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What is an ESL instructor?

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

If you talk with an English as a Second Language instructor (ESL), you may notice the big smile as he or she tells you about meeting people all over the world. They may tell you about the interesting people they meet and the new cultures they experience through the lives of their students. In the end, they may tell you that although their cultures differ, people are not so different from one another.

People at home and abroad want many of the same things. They want their lives to be fulfilled and the best of everything for their families. In this way, the world seems much smaller and foreigners don’t seem so foreign anymore. Some ESL Instructors will tell you that they have the best English teaching jobs ever.

So, what is an ESL teacher? Keep reading, we'll answer your question on ESL instructor meaning.

What is an ESL instructor and how to become an ESL teacher?

The conventional definition of an ESL instructor is someone who works with English language Learners (ELLs) who are not native speakers. The goal of the ESL teacher is to help the students reach a certain level of fluency in written and oral English. However, ESL instructors are not foreign language teachers. Their teaching methods often involve drills, repetition, demonstrations and visuals.

Another ESL teacher definition stands behind the idea of an instructor who is also a cultural ambassador. International learners are very curious about their teacher's native country, particularly if they've never visited it. Aside from teaching English, ESL instructors also share interesting facts about their culture. In the process, they dispel myths that popular American TV shows have impressed upon the internationals. And, they also confirm the rumors. Yes, Americans really do eat too many hamburgers and french fries.

How do I become an ESL instructor?

What degree do you need to be an ESL teacher? At a minimum, most schools or companies require a college degree. Though a degree in English is preferred, other majors are also accepted.

Some hiring agencies require no degree or specialized training at all. Some companies provide training to its recruits. So, there is room for everyone. Whether you a seasoned veteran or recently graduated from a university, there is a place for everyone. Even if you don't have a degree, your dream of teaching ESL can still be realized.

What type of ESL Certification do I need?

Most hiring agencies require that you have a certificate at a minimum prior to teaching English. The three most common certificates are:

  • TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language );

  • TOEFL (Test of English as a foreign language); and

  • TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) with a minimum of 120 hours of study.

If you don’t have all the qualifications needed by a school, take heart. The demand for ESL instructors is so strong that some hiring companies will work with you to get a TOEFL or TESOL certificate.

Can I be an ESL instructor without a degree?

Yes, there are some language institutions that will employ ESL instructors without a degree. However, there may still be other requirements such as teacher certifications or some practical experience. Keep in mind however that ESL instruction requires more than just the ability to speak the language. If you don’t have a degree, you should have a strong command of English grammar.

How do I get certified to teach ESL?

Find a reputable institution that issues ESL training certificates and take a course. Most hiring companies prefer training in ESL instruction for a minimum of 120 hours. You can certainly take more hours if you so choose. That will be of additional help in acquiring more relevant skills and knowledge.

You might not qualify for those teaching opportunities if the course does not provide at least 100 hours of certification at a minimum; if it does not, you might not qualify.

For someone seeking a TEFL certificate, the best way to ensure you make the right choice is to select a provider with good reviews and international recognition, preferably backed by universities.

How can I become an ESL online instructor?

With the explosive growth of online English instruction, it is a great time to delve into the business of language learning. The simplest way to get online teaching jobs is to apply with an updated teaching resume highlighting any previous teaching experience. There are many online companies to which you could apply according to the credentials you possess.

Once you become an online instructor, you can just about teach anywhere. This is surely one of the perks of becoming an online teacher. Many Americans ESL instructors live in countries other than America and teach there as an ex-pat. Yet, everything else, such as the pay structure, remains relatively the same. This is the ultimate traveler’s delight. The morning commute is not so bad either.

Read our blog posts where we explain what are the applying steps of a J-1 visa for teachers.

Can I become an ESL online instructor without a degree?

Yes, but you should get a TESOL or other teaching certificate. In addition, there are also certificates for specialized training in ESL online instruction. This type of training is specific to those who will teach ESL virtually. If you don’t have a degree, you should do some research to identify those institutions which employ prospects who have no degrees.

It may be necessary for you to hold a teaching license if you live in the United States.

What are some of the companies I can work for without a degree?

Given that there are millions of people around the globe learning English as a second language, you can be sure companies are signing teachers up. Below are five major companies where a degree is not necessarily required:

  • VIPKid

  • Cambly

  • Magic Ears

  • GoGokid

  • Whales English

Do some internet research to see which companies you are interested in. Job boards are great resources when searching for ESL teaching positions. J1teachers is one of the largest and is both an excellent source for schools seeking English teachers and teachers seeking English teaching positions.

TESL & TEFL qualified teachers, as well as new university graduates with no formal teaching experience, are in high demand for ESL teaching jobs worldwide.

How should I prepare to become an ESL instructor?

The best path forward is a Bachelor’s ESL degree. Schools that offer these degrees train you in the application of not just theoretical concepts, but lesson planning and research as well. These delve deeper into cross-cultural studies, the latest trends in education and managing the learning environment.

Should you decide to attend one of these institutions, you will get practical experience as a student teacher. These teacher certification programs offer you real-life practicums where you apply the ESL learning techniques you learned in class as general teaching abilities. After completion, you qualify to take board exams to be licensed.

What type of personality is best suited for an ESL instructor position?

ESL instructors are a unique bunch of folks. They are adventurers. They love new experiences and enjoy meeting people from different parts of the world. They are outgoing and gregarious. They are also students of the world. They learn about other cultures when teaching their students. They foster cultural understanding by developing ties with international communities around the globe.

How long does it take to become an ESL instructor?

From the time you apply for a position to the time you start working, the process could take from two weeks to two months. Many factors affect the timing of the hiring process; however, based on the information available to us, it appears that ESL instructors are hired sooner than later. Many companies need English language instructors quickly. Therefore, if you have the needed teaching qualifications, you could be hired in a relatively short amount of time. If you need more credentials or experience, the process could take a little longer.

Where are most of the ESL jobs abroad?

If you wish to teach in another country, your choices will seem almost endless. English is a global language with thousands of international students taking online classes. There are business professionals who want to improve their English in order to communicate with their English-speaking colleagues. There are students who want to go to school in America and must pass the IELTS ( International English Language Testing System) test in English. And there are many hopefuls who are learning English to come to America to live and work.

If you decide you’d like to teach overseas, pay attention to each country’s requirements. Some countries only want licensed teachers. Some have age restrictions. And of course, the pay and benefits differ. Some companies offer furnished housing while others offer travel reimbursement. Make it your business to learn about the culture. Read the fine print thoroughly.

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Are there any nuances to teaching ESL I should be aware of?

Teaching ESL to speakers of other languages is a learning experience itself. For example, some of the American sounds are foreign to some English students. Others will pronounce the English alphabet in the same way that it is pronounced in their native language. Thus, they have to be trained in how to form the sound physically.

Then there are the cultural differences that impact the way American instructors teach their religious students. Some women cannot be seen by male instructors without wearing a face covering. Many students turn the camera off to avoid being seen by a male.

What are some of the most important skills an ESL instructor should possess?

Loving the English language and wanting to share it with international learners is not enough to be a good instructor. Education and skills combined make a better teacher and a more effective learning environment. To this end, these three skills, at a minimum, should be integrated into your lesson plans.

  1. Make sure to engage your students while teaching. Young people like to be active participants in class. Gone are the days when students sit and simply read and write without some type of interesting contact between teacher and student.

  2. Have visuals to demonstrate your points. Visuals and props to compliment the lectures are very effective tools that make for a fun learning environment.

  3. Make sure your lessons are appropriate for your students’ level. You do this by assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Make the appropriate adjustments for students who are struggling to keep up as well as for those who may find the material unchallenging.

How can I improve my teaching skills?

When you become an ESL instructor, one of the best ways to develop your teaching acumen is to join a group of your peers. Hiring companies usually have a social media site where their employees get together to share ideas and even to vent sometimes. Educators collectively have a wealth of information that they share among themselves to the benefit of both instructors and students.

You can also participate in workshops and short-term courses to keep abreast of the latest trends in ESL education. There is an abundance of resources on the internet and many are free. You should take advantage of the ones that can be most helpful to you and your students.

Does ESL instruction pay well?

This definitely depends on the company for which you work. Unfortunately, the answer is not always “yes.” Currently, the pay ranges for popular teaching sites range from $11 per hour to $30 per hour, online. Factors impacting your pay usually tend to do less with your education, and more with the number of hours you work.

Some companies pay performance-based bonuses and the add-ons can make a difference in your wages. Then there are the referral bonuses which can augment your pay as well.

Related article -

Can International Teachers get an ESL job in the US?

Sure, the possibility exists through the State Department’s visitor exchange program. You can apply for a J-1 visa for teachers. It is a great way for international teachers to use their educational training and knowledge to teach ESL to America’s students in bi-lingual educational programs.

You can find all the details here:

A career as an ESL instructor is one with so many possibilities. If you enjoy helping people learn, and you are committed to growing and developing your teaching and communication skills, this just might be the English teaching career path for you. You might wish to learn a second language as well. Many ESL teachers began their interest in becoming certified ESL teachers while studying abroad. It was a natural progression.

If you are curious continue reading how to get a teaching job with ease in our Blog.


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