How to Become an ESL Teacher


The internet, urbanization, and international business has transformed English into a basic skill that is required all over the world. Moreover, someone who learns English can expect to have better job prospects, earn more money, and enjoy a higher quality of life … and these benefits apply to virtually any person in any country regardless of background or social status.

I love teaching English around the world because it gives me a good excuse to travel and experience other cultures, but more importantly it enables me to help people improve their lives.

The business of teaching English as a second language has become a big business, and it is not always kind or profitable to those who seek to become teachers of English. Below I share tips on how to enter and navigate this industry.


I would like to begin by telling you about one of my experiences.

Many people in the world were impacted by the recession we went through in the United States starting in 2009, some people more so than others. I remember the moment of impact very well … in January of 2010 I was working as a Market Research Analyst for a software company, and one day while at my desk I received a call from the Vice President asking me to meet with him in his office. On the way to meet him I was thinking that the meeting could be interesting because I did not normally attend meetings with Vice Presidents, and in fact I had not ever met with him personally in his office. When I walked in I found the Director of Human Resources sitting with him, and I immediately knew what they were about to say.

They told me that “while they appreciate my service,” they were laying me off … and I was given about one hour to finish up what I was doing, pack my bags, and leave. I had always been an honest and hard-working employee, and I felt that I had made some significant contributions to the organization, but nonetheless during that one hour they hovered over me and I felt pushed out the door. Did they really think that I would cause some trouble?

I decided to make that day one of the best days of my life, and in fact the next year was one of the best years of my life. I decided to use that time to improve my Spanish, and so every day I spent at least 3-4 hours studying and practicing my Spanish … and since I was receiving an unemployment check every week, it felt like I was getting paid to learn Spanish.

Now I don’t want you to think that I was taking advantage of the system, for the truth is that when you are receiving unemployment payments you are required to look for work and document your efforts to find a job, and I FAR exceeded the requirements … I sent out hundreds of resumes, I scoured all the job boards, I participated in job fairs, and I did whatever I could to find another job, but to no avail.

Finally, about 3 months before I would receive the last of my unemployment checks I realized that I needed to do something different, to pursue a different career path. That is when I came upon the idea of teaching English as a Second Language. I had no idea what was involved, didn’t know what certification I might need, nor did I know anything about the industry … and I found myself wandering into what could be described as a JUNGLE. Now I don’t want to scare anyone away because I LOVE teaching English as a Second Language, but what I discovered is that the business of teaching English is scattered all over the place, with competing agencies and certifications, etc., and there are plenty of hucksters out there who will try to take advantage of you. Fortunately, I am a Market Researcher by background, and so I was able to research and navigate the industry without too much grief, but nonetheless it was an extensive learning experience.

Finally, although I have taught English in the United States, I will focus most of the remainder of this discussion on the business of teaching English in other countries.


Here is a list of the most desirable qualities that businesses and governments look for in candidates:

  • Native English Speaker
  • College Graduate (Masters Degree even better)
  • Certification (TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA)
  • Experience teaching English
  • Understand the native language of those you are teaching

Thus, if you have all of the above qualities, you will migrate toward the top of anyone’s hire list.  On the other hand, if you are only a native English speaker but with no other certifications or experience, you can still find work teaching English but you will have to narrow your search to the areas of the world where the need is the greatest … or you just need to get lucky. If you want to VOLUNTEER to teach English, you will have no problem finding opportunities to teach English … there are many non-profits, charities, NGOs, and other organizations in the world that will gladly put you to work as a volunteer English teacher, and you can find links to them on the Volunteer in Latin America page of this website.


There are several certificates/licenses offered on the internet (check out the Wikipedia article “English as a second or foreign language”), nonetheless TESOL, CELTA, and TEFL are the most widely recognized certifications. Organizations that are looking for English teachers will expect you to be able to prove that you have one of those certifications.


  • Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Usually acquired through a university system, thus it can be very expensive to obtain this certificate.



  • Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • The Cambridge English certificate program is heavily entrenched in Europe, but there are “authorised centres” in the USA and in other parts of the world. The CELTA certificate is widely accepted throughout the world, and the 4-week course will cost from $2500 to $3500 depending on where you take it.



  • Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • A quicker path to a certification, but beware of organizations that will charge you a lot of money while giving you very little training. My friend went to Mexico to “earn” a TEFL certificate, and she paid $2500 and all her transportation costs, and was basically given very little instruction every day before being put in a room for 3 months with a few 8 year-olds and told to practice teaching them English; after she complained to the institute, she was moved to a different location that was not much better but with worse living accommodations.
  • Before I started my TEFL training, I did extensive research on the internet to find legitimate TEFL training institutes/schools. In my opinion, you can trust two schools in particular – BridgeTEFL, and the other one is called i-to-i TEFL.  You can find i-to-i TEFL at, they place students all over the world, and they seem to have an excellent program. I was very close to choosing i-to-i TEFL because their online course was a bit cheaper, but they are based in Europe and I was not thrilled with the fact that the British accent in their demos was so thick that I could barely understand it myself; I was afraid that my personal tutor as well as their online and print materials would be “British English,” and I did not want to add that to the mix. Having said that, I expect that some of my fears were unfounded, and that I probably would have had an equally good experience with them. Nonetheless, I chose BridgeTEFL because it is also widely known and respected, and because it is based here in the United States. You can take BridgeTEFL courses locally if you can get in the class (which were booked when I tried), or you can take their course entirely online at ALERT! Some countries in the world will not accept a TEFL certificate that was earned entirely online! Check my page ESL Jobs in Spanish Speaking Countries to verify which countries accept certificates earned online.
  • I was very pleased with the BridgeTEFL program I took online at It is not an easy program – it took me about 8 weeks to finish the course – andt it was very informative, with very well developed written materials and video tutorials. You will also have a personal tutor that corrects your assignments, and with whom you can communicate throughout the course.
  • I chose the online 120-hour Master diploma offered by BridgeTEFL. At the time it had a list price of $595, but they run specials at various times and the pricing changes depending on the time of year and the demand. I got a “discount” and paid $415. Last time I checked the prices were:
    • 120-hour Master Diploma, $497
    • 100-hour Professional Diploma, $392
    • 60-hour Educator Certificate, $319
    • 40-hour Basic Certificate, $244
  • I did not want to just BUY a certificate without having to do any work, for I wanted to LEARN how to teach English and be thoroughly trained on how to do that. My 120-hour Master Diploma included the TEFL curriculum (60 hours total), a Course in English Grammar (40 hours), as well as endorsements in Teaching English to Young Learners (10 hours) and Teaching Business English (10 hours).
  • I can attest to the fact that it takes all of 120 hours to complete!!!  And the grammar section is not easy!!!
  • At the end you receive a certificate in PDF form, and it includes a certificate number which a school can verify online at



  • CALL – Computer Assisted Language Learning
  • DELTA – Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • ELL – English Language Learner
  • ESL – English as a Second Language
  • IATEFL – International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language
  • IELTS – International English Language Testing System
  • TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language