Common Qualifications for English Language Teachers

Individuals who wish to pursue a career teaching English to speakers of other languages can choose from several pathways to establish their teaching qualifications. 


A bachelor of arts (BA) or science (BS) degree is usually a prerequisite for any of the programs listed below. In most countries, it is impossible to obtain a work permit for an ESL/EFL teaching position without a BA/BS degree.

Just as there are numerous methodologies in language teaching, there are also a wide range of options to launch your education in TESOL. To help you explore these options, TESOL's Directory of Degree & Certificate Programs lists institutions that offer teacher training programs (certificates, BAs, MAs, and PhDs) in TESOL.

Introductory Programs

Many institutions have created programs that fall in between the TEFL certificate and TESOL endorsement or add-on certification. These programs may take one to two semesters and are designed to provide initial teacher training for overseas teaching assignments. The credits from these shorter programs may be applied toward an endorsement or master's degree upon return to the United States.

Master's Degree

The most widely available training option in the United States and Canada, the master's degree is required for teaching in higher education and community colleges. Offered by more than 300 universities in the United States and Canada, the degree may go by different names, for example, master of education (MEd) in TESOL, master of arts (MA) or science (MS) in applied linguistics, MA in English with an emphasis in TESOL, MA in teaching (MAT) in ESL. Any of these programs will prepare those enrolled to teach ESL/EFL as well as offer training in curriculum development, teacher training, administration, and materials writing. Master's degrees usually require 30-36 hours of credit and may include a thesis option. A quality program will include some supervised teaching practice.

Endorsement or Add-On Certification in ESL

Elementary or secondary school teachers in most states in the United States must have a degree in education with an endorsement or add-on certification in ESL. Certification requirements can be obtained from state departments of education, and may be reciprocal from state to state. University teacher training programs offer the required courses and are another source of information regarding state certification requirements.

Many U.S. teachers who are looking to teach internationally, but would like to return to the United States to continue teaching, choose to pursue this type of certification or endorsement. The advantage to the endorsement or add-on ESL certification is that it offers more in-depth training for international positions than the TEFL certificate, and will usually count toward the completion of the master's degree or state certification upon return to the United States. In other words, TEFL certificates do not count toward employment qualifications for most schools in the United States, but endorsement and add-on certification in ESL do. The training can take two to four semesters of full-time study at an accredited institution.

Common Certificates

Those who decide not to begin their teaching career with a master's degree can choose from several other options. Neither the CELTA nor an independent TEFL certificate alone is sufficient qualification to teach in most institutions in the United States, though the practical training required as part of the certification process greatly enhances teaching skills.

  • TEFL Certificate

    In general, the minimum qualification to teach EFL in private language schools overseas and in some private language schools in the United States is a TEFL certificate. Usually, TEFL certificate courses in the United States and Canada are highly intensive, running full time over the course of 2-6 weeks. These courses focus on practical training and also teach different language methodologies. Because of the scope of information that must be covered, a 4- to 6-week intensive course is likely to be more valuable than a shorter version. Most respected TEFL courses offer 100+ classroom hrs and have a practical training component. Many institutions are accredited by varying state organizations, and many of these TEFL courses are excellent. Teacher trainers may vary greatly in qualifications. Look for a program with qualified trainers, such as teachers who have a master's degree in ESL and extensive international experience. Read about evaluating CELTA, TEFL Certificate, and Distance Learning Programs.

  • Cambridge UCLES CELTA

    The Cambridge UCLES CELTA (formerly known as the Cambridge RSA CELTA) is administered by England's University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. This certificate program is available through language institutes and British Council offices throughout the world. In the United States, the CELTA program is available in major cities on the east and west coasts.

    The CELTA course is a standardized program that regulates the selection of candidates and ensures that trainees are given quality instruction and are objectively graded. The teacher trainers who conduct these courses have themselves undergone rigorous training and are required to have substantial, varied, and current teaching experience. Programs may vary in the availability of full- or part-time options (ranging from 4 weeks to 3 months), placement services, and cost. Read about evaluating CELTA, TEFL Certificate, and Distance Learning Programs.

  • SIT TESOL Certificate

    The School for International training TESOL certificate course is a 130-hour course that includes workshops, lesson planning and practice teaching. The course covers the basics of classroom practice starting with a look at learning and how learners' needs inform teaching. Designed by faculty at SIT the course emphasizes experiential learning, reflective practice and learning in community. The course moves through a series of modules that cover how to teach reading, writing, listening, speaking, pronunciation, grammar and clutter at the beginning and intermediate levels. The course is available at a variety of locations worldwide and is taught by SIT-trained trainers with extensive EFL classroom experience.

  • Trinity Certificate in TESOL

    Trinity College London’s rigorously assessed certificate courses, available world-wide, provide sound, basic training for entry level into the profession. They are offered full or part-time and are held over a minimum of 130 hours at one of the 100+ Trinity-validated centres, detailed on their website. Trinity’s CertTESOL is accepted by the British Council as an appropriate initial TESOL qualification in the Council’s teaching operations outside the UK and in its accredited schools and colleges in the UK. It cannot be taken online, although a pre-course additional component may be done online. Trinity’s CertTEYL, taken over 140 hours, prepares teachers to identify teaching methods, materials and methods of assessment appropriate to young learners. Read about evaluating CELTA, TEFL Certificate, and Distance Learning Programs.

Distance Learning Options

Both degree programs and certification courses in TESOL are offered by distance. This educational format is well suited for those who are already in the field or teaching English abroad and want to pursue a degree while continuing to teach. A good TEFL certificate program should focus on practical training, making distance education less favorable in the eyes of employers, unless you incorporate the distance courses with practical teaching experience. Programs geared toward experienced teachers, such as the RSA Diploma (open to those with a CELTA and 2 years of teaching experience) and MA and PhD programs from accredited institutions, are viable options for distance learning. We recommend that you contact the schools to obtain contact information for the accrediting body.

Read about evaluating CELTA, TEFL Certificate, and Distance Learning Programs.