Teaching ESL

Teaching ESL:

You can teach ESL in English-speaking countries or teach ESL overseas. In the United States, teaching ESL falls most commonly into three very broad categories:

  1. Teaching kids and teenagers in levels K-12
  2. Teaching immigrants and refugees
  3. Teaching international students


Qualifications vary, depending on whether you would like to teach children or adults. Requirements also vary depending on the type of employer or institution. For example, to teach ESL in the K-12 public school system in the State of Washington, you need a Washington State Teaching Certificate, and generally what is called an ELL endorsement. The most common qualification for teaching ESL to adult immigrants and refugees or to international students is a Master’s in TESOL, or a degree in a related field with a TESOL certificate. There are different types of qualifications for different types of ESL teaching.

Immigrants and refugees live, work and raise families in the United States. Their reasons for learning English vary widely from academic and career goals, to improvement of communication with doctors, teachers and others in the community on behalf of their families. When immigrants and refugees study English, they most often enroll in Immigrant and Refugee Programs. People who are in the United States on student visas or tourist visas are not allowed to enroll in these programs.

International Studentson the other hand, come to the United States on student visas with the explicit purpose of studying at a US college or university. Before starting their main coursework or training in the US, most international students need to first improve their English and gain better understanding of the US education system. The most common type of ESL programs for international students are called Intensive English Programs. International students typically have an age range of 16 t 26; they are younger – on average – than immigrant and refugee learners.

Immigrant and Refugee Programs are commonly run by colleges and non-profit organizations.

Intensive English Programs are commonly run by colleges, universities, and private organizations.


Within these three general groupings of Teaching ESL, employment opportunities exist in the following sub-sectors/ types of institutions:

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Private organizations, often called Language Centers
  • Public K-12 schools
  • Private schools for children and teenagers
  • Hotels, factories and other places that hire immigrants and refugees (Workplace ESL)
  • Private tutoring for children and/or adults
  • Programs for immigrants and refugees at colleges
  • Teaching ESL Online

Within the different types of employing organizations, ESL is often broken down into levels, including different levels of Advanced, Intermediate and Beginning ESL. In addition, some Immigrant and Refugee Programs also have Pre-literate ESL.

Note: Outside of the United States, this profession is often called “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” or TEFL.