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How do I get ESL Certification?

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  • Written By: S.R. Morris-Gray
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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English as a second language (ESL) certification is determined by the teaching location and the grade level of the students involved in the instruction. General ESL certification requires training in courses designed specifically for teaching English to non-native speakers. A preparation program, training practicum, and a prescribed list of education courses are mandated as part of the ESL certification for an officially recognized ESL teaching credential. Teaching certificates for student levels kindergarten through grade 12 are issued in the United States (US) by individual state departments of education. Each state department determines the specific requirements for credentialing.

An additional requirement for most teaching credential holders includes a co-certification to teach either English or a foreign language. ESL teaching degrees are earned at colleges, universities, and online schools accredited by language and teaching professional organizations. Program accreditation involves an examination by other ESL teachers and school administrators to evaluate the quality of the program before approval is given to issue credentials or certificates.

Online schools offer second-language courses and training but care must be taken to match the degree requirements with the prospective employment requirements. Certification is offered by training organizations such as Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Teaching of English as an Acquired or Additional Language (TEAL), International Accreditation of TESOL Qualifying Organisations (IATQuO), and Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Each group has unique standards and training requirements.

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Meeting the online standards does not automatically mean the ESL certification meets state department of education standards in the US. California and Texas are pioneers in mandating ESL instruction in public schools. ESL certification in these two states is among the most stringent in coursework, testing, and field work requirements.

ESL courses for certification include linguistic fundamentals, teaching methods and materials, cross-cultural communication, and second-language acquisition. Coursework in teaching pronunciation, grammar fundamentals, and a practicum that requires the teaching candidate to go into the field to practice the ESL teaching principles is also mandated. ESL courses and ESL teaching credentials are available from accredited colleges and universities at traditional brick-and-mortar schools, as well as Internet education programs.

Most states require passing a standardized exam demonstrating competence in ESL theory, teaching methods related to English teacher certification, and a proficiency in second language curriculum development. State education departments frequently use the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) — a commercially prepared exam offered by the New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service — to evaluate competency. Computer-based exams in reading, speaking, listening, and writing are also given by international organizations and universities, including programs at schools in the University of California higher-education system. A minimum score is required to pass any of the standardized ESL exams, including the TOEFL. Some programs offer course credit for passing these exams, while other education programs require passage but do not release the teaching candidate from any mandated coursework.

In countries outside the US, an international English teacher certification and English as a second language certification are earned by taking ESL courses in general language acquisition. These English and ESL courses leading to an ESL certification are offered at commercial schools and through online study. Instructors holding either of these certifications from an international school may apply for K-12 or community college teaching certification in the United States using the certificate.

Approval of the certification is the responsibility of the state where the teaching application is filed. The department of education determines whether the ESL courses, training, exam, and prep match the state guidelines. A state may issue conditional approval and require additional coursework or a practicum before full certification is granted. Partial certification in the US occurs frequently in geographic regions with emergency requirements for certified ESL teachers.

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