Frequently Asked Questions

Are you considering a TESOL career? We have compiled a series of FAQs to answer many of your questions. 

First consider what your ultimate career goal is: Do you want to volunteer? Work with children? Work at a community college or university? Answering this question will help you decide the level of training you need in the field of English language education. In addition to the training, you’ll want to get as much experience as you can get as early as possible, so that you can decide if teaching is right for you. Many organizations accept volunteers and we strongly encourage you to get some volunteer experience under your belt. This will provide you with valuable in-classroom experiences to help you make career decisions and is a very important first step towards building a competitive resume.
ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. In the past, it has been used most frequently to refer to programs for children offered by school systems. ESL stands for English as a Second Language - this particular term often refers to classes for adults, both in adult education programs and in higher education. However, many programs, regardless of target population are beginning to use the term ESOL as many students are speakers of multiple languages before they come to English. English may be third, fourth, or even further down the list of languages they speak.
TESOL stands for Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages. It’s our professional field and also the name of the international professional organization for teachers of English language learners. You can find out more about it at the TESOL International Association websitenew window. TESOL also has two local affiliate groups in this area–the Washington Area Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languagesnew window and the Maryland Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages. Both affiliates and TESOL offer a full array of opportunities, including job listings, professional development, and ways to become more involved in the field.
There are numerous job opportunities in TESOL. You may wish to go overseas for short-term or long-term opportunities or stay here in the US.  In both cases you can work with children or adults at a variety of language levels. The work setting though determines the type of certification or training you need.
Many kinds of agencies offer ESOL programs. The largest ones locally are in the K-12 school systems. Programs of various kinds may be offered by community colleges, community-based organizations and faith-based groups, universities, and businesses and industries.

Training requirements vary between programs and agencies. Here are some of the most common. Of course the more training you have, the easier it is to find work in your desired setting. The following charts explain the training types and what agencies typically require.

  • K-12 Certification in ESOL: Offered through universities and state departments of education in preparation for teaching kids. May include a graduate degree. In Maryland, bachelor’s level courses may be used to meet the requirements, although this is less common for ESOL teachers. A bachelor’s degree is always required and a master’s degree is strongly preferred. K-12 teachers certified in another area may re-certify for ESOL by taking the Praxis exam.  
  • Master’s degree in TESOL or Applied Linguistics: Offered by universities. Often most of the courses meet K-12 certification requirements and many people who are seeking to teach in K-12 opt for this route.
  • Graduate Certificate Program: Offered by universities. A shorter graduate level program, many people choose this route who are not interested in a full Master’s degree but are interested in working in the field.
  • Certificate programs: There is no universally accepted TESOL certificate for teaching adults. There is only one local program offered by a private language training school. Cambridge has a program (called the CELTA) that is more widely recognized overseas. The professional organization TESOL does not endorse any of these programs in particular. These programs are typically very practical in nature and emphasize the practice of teaching over the theory. Private certificate programs of this sort are not accepted for K-12 certification.
  • In-house training: Some programs have their own in-house training programs that may be required for work in that setting.
  • School Systems:
    • K-12, usually require K-12 certification in ESOL + MA. Full-time.
    • Adult ESOL/ESL, usually requires  BA with training and experience, Part-time. Many adult ESOL programs have moved to Community Colleges.
  • Community/Faith Bases Organizations:
    • Adult ESOL/ESL, BA preferred. Training and experience preferred, but may not be required. HS diploma may be fine for volunteers. Part-time.
  • Community Colleges:
    • Noncredit adult ESOL/ESL life skills, literacy, and vocational programs. BA with significant training (certificate). MA preferred. Part-time
    • Noncredit pre-academic ESL, MA required, Part-time
    • Credit academic ESL, MA required, Full-time. These programs focus on preparing students to enter degree programs. 
  • Universities:
    • Credit academic ESL, MA required, Full time. University programs are typically for students who come to the U.S. only to study. 
  • Private Schools (e.g. Berlitz, Lado):
    • ESL for travelers, business people, and sometimes immigrants. BA with training and experience. May require in-house training. MA preferred. Part-time. Curriculum can vary greatly from program to program. 
  • Workplace:
    • Workplace ESL, training requirements vary, and a significant amount of curriculum development may be required. Part-time.
We’re very glad that you took the opportunity to study another language. Having that experience will certainly benefit you in teaching, particularly if you took the time and effort to actually become fluent and spend time overseas. Language teaching though has changed a lot over the years, so don’t be surprised though to see that things may be significantly different than when you were studying a foreign language. 
Again we’re delighted when teachers are fluent in additional languages because that language learning experience and understanding of how grammar works can positively inform your instruction.  It does not mean that that we want you to speak in that language to students.  In fact, many programs prefer that you don’t – the students are in class to learn English, not to speak in their native language. In that respect, there is an advantage to not speaking the language of your students – at that point they have no choice but to deal in English and that’s where the real potential for practice and learning comes into play.  No matter what your language learning experience is though, being curious about how language works and staying sensitive to the language learning needs of students are among what really counts in good teaching.
Yes, yes, and yes again. Language learning is an exceptionally complicated task and consequently good language instruction is equally challenging. The field of applied linguistics has contributed enormously to what we know about high-quality English language instruction and knowing the basics and beyond can mean the difference between a mediocre teacher and an outstanding one. And as we can all no doubt agree, our students deserve the best-possible trained and qualified teachers.
Yes, absolutely although it depends on which level of students you have worked with and your content area of instruction as to where your strengths are. If you’ve worked primarily with children in a K-12 setting, then you’re likely familiar with the development of instructional goals and objectives, lesson planning, and assessments. You may not have had experience working with adults though or solely with English language learners. Conversely if you have taught in higher education, your strengths may be in working with adults, but you may not be familiar with planning to meet specific learning objectives, incorporating cooperative communicative learning activities or the foundations of language.
The TESOL Training Institute is a series of five noncredit courses on teaching English language learners that will prepare you to embark on a career in teaching, particularly with adults in adult ESOL settings, but in other settings as well. In the Methods of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, you’ll learn what good language instruction is and you’ll get lots of practical experience along with a healthy dose of theory. In Assessment and Evaluation in the ESOL Classroom, you’ll consider how to evaluate language learning and judge if learners are making real progress and what to do if they aren’t.  In Teaching Reading Skills to ESOL Learners, you’ll learn about the basic processes involved in reading a variety of texts and how to provide good instruction based on what we know from research.  In Understanding Second Language Acquisition, you’ll be challenged to go into more depth and detail on how language works and how communication happens.  And in Grammar & Linguistics rules for an Integrated Approach to Adult ESOL you will learn the how and why of grammar and linguistics as it relates to the Adult ESOL classroom. And of course in all of your classes, you’ll learn to make sound and conscious instructional decisions that are rooted in the best of research and practice.  In short, by the time you successfully complete this program, you’ll have a great balance in the art and science of teaching English.