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How To Become An ESL Teacher (It’s Easier Than You Think)

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Want to become an ESL teacher but not sure how to get started ?  Look no further because today you’ll see how to be a part of this rewarding career.

It’s no secret that teaching English as a second language is a popular way to work from home. Or anywhere, really.

But I’m not going to talk about the best ESL companies to work for, I already did that.

Instead, I’m going to tell you how to become an ESL teacher.

– The requirements you must meet,

– The qualifications you need,

– The skills to become a great ESL teacher.

So, if you’re wondering: “What do I need to be an ESL teacher?”, you’ll find this post helpful.

Here’s How To Become An ESL Teacher

To become an ESL teacher, you need to meet certain requirements and qualifications, know how to use specific tools, and have a set of skills that will set you up for success.

Let’s start by going over the requirements.

You Need To Meet These Requirements

To become an ESL teacher, you need to meet certain requirements, like these:

First, you need certification.

I wrote a pretty thorough post on why you need certification and how to get it, so I’ll just give you the highlights:

In simple terms, certification is proof that you completed an accredited program and you’re qualified to teach English to individuals whose primary language is NOT English.  This can be in the form of TESL (Teach English as a Second Language), TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language), or TESOL (Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages).

All certifications are similar and often used interchangeably, but have differences in the methodology.  For instance, TESL is the catch-all certification; TEFL is certification if you plan on teaching English courses abroad to students whose primary language is not English; and TESOL is if you plan on teaching in an English speaking country to students who don’t speak English.

Your certification has to be internationally accredited and meet certain standards, such as:

  • Contain at least 100 hours of coursework.
  • Consist of an accredited curriculum from a recognized organization.
  • Offer at least 6-20 hours of live practice that is not role-playing with classmates

If interested in knowing more about ESL certification, I encourage you to read my post on how to get certified to teach ESL.

Next, you need a Bachelor’s degree.

Or you’re in the process of getting one.  A Bachelor’s degree is the standard but it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to English or teaching.  As long as you have a Bachelor’s degree, you should be good.

But what If You Don’t Have A Degree, or won’t be getting one ?

No worries !

Italki lets you be a Community teacher – no degree needed; you just need experience leading children (minister, coach…).

PalFish has a ‘free-talk/live-stream’ ESL program, where you use your cell phone to have conversations with foreigners so they can learn to be more comfortable speaking English

But, if you want to earn more money teaching ESL, do yourself a favor and get certified.

Finally, you need some experience.

Although not required with all companies, most ESL job descriptions will state they want you to have some experience in a teaching / coaching / mentoring capacity.  This can be teacher’s aide, youth pastor or soccer coach.

Now, let’s go over the qualifications you need to be a great ESL teacher.

The Qualifications You Need To Become An ESL Teacher

Now that you know the requirements to become and ESL teacher, let’s go over the qualifications you need, starting with the most obvious:

You Need To Be A Native English Speaker

Teaching English as a second language, also known as ‘ESL’, is pretty straight forward: You’ll be teaching English to someone whose primary language is not English.

To accomplish this, you’ll teach the basics like grammar, speaking, listening, reading, writing and sentence structure so it should be pretty obvious that English is your native language.

You Need To Be Computer Literate

Not only do you need the certification, degree and experience, you need to be computer literate.  Because ESL teacher jobs are done remotely, you’ll be using Skype, FaceTime, or whatever conferencing platform the ESL company uses, to communicate with your students.

Also, each ESL company has their own teaching platform that you have be comfortable with.  Don’t worry, though, they’re easy to navigate.

For example, Here’s what it looks like when you log onto the QKids platform.  Your scheduled lessons are on the left and details of each lesson are displayed within the main part of the screen.

Become an ESL teacher with QKids

You Need To Start With The Basics

Probably the most basic – and easiest to learn – are the alphabet and numbers. Start off slowly; learning all 26 letters in one lesson can be a bit much. Spread it out. Numbers, just like letters, can be learned in clusters, too. Flash cards really help !

Pronunciation can be easy to teach…or not (see next point).  Just like teaching your own child to speak, repetition and correction work in learning a language.

Ok, basics covered.  Now your students need to learn nouns, verbs, proper use of these words…everything you learned while obtaining your English degree. Or Certification 🙂

You Need The Right Environment

A classroom-like setting is fine, with a white board and a desk, but make sure to have a good background, good lighting, and – if teaching children – child-friendly colors and props.

In fact, during your ‘live’ demo interviews, you’re graded on your background so make sure everything looks good.

If teaching children, here are a few background ideas:

  • Colorful maps
  • Common animals
  • Letters of the Alphabet

Just about anything that is child-friendly and has a lot of color will work.

If teaching older children, or adults, stick with the basics like a white board, a nice painting, a less colorful map.

You Need To Have The Right Tools

Because you are working remotely, you need to be able to communicate with your students via Skype or FaceTime. As far as actually “logging on” and following your lesson plan, most of the ESL companies use their own platform but some are based on Power Point (VIPKID) .

Here are a few other tools you will need:

You Need To Have The Right Technology

It goes without saying that your laptop or computer should have a current operating system. You also need these things:

  • Stable internet connection (wired connection preferred for most ESL companies)
  • The ability to use different browsers (DaDaABCbc uses Google Chrome or their DaDaClass software)
  • Internet upload speed should be at least 2mb/s and download speed should be at least 4mb/s. (DaDaAbc requires download speed of 10 mb/s, Magic Ears required both upload and download speeds to be at least 10mb/s).

To test your internet speed, go and click the GO button.  In a few seconds give the results.

Test Your Internet Speed

You Need To Go Through An Interview Process

This can be a little bit grueling, but worth it in the long run. The typical process is as follows:

  • sign up for one of the ESL companies
  • enter your information and credentials
  • schedule an online interview
  • perform a demo lesson or test (be sure to display how well you communicate, explain, and elicit complete answers)
  • be evaluated on your TPR (defined below), speaking speed and length, attitude, as well as other traits determined by the company (hint: check out this resource from VIPKid)
  • probably have a background check done
  • receive an offer
  • sign the contract
  • get hired

Seems cut-and-dry, right ?

But it’s not quite that simple.  Like I mentioned earlier (in the environment section), you’re graded on your environment during the demo tests. Not only that, you’re graded on how you interact with a child – who happens to be the interviewer pretending to be a child.

OK, now let’s go over the skills.

The Skills You Need To Be An ESL Teacher

You Need To Realize Some Letter Sounds Don’t Exist

There are some English letter sounds or combinations that don’t exist in other languages.

Here’s what I mean: According to the letters R and L are difficult for some non-native English speakers to pronounce. The letter combination of TH (as in thing, or thought) doesn’t exist in many Germanic, Romance, and Slavic countries, therefore it is hard to pronounce.

So what do you do ? Teach with patience.

You Need To Look For Inspiration Everywhere

Believe it or not, inspiration is all around you. TV, movies, stories, music, even a spirited debate are awesome teaching resources.

If your students are children, they mimic just about anything they see. If you’re teaching adults, you may have to alter your content a bit to cater more towards their reserved and grown-up personality. But no matter how old your students are, they learn when they are inspired…and having a little bit of fun.

Here’s where to find inspiration:

  • It’s no secret that kids pick up a lot from what they see other’s doing (right, moms ?) Take advantage of this and incorporate some of the modern television shows or movies that your students are into. Just be sure to pick age-appropriate content because I’m pretty sure 7 year old’s aren’t into Seinfeld re-runs. Watch a few minutes of the show together and then encourage a discussion of what you just saw.
  • Music works in the same way, as long as you pick a song that isn’t vulgar. You don’t want your student blurting off a string of cusses when their mom asks what they learned, do you ?
  • If you’re teaching English to adults, encourage them to express their opinion and get a spirited debate going. It’s all in fun and a good way to get them talking English.
  • Stories and poems are fun ways to get students to think about their words and use them properly. Create a story and let them finish it. Start a poem and have them write the next line.

You Need The Right Personality

Because most of the “teach English as a second language” companies have a student body comprised of children, you need to be able to relate well to little ones. You need to have patience, kindness, friendliness, and a fun attitude. And a little silliness doesn’t hurt, either.

If you are teaching English to adults, you still need to have all the personality traits that will make your students feel comfortable but maybe ease up on the silliness.

TPR…You Should Know What It Is

What is TPR?  Total Physical Response; a method of teaching by using lots of body language to convey what you’re teaching.  The idea is to help a student learn faster by associating a physical activity or movement to the lesson.

Take a look at this explanation:

You Need To Have The Right Subject Matter

Most ESL companies will create the lesson plans for you. But if you are working for one of the companies that expect you to make your own lesson plans, like iTalki, a good place to find awesome plans and teaching material is Teachers Pay Teachers.

You Need To Have Flexibility In Your Schedule

Because the majority of ESL companies are teaching students in China, you should be able to work early morning hours or late evening hours. Basically, China time.

Additionally, you may be required to work a certain number of hours each week.  Magic Ears, for example, requires you to work at least 5 hours a week.  Don’t worry, this is still a flexible job !

You Need To Appeal To The Company, Potential Students, And Parents

This is a very important step to getting accepted by one of the online English teaching companies because it sets you apart from the rest. Remember: you are interacting with students, usually 1:1, so you have to really sell your skills.

Here’s an example:

Qkids wants you to create a 1-2 minute introductory video of yourself, briefly talking about where you live and what teaching experience you have. They also want you to tell, or read, a children’s story so they can see how you communicate with kids.

For every online teaching company, you need to create your teaching profile that appeals to students – and more importantly – their parents if teaching children. After all, parents are the ones who will ultimately be selecting the teacher for their child.

Are You Ready To Be An ESL Teacher ?

As you can see, there are a lot of requirements when it comes to teaching English to foreigners.

Most of them you probably already have; some you can get.

If you have the personality and ability to be an online English teacher, then go for it.  It is such a rewarding job !

Teach English Online
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