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Degree programs in ESL training

For those who want to communicate across borders, knowing English is essential. Harvard Business Review notes English is the language used by the global business community, with companies such as Daimler-Chrysler, Samsung and Renault adopting it as a common corporate language. Even for those who don't plan to work in business, knowing English can be useful.

With English playing such an important role in modern communications, English as a Second Language teachers, known as ESL instructors, are finding themselves in demand both in the U.S. and abroad. If you're interested in entering this dynamic field, keep reading for answers to all your questions.

Q&A with an ESL instructor

Julie Veeneman, recently retired from Calvin College, has been an ESL instructor for 30 years and has taught both online and in the classroom. She shares some of her insight into the profession and how technology is connecting teachers and students online.

Q. What was it like for you to become an ESL instructor?

A. I graduated from college, and Spanish was my minor and education was my major. At that time, there was no endorsement or certification for English as a Second Language teachers.

I learned to speak Spanish and then lived abroad for 10 years in Spanish-speaking countries so I could teach English in Spanish wherever I wanted to. My first teaching experience as a graduate student was to middle school students who were coming into the United States as refugees [from Indochina].

Q: What sort of education do students need nowadays?

A. It depends upon where they want to work. Any university can get you hooked up with being able to get endorsements and certificates in teaching English as a Second Language.

If you want to teach in a public school, each state will have its own set of requirements and you need to be certified to teach in the state, and they require a certification or endorsement on top of that.

If you want to teach adults or at the college level, there are many places you can teach without even a bachelor's degree sometimes.

Q. What has been your experience with online teaching?

A. My last online teaching was last year, and my students were all from the northern part of South America. A year or so before that, I taught online and my students were broader so I had some students in Europe but most were in Mexico and South America, all the way down to Argentina. I also taught online to students in South Korea. [All were jobs for schools based outside the United States.] The technology for teaching online is changing all the time.

Q. What advice would you give to students interested in a career in the field?

A. As American students, we learn our second language late so it tends to be book and grammar-focused rather than listening and producing sounds. You will not have too much opportunity to be speaking a second language here. One of the things you could do is go through some type of immersion training outside the United States. That really makes good teachers.

What is an ESL instructor?

As you would expect, an ESL instructor is a person who teaches English to individuals who have a different native language. They differ from other English teachers in that they are typically teaching older students who may have limited exposure to the language.

While English teachers in U.S. schools build upon the intuitive skills children have learned from growing up in an English-speaking household, ESL instructors typically need to take a different approach. They may focus heavily on pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. In addition, their classes may incorporate lessons on U.S. culture in general.

What types of ESL instructor programs are available?

Teaching English as a Second Language takes more than simply being able to speak English fluently. Instead, ESL instructors need to have specific training to help them to meet the needs of students who have limited or no exposure to the language.

ESL degrees include bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and doctoral degrees. Those who already have a degree in another subject may be able to earn a certificate or endorsement allowing them to teach English as a Second Language without earning a second degree. Some jobs may also be open to those with ESL certificates and no degree.

The following are the most common types of ESL certificates available:

TEFL: The Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate is intended to prepare instructors to work in other countries and teach non-native English speakers. According to the University of Toronto, the TEFL is the most recognizable of the ESL certificates.

TESL: Standing for Teaching English as a Second Language, this certificate is designed for those who will be teaching non-native English speakers who are living in an English-speaking country.

TESOL: This certificate is a relatively recent introduction to the field. It stands for Teaching English to Speakers of another Language and offers students the flexibility to teach English language learners either in English-speaking countries or in non-English speaking nations.

Since there is no single accrediting body for ESL certificates and degree programs, students should carefully review the overall quality of a school to help them find the best program for their needs.

Can you earn an ESL degree or certificate online?

Yes, a number of schools offer ESL degrees and certificates online.

TESOL International Association notes 38 schools offer online ESL degrees and nearly 70 schools offer online ESL certificates. Schools offering online ESL programs include Regent University, The University of Toronto and Central Michigan University.

How much does an ESL instructor program cost?

Prices can vary widely depending on the institution and the type of credential sought. The International TEFL Academy notes some TEFL courses may be as cheap as $500 although the average cost of a 120-hour TEFL TESOL certification course runs from $1,600-$2,000.

However, other schools may be more expensive. A Certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language from the UC Berkley Extension is estimated to cost around $4,000. In addition, ESL degrees will cost more than ESL certificates. The College Board reports the average per year cost of tuition and fees for an in-state student at a public U.S. four-year institution was $9,139 in 2014-2015. When tax credits and financial aid was calculated in, the net cost was $3,030 per year.

Do you need certain skills or prerequisites to enter a program?

Although entrance requirements vary by program, students may need to have a bachelor's degree before earning an ESL certificate. In addition, those wishing to work in a public U.S. school need to have an education degree that meets their state's licensure requirements.

Beyond having the right prerequisite education, future ESL educators should be culturally-sensitive, patient and encouraging. Although TESOL International says it's not a requirement, fluency in a second language can be helpful. In addition, having an overseas learning experience can be beneficial.

What can you do with an ESL degree or certificate?

Some ESL instructors may be employed in the U.S. to assist immigrant students enrolled in local school districts. They may also work overseas to teach students in their native country. Others may be employed through online programs that allow instructors to live anywhere but teach students all over the world.

Beyond working as traditional teachers, ESL instructors may find they are able to work as translators, corporate consultants or in the hospitality industry, depending on their skills and background.

Is the job outlook good for ESL instructors?

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't specifically track employment data for English as a Second Language teachers. However, it does report that adult literacy teachers are, overall, expected to see job growth of nine percent from 2012-2022. TESOL International reports the following states have the greatest demand for ESL teachers in public schools: California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York.

Sources:
1. Career Development, TESOL International Association, http://www.tesol.org/enhance-your-career/career-development
2. Degree & Certificate Programs, TESOL International Association, http://englishlanguageprofessionalsresourceguide.com/CategoryHeading/Degree__Certificate_Programs/4402
3. Global Business Speaks English, Tsedal Neeley, Harvard Business Review, May 2012, https://hbr.org/2012/05/global-business-speaks-english
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/adult-literacy-and-ged-teachers.htm
5. English and ESL -- What's the Difference? Richard S. Cervin, Ph.D, http://collegeofsanmateo.edu/writing/docs/English_ESL.pdf
6. What's the difference between TEFL, TESL and TESOL? Lauren Merryweather, April 4, 2014, The University of Toronto, https://teflonline.teachaway.com/2014/04/whats-difference-tefl-tesl-tesol/
7. 7 Key Tips to Evaluating a TEFL/TESOL Training School, October 28, 2010, International TEFL Academy, http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/blog/bid/47541/7-Key-Tips-to-Evaluating-a-TEFL-TESOL-Training-School
8. Certificate Program in Teaching English as a Second Language, UC Berkley Extension, http://extension.berkeley.edu/cert/tesl.html
9. Trends in College Pricing 2014, College Board, https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/misc/trends/2014-trends-college-pricing-report-final.pdf
10. Frequently Asked Questions about Careers in TESOL, TESOL International Association, http://www.tesol.org/docs/pdf/2466.pdf?sfvrsn=2

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