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Schools and organizations commonly have English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors who teach English to students whose primary language is not English. These teachers know the students’ cultural and language backgrounds, understand how language is learned, and have the skills and tools necessary to help them become proficient in English.

But there are teaching situations where ESL certification is not enough. For example, ESL assumes English is a student’s second language when, in fact, English could fall behind two or three other languages that the student has already learned. And English becomes a foreign language if being taught in another country to students of a different native language. In that case, the approach to teaching is different, and requires different training – typically EFL, or English as a Foreign Language. 

Is there one certification that encompasses teaching both ESL and EFL? Fortunately there is, and it’s TESOL.

What Is TESOL?

TESOL, or Teaching English to Students of Other Languages, is a professional field and teacher certification that creates a more inclusive program for English learners, no matter where the learning takes place, whether that be in the U.S. or abroad. Although TESOL certification is not always required, it will potentially give you more flexibility about where you can teach.

How to Get a TESOL Certification

1. Decide on a career path.

Do you want to teach at a public school or a private school? Elementary, middle, or high school? Do you plan to teach in the U.S.? If so, which state? Or do you plan to teach overseas? Answering these questions will help you know how best to prepare for your career. 

For example, state requirements for teaching public school students will generally be more rigorous than the requirements for teaching English learners through a nonprofit or volunteer language program. If flexibility is a major concern for you, you should also research how to get a TESOL certificate online, as many colleges and universities offer all of the necessary coursework online, with alternative options for completing your teaching practicum.

2. Research ESL requirements.

Once you choose where you want to teach and the type of position you’re looking for, check the required qualifications. Some positions may require only a bachelor’s and an ESL-related teaching credential. Other positions may require a TESOL or related graduate degree plus previous teaching experience. 

3. Earn your degree.

While planning your educational path, consider your current level of education (high school graduate, some college, bachelor’s degree, etc.) and how much you will need for TESOL certification. It isn’t required that you have a TESOL undergraduate degree, as those aren’t common. Some jobs recommend that your bachelor’s is in a related field, such as English, linguistics, or education. Here are a couple of degree options that you may pursue:

  • Bachelor’s degree. If you know ahead of time that you want to become TESOL-certified, it will speed up the certification process to find a degree in TESOL, although they are less common. Some colleges and universities offer a Bachelor of Arts in TESOL, which may include courses in linguistics, anthropology, child development, English language history, as well as a foreign language of focus. Since student teaching should be integrated with the degree program, you will be eligible for a TESOL certificate after completion
  • Master’s degree. Some teaching positions may require a master’s degree. Many universities offer a Master of Arts in Education TESOL, which will include student teaching along with course topics like English grammar, reading and writing, technology, designing curriculum, and methods in teaching a second language. Typically this type of degree culminates with a master’s thesis.
  • EdS degree. Although not as common as a master’s, some universities offer an Education Specialist Credential in TESOL. Coursework typically includes curriculum and assessments, culture and diversity, English reading, writing and grammar, statistical research, and leadership. Instead of a thesis, the EdS degree culminates in an internship or project, and qualifies you for TESOL certification.

Get your education degree

4. Complete a TESOL program.

Perhaps you teach a different subject, or have an entirely unrelated career, and want to become a TESOL instructor. If your degree is in a non-TESOL subject, this step is necessary in order to become certified to teach TESOL. This can be accomplished in a few different ways:

  • TESOL teaching credential program. This option will be necessary if you lack any kind of teaching credential. This program will train you with the classroom skills you need and provide you with hands-on experience teaching English learners.
  • Add-on endorsement in TESOL. This option is ideal if you already have a valid teaching credential – especially in English, linguistics, or a related field – and don’t need an additional degree or teaching program. Typically a TESOL endorsement program consists of a series of courses which, after completion, earn you a TESOL endorsement on your credential, as well as post-baccalaureate credits that will apply to a future master’s degree.

5. Apply for your teaching certificate.

Once you complete your TESOL degree or certificate program and have met other state requirements (including basic skills and subject matter tests, fingerprinting, and background checks), you can apply for a state teaching certificate in TESOL, with a recommendation from your certificate program host. 

explore our TESOL options today

If you are ready to start your English language teaching career, our TESOL certification courses are a great place to start. Our TESOL courses will help prepare you for any classroom, whether that be in the United States or overseas. Get TEFL certified today and gain the teaching skills you need with our training program at Alliant International University.

Our school offers multiple TESOL graduate and certification options that can help accelerate your career. For more information, call our experts at (866) 825-5426 today.


  1. “ESL Teacher Career Guide,” Teacher Certification Degrees Accessed Nov. 23, 2021
  2. “ESL Teacher Training and Degree Programs,” Accessed Nov. 23, 2021

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