It’s known academically by several names: teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) and teaching English as a second language (ESL), but they all mean essentially the same thing. And pursuing a career in the field can be fulfilling on many levels.
English is the second most–spoken language in the world, following the family of Chinese languages, with about 360 million native speakers and half a billion who speak it as a second (or third) language. That amounts to about 20 percent of the planet’s population. Moreover, for a number of reasons, a great many people who don’t already know English want to learn it, making it by far the most commonly studied language in the world, well ahead of French in second place.
To teach English to those anxious to learn it is an education for the teacher as well as the student. Perhaps in no other classroom setting do you have the opportunity to interact on a personal level with students from across the spectrum of national and cultural backgrounds who bring their own perspectives to the process. It’s not surprising that sometimes you learn as much as your students do.
Within this specialty, you can teach to students in early childhood all the way through high school as well as teach adult learners of every age. Not only can you find work in your own hometown, but the job can take you wherever you’d like to go in the world because teachers of English are sought-after in countries everywhere.
What It takes
To be a good teacher, and especially to teach students who are not native English speakers and may think, behave and learn differently than you do, you’ve got to like people. It’s important to have patience, empathy and good humor about the mistakes your students are bound to make. Naturally, you’ve also got to have a comprehensive grasp of the English language yourself.
How to Prepare
For teaching in school settings, particularly in the United States, you’ll need a masters degree, and the good news is that if you’re currently working, you can continue in your present position while you get a masters in TESOL online.
What You’ll Study
Curricula will vary depending upon the college or university you choose, but you can expect to study course material similar to the following:
- Basic concepts of instruction, including theoretical material and practical resources.
- Core concepts for understanding and implementing research in the field, using both quantitative and qualitative methods and designs, historical and descriptive research and program evaluation.
- Effective teaching practices for emerging bilinguals and additive bilinguals. This study includes examination of how learning to read, write and speak in a new language is similar and/or dissimilar from the same processes in a first language, as well as cognitive, sociocultural, linguistic and educational perspectives.
- Basic foundations of language analysis, covering linguistic topics common to all human languages along with their grammatical, phonological and semantic aspects.
- Essential components of literacy instruction including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary development and comprehension.
- Methods of assessment, including diagnostic technique used to identity and remediate specific learning difficulties associated with normal second-language acquisition and development.
- Multicultural education to provide you with an understanding of the challenges you might find in classroom settings that include students with widely divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
What Else You Can Do With the Degree
Because of the background and skills you’ll gain in the masters program, you can also apply your knowledge beyond the classroom in a number of other kinds of positions. You might teach English or develop English language materials for specific purposes in a business, healthcare, science or technology organization, or serve as a consultant to a number of organizations. You might serve as an advisor to a government agency or other institution, be an administrator of an English language program, teach other TESOL instructors at home or abroad or become a private language arts tutor.
The ability to communicate is what binds us all together, whether within a community or around the world, and there’s great reward in contributing to that effort. As a career, teaching people how to listen and talk to each other can reap benefits that come back to you twice over again.