How To Get ESL Certification & Start Teaching Abroad (In 5 Steps)

Kirsten Colquhoun
September 20, 2023

Table of Contents

    What is ESL & ESL certification
  • Different types of ESL certification
  • How to get the right ESL certification
  • How to choose the right ESL certification
  • What are the requirements to earn ESL certification
  • What are the requirements to teach English abroad
  • Start your ESL journey
Join over 200,000 TEFL teachers making a difference around the world! Download TEFL Factbook Explore TEFL Courses
    Summary
  • ESL stands for English as a Second Language.
  • ESL learners are non-native English speakers who are learning English as a second or foreign language.
  • ESL is often used interchangeably with EFL - English as a Foreign Language, and ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages.

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. ESL learners are non-native English speakers who are learning English as a second or foreign language. ESL teachers are teachers qualified to teach these learners.

ESL is often used interchangeably with EFL – English as a Foreign Language, and ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages. 

An ESL certification is the qualification needed to be an ESL teacher. It is awarded at the end of an ESL course. These courses are usually 120 hours long and can include a practical teaching component, either online or face-to-face.

Different types of ESL certification

You’ve probably come across various different types of ESL certification:

  • ESL – English as a second language
  • TESOL – Teach English to speakers of other languages
  • TEFL – Teach English as a foreign language
  • ESOL – English as a second language

Essentially, these all refer to the same qualification, albeit with different labels. In other words, they all allow you to teach English to English-language learners. The difference is who is offering the ESL certification, and where they are in the world. 

Let’s explain.

English as a Second Language (ESL)

Qualifications in the US are typically referred to as ESL qualifications. Many ESL teachers in the US teach within the country i.e. not abroad. So this refers to teaching English to non-native speakers living in the US. 

For example, a Spanish-speaking Mexican learner living in the US who needs to learn English for their job.

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

TESOL is another term commonly used in the US. Strictly speaking, a TESOL qualification allows teachers to teach English to non-native speakers both inside and outside the US.

Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (TEFL)

Outside the US, TEFL is the most commonly used term. It typically refers to teaching English to non-native speakers in their own countries – teaching English to kindergarteners in Thailand, for example – but can be loosely used to refer to teaching within the US.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

ESOL is teaching English to learners who speak a language besides English as their first language. 

Think about it like this:

  • David from Australia teaches English to Japanese businessmen in Tokyo. This would be referred to as TEFL. 
  • Lucy from South Africa teaches English to Saudi Arabian government employees in Cape Town. This would be referred to as TEFL.
  • Sarshen from the US teaches English to Spanish-speaking immigrants in Los Angeles. This would be referred to as TESOL. 
  • Pablo from Brazil teaches English to Brazilian high school students in Sao Paolo. This would be referred to as TEFL.

These teachers all essentially do the same thing. David, Lucy and Pablo are likely to call themselves TEFL teachers, while Sarshen would refer to herself as a TESL/TESOL/ESL teacher.

But let’s get real. Our title is not what’s important. How we do our job is what really matters. Which is why it’s vital to choose the right ESL certification.

How to get the right ESL certification?

In just a few easy steps you can get ESL certified and be on your way to a new career teaching English as a foreign language.

1. Decide where & who you want to teach

Are you interested in teaching English abroad, perhaps somewhere in Asia or the Middle East? Would you prefer to teach in your country? Or does teaching English online tickle your fancy?

Deciding who you want to teach can help you determine where you want to teach. If you’re interested in teaching Business English to professionals, then teaching in Europe might be a more plausible option than in Africa.

If your passion lies in helping Young Learners, then you should look at the thousands of job opportunities in Asia.

Once you’ve got a good idea of where you want your ESL journey to take you, the next step is to find an ESL course which suits you. 

2. Choose the right certification

First things first, choose a TEFL course which suits your needs, your time constraints and your wallet.

Luckily, an ESL course will prepare you for whichever ESL teaching situation you are interested in. A good ESL certification teaches you the foundations of teaching English as a second or foreign language. It gives you an overview of English grammar – to refresh your memory! Plus it teaches you how to lesson plan, manage a classroom, and assess students, among many other things. 

3. Meet the minimum requirements

Make sure you meet the minimum requirements of your chosen TEFL course. In general, there are not many minimum requirements for a TEFL course. 

The most important is your level of English. If you are not a native speaker of English, you need to prove your English level is at C1 or Advanced.

The other requirement is an age requirement. The majority of TEFL courses require you to be 18 years or older. 

Finally, while you don’t need a degree to do a TEFL course, you need to have completed high school.

4. Enroll in an accredited certification course

Once you’ve found a TEFL course which works for your lifestyle, your learning style, and your budget, then it’s time to get busy!

Sign up for a TEFL course and get started!

Approach your TEFL course with as much dedication as you would any other tertiary qualification. A TEFL course requires dedication and hard work. After all, it’s a teaching qualification!

5. Apply for ESL jobs

Check out jobs boards online and apply for the job that ignites a spark in you.

There are literally hundreds of ESL jobs posted online every single day. There is no shortage of teaching positions – all you have to do is find the right one for you. 

The application process for ESL jobs is usually pretty straightforward. No songs or dances are necessary, but it’s likely you’ll have to have an interview and maybe do a demo lesson.

How to choose the right ESL certification?

There are a number of considerations when it comes to choosing the right ESL certification:

1. Accreditation

Accreditation is the recognition given to a TEFL course by external bodies. Not all accreditation is equal so be sure to investigate the accrediting bodies to make sure they say who they say they are.

2. Reputation

Reputation is a clear indication of the quality of a course. Positive testimonials from graduates teaching in the field, and reviews from satisfied customers are signs of a TEFL course with a good reputation.

3. Quality

There’s no point wasting time and money on a qualification that’s not going to prepare you for the classroom, is there? A good-quality TEFL course has top-quality up-to-date resources and the support of a dedicated team of professional, experienced tutors to help you through the course. 

4. Student satisfaction

Student satisfaction is a must when it comes to TEFL course providers. Previous students are the only ones who can honestly comment on the quality of the course. Check out online reviews and testimonials.

5. Job assistance

What good is a TEFL qualification without a job?! A quality TEFL course provider assists their students with finding the perfect TEFL job.

What are the requirements to earn ESL certification?

Fluency in English is the biggest requirement for getting an ESL certification. Makes sense, doesn’t it?!

This doesn’t mean you need to be a native English speaker. But your English needs to be at least Advanced level (C1 on the CEFR). 

You don’t need to have a degree to qualify for an ESL certification. Nor do you need teaching experience.

An ESL certification is a teaching qualification. It’s a foundational course which teaches you everything you need to know about teaching English as a foreign language. It’s the first step to getting an ESL job. 

What you do need, is:

  • motivation
  • enthusiasm
  • a willingness to learn
  • time,
  • and probably a lot of snacks!

What are the requirements to teach English abroad?

Depends where you want to teach!

Teaching jobs abroad vary in their requirements for ESL/EFL teachers. Some may require a Bachelor’s degree, but this can be in any field. Some might prefer experienced teachers. But all EFL/ESL jobs require their teachers to be fluent in English.

Start your ESL journey

Does The TEFL Academy offer ESL certification? Why yes we do!

Our TEFL courses are referred to as TEFL courses, but they are considered ESL certifications. A rose by any other name, if you know what we mean. 

The important thing is that an ESL certification from The TEFL Academy is all you need to get a job as an ESL teacher anywhere in the world – or online.

Signing up for a TEFL course with The TEFL Academy is the smart way to get an ESL job. Our courses are accredited, internationally recognised and highly reputable.

Our student reviews speak for themselves, with a 4.9* rating on Trustpilot and a 4.85* rating on GoOverseas, there’s no doubt our graduates consider their qualification with The TEFL Academy a good investment.

Meet The Author

Kirsten Colquhoun

Kirsten Colquhoun is the Content Manager for The TEFL Academy. A graduate of Cambridge University and DELTA-qualified, she first started teaching kindergarten in Thailand in 2003. A South African, she has also taught in China, the UK, Spain, Qatar and South Africa, but these days she is a teacher trainer and freelance writer and editor.

Table of Contents

    What is ESL & ESL certification
  • Different types of ESL certification
  • How to get the right ESL certification
  • How to choose the right ESL certification
  • What are the requirements to earn ESL certification
  • What are the requirements to teach English abroad
  • Start your ESL journey
    Summary
  • ESL stands for English as a Second Language.
  • ESL learners are non-native English speakers who are learning English as a second or foreign language.
  • ESL is often used interchangeably with EFL - English as a Foreign Language, and ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages.

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. ESL learners are non-native English speakers who are learning English as a second or foreign language. ESL teachers are teachers qualified to teach these learners.

ESL is often used interchangeably with EFL – English as a Foreign Language, and ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages. 

An ESL certification is the qualification needed to be an ESL teacher. It is awarded at the end of an ESL course. These courses are usually 120 hours long and can include a practical teaching component, either online or face-to-face.

Different types of ESL certification

You’ve probably come across various different types of ESL certification:

  • ESL – English as a second language
  • TESOL – Teach English to speakers of other languages
  • TEFL – Teach English as a foreign language
  • ESOL – English as a second language

Essentially, these all refer to the same qualification, albeit with different labels. In other words, they all allow you to teach English to English-language learners. The difference is who is offering the ESL certification, and where they are in the world. 

Let’s explain.

English as a Second Language (ESL)

Qualifications in the US are typically referred to as ESL qualifications. Many ESL teachers in the US teach within the country i.e. not abroad. So this refers to teaching English to non-native speakers living in the US. 

For example, a Spanish-speaking Mexican learner living in the US who needs to learn English for their job.

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

TESOL is another term commonly used in the US. Strictly speaking, a TESOL qualification allows teachers to teach English to non-native speakers both inside and outside the US.

Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (TEFL)

Outside the US, TEFL is the most commonly used term. It typically refers to teaching English to non-native speakers in their own countries – teaching English to kindergarteners in Thailand, for example – but can be loosely used to refer to teaching within the US.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

ESOL is teaching English to learners who speak a language besides English as their first language. 

Think about it like this:

  • David from Australia teaches English to Japanese businessmen in Tokyo. This would be referred to as TEFL. 
  • Lucy from South Africa teaches English to Saudi Arabian government employees in Cape Town. This would be referred to as TEFL.
  • Sarshen from the US teaches English to Spanish-speaking immigrants in Los Angeles. This would be referred to as TESOL. 
  • Pablo from Brazil teaches English to Brazilian high school students in Sao Paolo. This would be referred to as TEFL.

These teachers all essentially do the same thing. David, Lucy and Pablo are likely to call themselves TEFL teachers, while Sarshen would refer to herself as a TESL/TESOL/ESL teacher.

But let’s get real. Our title is not what’s important. How we do our job is what really matters. Which is why it’s vital to choose the right ESL certification.

How to get the right ESL certification?

In just a few easy steps you can get ESL certified and be on your way to a new career teaching English as a foreign language.

1. Decide where & who you want to teach

Are you interested in teaching English abroad, perhaps somewhere in Asia or the Middle East? Would you prefer to teach in your country? Or does teaching English online tickle your fancy?

Deciding who you want to teach can help you determine where you want to teach. If you’re interested in teaching Business English to professionals, then teaching in Europe might be a more plausible option than in Africa.

If your passion lies in helping Young Learners, then you should look at the thousands of job opportunities in Asia.

Once you’ve got a good idea of where you want your ESL journey to take you, the next step is to find an ESL course which suits you. 

2. Choose the right certification

First things first, choose a TEFL course which suits your needs, your time constraints and your wallet.

Luckily, an ESL course will prepare you for whichever ESL teaching situation you are interested in. A good ESL certification teaches you the foundations of teaching English as a second or foreign language. It gives you an overview of English grammar – to refresh your memory! Plus it teaches you how to lesson plan, manage a classroom, and assess students, among many other things. 

3. Meet the minimum requirements

Make sure you meet the minimum requirements of your chosen TEFL course. In general, there are not many minimum requirements for a TEFL course. 

The most important is your level of English. If you are not a native speaker of English, you need to prove your English level is at C1 or Advanced.

The other requirement is an age requirement. The majority of TEFL courses require you to be 18 years or older. 

Finally, while you don’t need a degree to do a TEFL course, you need to have completed high school.

4. Enroll in an accredited certification course

Once you’ve found a TEFL course which works for your lifestyle, your learning style, and your budget, then it’s time to get busy!

Sign up for a TEFL course and get started!

Approach your TEFL course with as much dedication as you would any other tertiary qualification. A TEFL course requires dedication and hard work. After all, it’s a teaching qualification!

5. Apply for ESL jobs

Check out jobs boards online and apply for the job that ignites a spark in you.

There are literally hundreds of ESL jobs posted online every single day. There is no shortage of teaching positions – all you have to do is find the right one for you. 

The application process for ESL jobs is usually pretty straightforward. No songs or dances are necessary, but it’s likely you’ll have to have an interview and maybe do a demo lesson.

How to choose the right ESL certification?

There are a number of considerations when it comes to choosing the right ESL certification:

1. Accreditation

Accreditation is the recognition given to a TEFL course by external bodies. Not all accreditation is equal so be sure to investigate the accrediting bodies to make sure they say who they say they are.

2. Reputation

Reputation is a clear indication of the quality of a course. Positive testimonials from graduates teaching in the field, and reviews from satisfied customers are signs of a TEFL course with a good reputation.

3. Quality

There’s no point wasting time and money on a qualification that’s not going to prepare you for the classroom, is there? A good-quality TEFL course has top-quality up-to-date resources and the support of a dedicated team of professional, experienced tutors to help you through the course. 

4. Student satisfaction

Student satisfaction is a must when it comes to TEFL course providers. Previous students are the only ones who can honestly comment on the quality of the course. Check out online reviews and testimonials.

5. Job assistance

What good is a TEFL qualification without a job?! A quality TEFL course provider assists their students with finding the perfect TEFL job.

What are the requirements to earn ESL certification?

Fluency in English is the biggest requirement for getting an ESL certification. Makes sense, doesn’t it?!

This doesn’t mean you need to be a native English speaker. But your English needs to be at least Advanced level (C1 on the CEFR). 

You don’t need to have a degree to qualify for an ESL certification. Nor do you need teaching experience.

An ESL certification is a teaching qualification. It’s a foundational course which teaches you everything you need to know about teaching English as a foreign language. It’s the first step to getting an ESL job. 

What you do need, is:

  • motivation
  • enthusiasm
  • a willingness to learn
  • time,
  • and probably a lot of snacks!

What are the requirements to teach English abroad?

Depends where you want to teach!

Teaching jobs abroad vary in their requirements for ESL/EFL teachers. Some may require a Bachelor’s degree, but this can be in any field. Some might prefer experienced teachers. But all EFL/ESL jobs require their teachers to be fluent in English.

Start your ESL journey

Does The TEFL Academy offer ESL certification? Why yes we do!

Our TEFL courses are referred to as TEFL courses, but they are considered ESL certifications. A rose by any other name, if you know what we mean. 

The important thing is that an ESL certification from The TEFL Academy is all you need to get a job as an ESL teacher anywhere in the world – or online.

Signing up for a TEFL course with The TEFL Academy is the smart way to get an ESL job. Our courses are accredited, internationally recognised and highly reputable.

Our student reviews speak for themselves, with a 4.9* rating on Trustpilot and a 4.85* rating on GoOverseas, there’s no doubt our graduates consider their qualification with The TEFL Academy a good investment.

Join over 200,000 TEFL teachers making a difference around the world! Download TEFL Factbook Explore TEFL Courses

Meet The Author

Kirsten Colquhoun

Kirsten Colquhoun is the Content Manager for The TEFL Academy. A graduate of Cambridge University and DELTA-qualified, she first started teaching kindergarten in Thailand in 2003. A South African, she has also taught in China, the UK, Spain, Qatar and South Africa, but these days she is a teacher trainer and freelance writer and editor.

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