The Insider’s Guide to TESOL Certification

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is an exciting field that enables teachers to work with non-native English speakers — both in the United States and abroad. With a TESOL certification, teachers can work with English Language Learners (ELL) to help the students gain proficiency in their English-speaking abilities.

There are TESOL opportunities in every grade level, from preschool to adults, and TESOL teachers may work in a variety of settings that include elementary, middle and secondary schools, both public and private. Whether you aspire to teach students in China or children in the United States who are learning English as a new language, a TESOL certification will make you more employable and desirable.

Common Acronyms in TESOL

One of the most challenging aspects of embarking on a TESOL career is navigating all of the acronyms. There are programs that offer ESL certification, TESOL certification, ELL certification and even TEFL certification. It can be difficult to know where to begin. Information on many of these acronyms can be found on ESL Trail, but the following is a list of basic acronyms to get you started:

  • TESOL – Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages 

  • TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • ESL – English as a Second Language, in countries where English is the dominant language
  • EFL – English as Foreign Language, in countries where another language is dominant
  • ELL – English Language Learners, a term typically used in K-12 schools
  • ESP – English for Special Purposes, often taught as universities or within careers for specific purposes

Becoming TESOL Certified

According to the TESOL International Association, you typically need a BA or BS before applying for a certification program. There are multiple certification programs or master’s degree programs available on campuses or online. One high-quality and flexible option is the Master of Arts in Teaching TESOL, offered at USC Rossier Online. The 30-unit program can be completed full-time (1 year) or part-time (2-3 years), includes authentic field experience and prepares future teachers to work locally or abroad.

TESOL Employment Opportunities

Once you have your TESOL certification, you need to decide where you would like to work. If you wish to remain in the United States, TESOL teachers’ salaries are commensurate with any other subject area (average of $48,000 but varies geographically) with the same benefits as other teachers in public or private schools.

Several organizations, like Teach Away and the TESOL International Association, offer job listings and recruitment services to obtain employment abroad. Countries like South Korea, China and Japan often offer good compensation packages, health care benefits, paid travel expenses and even housing stipends to English teachers. These opportunities are particularly alluring because they allow teachers to travel the world while getting paid.

TESOL Lesson Plan Resources

Once you have landed a job teaching English Language Learners (ELL), you want to prepare quality lessons to help your students gain proficiency. The following are four valuable resources:

  • TESOL Research Center – In addition to certification and employment information, this site has a “Resource” and “Community” section. There are webinars, lesson plans, tips of the trade, assessments and community boards that allow you to network with your peers across the globe.
  • – This site is chock full of resources that include lesson plans, articles and online references for your students and free handouts. You can also download e-books and read the latest blogs.
  • Scholastic: Success for ESL Students – This article offers 12 tips for teaching ESL with finesse. There are also book recommendations and other resources.
  • Edutopia: 10 Tips for Teaching English Language Learners – This is another must-read for new TESOL teachers. Where else will you hear the term “polysemous”?