Online ESL Degree Programs

The United States is a diverse nation, and that diversity increases with each generation. The Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) International Association reports that an influx of immigrants from non-English speaking nations continues to generate demand for English as a second language (ESL) teachers, especially in areas like California, Florida, New York and Texas. These professionals help children and adults alike master the language, aiding their transition to new surroundings. ESL teachers are required to speak at least two languages, and must know how to effectively teach students from all ages, backgrounds and learning styles. This is where ESL degree programs come in.

ESL Degree Programs: What to Expect

An ESL degree isn’t a requirement for all ESL teachers, but the skills and tactics learned through these degree programs can be very beneficial for those looking to enter the field. ESL majors learn how to teach non-native speakers how to speak, read and write English, as well as how to mentor their students through cultural adjustments. The College Board notes that while students can pursue ESL degrees at all levels, most students earn graduate degrees. Courses vary by education program, but may include the following:

  • Methods of teaching ESL
  • Applied linguistics
  • Intercultural communication
  • Structure of English
  • Bilingual special education
  • Phonology of American English

Students who want to work in the traditional classroom environment may be asked to complete at least a semester of supervised student teaching before graduating, according to The College Board. ESL majors looking to teach students whose native language is different from their own may benefit from study abroad and language-immersion programs to boost fluency.

Careers for ESL Majors

People of all ages and nationalities, both in the United States and abroad, desire to learn English. That demand for instruction opens up numerous career options for ESL majors. A sampling of potential careers is listed below, along with notable training and employment trends from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • ESL teacher – ESL teachers in public K-12 institutions work with non-native English speakers of various age groups. As with other teachers, ESL instructors are typically licensed to practice. The licensing process requires prospective instructors to successfully complete an ESL degree program, pass a licensing exam, and meet certain student teaching requirements. A bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient, but students who hope to teach at a postsecondary level may be expected to earn master’s or doctoral degrees. Demand for ESL teachers varies by location and grade level. For instance, while the BLS projects demand for all high school teachers to grow by approximately 12 percent between 2012 and 2022, it notes that prospects should be especially strong for ESL teachers, since these posts are traditionally difficult to fill.
  • Adult literacy teacher – Adult literacy teachers instruct adults in basic skills, including English for non-native speakers, often via community colleges and community-based programs. Employers usually require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and practical teaching experience is always a plus. The BLS projects demand for adult literacy teachers to rise 11 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.
  • Interpreter or translator – Interpreters and translators both convert information from one language to another, but interpreters deal more with spoken language, while translators focus on written texts. Most interpreters and translators are required to possess at least a bachelor’s degree. These professionals are in particularly high demand: The BLS expects employment of interpreters and translators to increase 46 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, which is significantly faster than the national average for U.S. occupations. Those who pursue additional professional certifications or graduate degrees should have the best employment prospects, as well as those working in diverse cities like New York or San Francisco.

And these are only a few of the many career paths ESL majors might pursue. Others include career or technical education teacher, technical writer, or even ESL professor. Students can learn more about ESL programs and related careers by contacting prospective schools directly, or by visiting TESOL or the BLS online.

“Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition,
“High School Teachers,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition,
“Interpreters and Translators,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition,
“Major: Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL),” The College Board,
“Teaching Opportunities in the United States,” Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages International Association,

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