Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL): Resources for Educators

English remains the world’s most spoken language. However, English is not the native language for many speakers. Countries throughout the world recognize that English is commonly used in business and encourage their citizens to learn it to help prepare them for a globalized world and better opportunities.

For this reason, native English speakers have some unique opportunities to teach their own language, either domestically or internationally.

ABC written in chalk on blackboard with two books stacked in front

Who can teach English as a second language (ESL)?

Technically, anyone with a solid grasp of written and spoken English can teach English as a second language (ESL), but some people are better suited than others. Recent college graduates, for example, may find it easier to meet the travel requirements sometimes associated with ESL opportunities than established professionals working full time.

ESL teaching programs usually don’t have any specific degree requirements, but having at least a bachelor’s degree is a common prerequisite, and graduates with English degrees are often especially set up for success.

Prospective teachers should be patient, as learning a second language can be difficult for students at all learning levels. Additionally, if ESL instructors are looking to travel abroad, they should be able to be away from home for long periods of time.

There are different levels of ESL teaching in accordance with the complexity of the material. Teachers instructing teenagers on the finer points of grammar are on a different level than those focusing on the basics. Advanced lessons require not only a native familiarity with the language, but also a mastery of English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation.

Popular countries for teaching English as a second language

Many candidates use ESL teaching positions as a way to travel abroad or visit a specific country. The following are some of the more popular locations for ESL teachers.


Teaching English in Japan gives candidates the opportunity to experience a unique culture with plenty of modern conveniences and a rich history. Generally, to teach ESL in Japan, candidates will want to meet the following requirements:

  • Be younger than 60 years old (that’s Japan’s mandatory retirement age)
  • Have a clean criminal record
  • Have a bachelor’s degree
  • Earn a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification

While TEFL certification is not mandatory, it’s recommended, since these positions are usually competitive.

Here are some resources to help find an ideal program in Japan:


Spain has a high standard of living, plenty of beaches, great food, and generally pleasant weather. ESL candidates who hope to teach in Spain should have a valid teaching certificate. A bachelor’s degree is not mandatory, but having some educational experience or a certification is necessary.

Here are some resources to help find an ideal program in Spain:


China is a large country and offers many diverse opportunities for potential ESL teachers. However, there have been reports of scams or legal troubles affecting ESL teachers, so it’s important to keep your guard up during the application process. In particular, you should confirm with your ESL employer that they have secured all the proper documentation to allow you to immigrate to and work in China legally.

Here is what you’ll need to teach ESL in China:

  • Your bachelor’s degree
  • Two years of work experience or TEFL certification
  • A clean criminal background check

Because the experience can differ so widely depending on where in China you decide to teach, be especially thorough when weighing potential programs.

Here is where you can start your search:

South Korea

South Korea is a popular destination for ESL teachers, as it offers a wide variety of unique cultural experiences. South Korea also has high demand for ESL teachers, so there are plenty of opportunities in cities throughout the country.

Here is what you’ll need to teach ESL in South Korea:

  • Your bachelor’s degree
  • A clean criminal record check
  • Teaching experience or a TEFL certification if you want to be considered for some of the more advanced positions

There are both public and private school programs for ESL teachers in South Korea. Private schools generally offer less vacation time, but they usually have smaller class sizes.

To begin searching for an ESL teaching position in South Korea, start here:


France is rich in both history and culture and is world-famous for cuisine, fashion, and art. Many ESL teachers are particularly drawn to France because they can earn a reasonable living wage while exploring the country — as well as other parts of Europe — during their free time.

Most programs require ESL instructors to have both a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certification. It can be quite competitive, and some programs will look for prior teaching experience.

To find the right program in France, search through these databases:


Brazil has a warm climate and plenty of sandy beaches. Though the pay for ESL instructors is not as high as some other parts of the world, there are considerably fewer requirements to get hired.

Demand for English teachers has outpaced supply in Brazil, so just being a native English speaker might be enough of a qualification. In Rio de Janeiro, it’s a little more competitive, so having a certification is encouraged.

For more information about Brazil-specific programs, start here:

Teaching English online

While traveling and living abroad is one major benefit that many ESL instructors enjoy, positions abroad aren’t necessarily the right fit for everyone.

Some people want to bounce from place to place; others are more comfortable staying where they are. In either case, teaching ESL online is a great option.

Online ESL teachers generally make between $14 and $23 per hour of instruction. Your earnings may depend on your previous experience, how you negotiate, and the resources of the company.

Online ESL teachers often have more flexibility to set their own schedules than traditional instructors.

To teach ESL online, you’ll need:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • A teaching certification
  • A reliable internet connection
  • Reliable sound equipment

It can be challenging to teach a language online. Reading facial expressions and other contextual clues can be difficult over a computer screen, but they are often vital to teaching a language. Online ESL instructors need to be willing to go the extra mile to meet their students’ needs.

If this flexible lifestyle sounds like the right fit, here are some programs for online ESL teaching:

Online ESL programs in the wake of COVID-19

With the onset and spread of COVID-19, ESL programs have adjusted their protocols to help ensure the safety of teachers and students while continuing to fulfill the need for ESL instruction.

According to The TEFL Academy, travel and health restrictions have forced many schools around the world to be placed in a state of lockdown by their host country, while others have shut down completely. Due to social distancing measures, physical classrooms will be limited to fewer students in the foreseeable future.

If this trend holds, more ESL programs are likely to migrate to an online setting.

Tips for teaching English as a second language

Teaching ESL requires more than just a familiarity with the language. To improve job prospects and your overall experience, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Get an ESL certification

Most programs require an ESL certification, but even if your ideal program doesn’t, certain credentials will help prepare you for the challenges of teaching. There are a few different certifications to choose from.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)

TEFL is a common ESL certification, and there are many companies that offer TEFL education and certification. It isn’t governed by a single institution or company.

Instead, TEFL is an umbrella term that refers to many different certification programs. To become certified, you will have to complete at least 100 hours of coursework and between six and 20 hours of practice teaching with non-native speakers.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

TESOL is often used to refer to a similar certification as TEFL, although it more commonly refers to teaching English to non-native speakers within an English-speaking country (like immigrants). Because of this, TESOL focuses more on how to use English in daily life.

There is also an organization named TESOL that offers membership perks to ESL teachers, such as lessons and teaching videos. However, be aware that it is not the only TESOL-certifying body.

Certification in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA)

CELTA is a specific certification issued by a nonprofit under Cambridge University. It is considered more prestigious than other TEFL programs and requires 120 hours of intensive coursework.

You don’t need to acquire a CELTA for most ESL programs, but it could give you a competitive edge.

Explore your host country

Living abroad as an ESL teacher should be an immersive experience, so remember to set aside time and get to know your host country. No matter where you go, there will be plenty of interesting sites to explore.

Learning about the history and culture of your host country can also help you be a better teacher, since you’ll have an enhanced understanding of your students’ point of view.

This is also a great way to learn the language if you don’t already know it. Being able to communicate in your students’ native tongue can help you bridge gaps in understanding and make your daily life much easier.

ESL resources for teachers

The thought of becoming an ESL teacher may be overwhelming at first, but there are plenty of resources on the web to help you feel better prepared.

ESL lesson plans

One of the more time-consuming parts of teaching can be creating a lesson plan. Fortunately, the ESL community has created a few hubs with lesson plan templates that can be used for inspiration, or even printed directly:

ESL teaching communities

The ESL community also has several online collaboration centers:

Vocabulary building

The following resources can help students broaden their vocabulary:

  • Memrise is an online platform that tests students with flashcards
  • ESL Games World has an extensive library of games to test students’ vocabulary
  • ESL Games Plus offers dozens of games that test all aspects of English
  • TEFL Tones teaches English songs for auditory learners

Conversation practice

While reading and writing English can be done in a private setting, many students don’t feel comfortable engaging in conversational English. To help them develop a familiarity with written or spoken conversation, use these resources:

Learn teaching skills

A job as an ESL teacher isn’t just about knowing the material.

Adapting to the individual needs of different students and balancing them against each other takes careful consideration.

These types of skills aren’t picked up overnight, and a bachelor’s degree from Maryville Online is an excellent way to help you prepare for the impending realities of teaching.

Recommended Reading

Tips and Resources for Studying Abroad

Digital Literacy Apps and Tools for Students

Making Plans for Life After Graduation

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