,400 $128,310
Utah $67,550 $39,750 $135,900
Vermont $101,230 $50,090 $162,890
Virginia $65,080 $41,330 $105,660
Washington $68,260 $50,820 $99,220
West Virginia $61,000 $37,270 $96,100
Wisconsin $67,410 $48,180 $108,260

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. 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.

Ready to Get Started?