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Teaching English as a Second Language


Teaching English as a second or foreign language programs prepare people to teach English reading, writing, and speaking skills.

Students learn to manage English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. They also learn to train English language teachers.

ESL programs include topics such as:


Most teaching programs require students to complete a practicum, or student teaching experience, before graduation. As student teachers, students work in a classroom under the supervision of a licensed teacher.


Some schools offer undergraduate ESL teacher programs in conjunction with a program such as elementary teacher education or a liberal arts interdisciplinary major. A bachelor's degree usually takes about four years of full-time study.

Many colleges and universities also offer graduate programs in ESL teacher education, sometimes also known as TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). A master’s degree typically requires two years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Doctoral (PhD) degree programs usually require two or more years of study beyond the master’s degree.

Some schools offer post-bachelor’s TESOL certificates that take about one year to complete beyond the bachelor’s degree.

See schools that offer this program.

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Careers Directly Related to this Program of Study

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Program Admission

You can prepare for this program by taking courses in high school that prepare you for college. This typically includes four years of English, three years of math, three years of social studies, and two years of science. Some colleges also require two years of a second language.

Some programs require you to complete an admissions process separate from their general undergraduate admissions process. In such a case, you typically apply to the ESL teacher education program after your freshman or sophomore year.

Program admissions vary. However, for all programs, you need good grades. You also usually need to complete some combination of the following requirements:

You may also need to complete the following core courses to qualify for the program:

Below is a list of high school courses that will help prepare you for this program of study:

Graduate Admissions

Admission to graduate programs is competitive. You need a bachelor's degree and good grades. You also need to submit letters of recommendation and a personal statement.

In general, your bachelor's degree does not have to be in any particular major. It may be helpful, however, to take courses in linguistics and education, if possible.

Additional requirements at many schools include:

Doctoral programs may require a writing sample as evidence of your academic research and writing skills. Some graduate programs prefer applicants with teaching experience or teaching certification in another subject.

Typical Course Work

Program Courses

This undergraduate program typically includes courses in the following subjects:

Graduate Program Courses

Course work in graduate programs varies. However, the outline of a typical graduate curriculum looks like the following:

The core courses are often a more thorough study of issues and topics that are introduced in undergraduate courses for this program. You also take courses in research methods and statistics. These courses prepare you to undertake independent research based on your own interests in the field.

All programs require you to complete a student teaching practicum, which is a hands-on opportunity to work directly with students in any of a variety of settings. You could work in a private institute where ESL is taught. You might work in a school, in an ESL classroom. Or you could even work in an ESL office that your college or university sponsors for its students. Whatever the setting, you benefit not only from the practice, but also from working under the direct supervision and guidance of an experienced ESL teacher.

You typically begin a practicum by leading some of the classroom activities and teaching part of the lesson; for the rest of class time, you might observe or assist. Eventually, however, you are given much more, if not full responsibility for teaching your supervisor's class.

Some programs offer a pre-practicum course. This allows you a set amount of time to observe different styles of classroom teaching before trying it yourself.

Things to Know

If you want to teach ESL in a K-12 public school, you need to be licensed. In all states, getting licensed requires you to have at least a bachelor's degree as well as a certain amount of supervised practice-teaching experience. Some states require that you have a master's degree as well.

As part of their licensure processes, many states require you to take an exam such as the Praxis series. The Praxis II exam tests your knowledge of the particular subject you want to teach - in this case, ESL. The Praxis III exam tests your knowledge of general education theories and teaching methodologies.

If you want to teach adults, there are many proprietary schools that offer ESL teacher training.


East Side Area

Central Washington University

Washington State University - Pullman

King-Snohomish Area

Central Washington University - Des Moines

City University of Seattle

Northwest University

Seattle University

University of Washington - Bothell

University of Washington - Seattle

Spokane Area

Eastern Washington University

Gonzaga University

Washington State University Health Sciences - Spokane

Statewide and Distance Learning

WGU Washington

Tacoma Area

Pacific Lutheran University

University of Washington - Tacoma

Tri-Cities Area

Heritage University (Pasco (Tri-Cities Area))

Washington State University - Tri-Cities

Vancouver Area

Washington State University - Vancouver

West Side Area

Saint Martin's University

Western Washington University

Yakima Area

Heritage University