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Frequently Asked Questions about Starting a Career in TESOL

This FAQ provides information about academic requirements for ESL/EFL teachers, an overview of teacher education programs, suggestions on how to search for jobs, and details about the career services that TESOL provides. 

If you are new to the profession, reading this section first will make the more detailed career information available on TESOL's website easier to understand.

What are the differences between TESL, TEFL, and TESOL?

TESL refers to teaching English as a second language: programs in English-speaking countries for students who first language is other than English.

TEFL refers to teaching English as a foreign language: programs in countries where English is not the primary language and is not a lingua franca.

TESOL, which stands for teaching English to speakers of other languages, is a general name for the field of teaching that includes both TESL and TEFL. It's important not to confuse all occurrences of the acronym TESOL with TESOL International Association. For example, not every TESOL Certificate Program is offered by TESOL International Association. It may be offered by a university or even a private company.

What type of certification do I need to teach ESL/EFL?

No single degree, certificate, or license authorizes an individual to teach ESL/EFL in all fields or in all parts of the world. Job requirements are specific to the job and the employer and may vary a great deal from one job to another. Depending on the place one is teaching, generally speaking, the minimum qualification to teach English in private language schools throughout the world is a bachelor’s degree and some type of TESL or TEFL certificate.

In the United States, you must obtain a field-specific teaching license from the state where you wish to work. You may want to contact the department or ministry of education in the country where you plan to work for more information about that country’s educational system and academic requirements for teachers.

If my degree is in a field other than TESOL, do I need another degree?

Most TESL/TEFL jobs require at least some academic background in TESOL or a related field. The potential employer decides what is related, but examples may include education, English, and linguistics. If you have a degree in an unrelated field, you might consider supplementing it with a TESL, TEFL, or TESOL certificate.

What is a TESL, TEFL, or TESOL certificate?

Certificate programs provide an introduction to teaching English as a second or foreign language. Generally speaking, there are two types of certificate programs: graduate certificates and independent certificates. Both usually require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, but only the individual institutions offering certificates can answer questions about their prerequisites.

Graduate certificates are usually taught at the university level and usually take two to four semesters to complete. The credits are often applicable to a master’s degree. Independent certificates are usually much shorter-term programs (from two to six weeks) that focus on practical training and different methods for teaching language. To ensure that you get a solid grounding the essentials of English language teaching,TESOL strongly encourages you to review our Standards for Short-Term TEFL/TESL Certificate Programs.

How do I find a teacher education program in my area?

TESOL maintains a list of institutions that offer these types of programs. The Directory of Degree and Certificate Programs (DDCP) is an online resource featuring approximately 450 university-level academic and training programs in English as a second language (ESL) and related fields in the United States and Canada.

The directory of universities and colleges is organized for browsing by major (TESOL/TESL/TEFL, English, linguistics, education, other), degree (doctoral, master’s, post-bachelor’s, bachelor’s, certificate), location (state or province), and program type (state/province credential or distance learning). Each program listing includes profile data on admission requirements, faculty, curriculum, tuition, and financial aid. If you are interested in learning about other education programs outside the United States and Canada contact your local TESOL affiliate.

Can TESOL recommend a teacher education program for me?

TESOL International Association does not evaluate teacher education programs and cannot comment on individual institutions. As an association, TESOL must be impartial and cannot direct potential students to any program or type of program. Only the individual institutions can answer questions about the types of degrees or certificates they offer.

I do not have a degree or a certificate in TEFL, but I’d like to teach ESL or EFL. What job opportunities exist?

Numerous volunteer opportunities are available worldwide. Local literacy programs often include an ESL component, and aid agencies place volunteer teachers throughout the world. If you are untrained and plan to search for a paid position, you will most likely find low pay, no benefits, and long hours. These entry level positions are usually easiest to obtain by applying on-site.

With that being said, TESOL strongly urges you to obtain some kind of credential. The TESOL Core Certificate Program is an entry level certificate that will give you the skills you need to enter into the ELT workforce.  

Can I teach ESL/EFL if English is not my first language?

Certainly! Some ESL/EFL employers may prefer someone who is proficient in both the students’ native language and in English or someone who has had the experience of learning English as a second language. TESOL does not tolerate discrimination that affects our members, including discrimination based on language background. 

Do I need to speak a language other than English to teach ESL/EFL? Do I need to speak the language of the country in which I plan to teach?

Speaking a second language is not necessarily required to enter the field of TESOL, but it is beneficial, in general, to have learned another language and to know another culture. If you are living and working in a non–English-speaking country, you may not be required to speak the host country’s language, but
you will likely find your stay more comfortable and rewarding if you learn the local language. 

What is the typical salary range for teachers in the United States? Outside the United States?

Because so many kinds of ESL/EFL teaching jobs are available worldwide, this question is difficult to answer. In the United States, ESL/EFL jobs may be full-or part-time and may be paid an annual salary, an hourly wage, or a fee per class. For jobs outside the United States, the answer is even more complicated. Because no single body governs all the ESL jobs worldwide, there is no central source for salary and benefits information. You will have to search for information on a specific country. 

What country has the most jobs available?

Because no single body governs all ESL jobs worldwide, no statistics exist for which countries have the most jobs. Please visit TESOL’s Online Career Center for job listings. 

Can TESOL find a job for me?

TESOL does not offer placement services for teachers or recruitment services for employers. But TESOL Career Services does have many other resources available to job seekers.

Does TESOL have an office where I live?

TESOL International Association headquarters is located in Alexandria, Virginia, USA. TESOL also has more than 100 affiliates worldwide, but these affiliates are autonomous organizations with independent memberships and activities. Although TESOL shares a special relationship with its affiliates, membership in TESOL does not constitute membership in any of its affiliates or vice versa.

For information on how to join and details about additional member benefits, please visit the TESOL membership webpage.