Careers: TESOL

Careers in TESOL (TEFL, TESL, EFL, ESL) and other language teaching

Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) is one of the most popular careers for linguistics majors. As a linguist, you have a broad understanding of how languages differ from one another structurally (in sounds, word structure, and grammar), how languages are learned, and what social and cultural factors affect language use. All of these skills come into play when teaching English as a second language, whether abroad or in the U.S.

How to get into TESOL

Research the field

TESOL is a vast employment field, and the qualifications you need depend on a lot of factors: what country you want to teach in, what kind of institution, and what age of learners. You’ll need to do some research to find out the best path to the kind of job you want. Dave’s ESL Cafe has lots of job posting, ads for certification courses, and message boards where TESOL teachers share experiences. CATESOL (California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) has a page summarizing the minimum requirements for teaching in California, at various levels.


A lot of people find jobs through word of mouth, rather than formal job postings. Linguistics M.A. students and alumni are a good source of leads.

Build up your resume

  • Work or volunteer in ESL, or with immigrants. The Learning Assistance Center (LAC) at CSULB hires ESL specialists, and offers volunteer opportunities in their Conversation Labs.
  • Lots of community organizations have relevant volunteer opportunities: Google or try Volunteer Match to find something in your area.
  • Take relevant coursework, such as LING 460 (Teaching Second Language Composition) and LING 486 (Second Language Teaching Methods).
  • Consider a certification course and/or M.A. degree. CSULB offers a graduate TESOL certificate, as well as a TESOL option within the Linguistics M.A. Other organizations such as CELTA offer certification as well.
  • Study the language of your future students.
  • Attend conferences. CATESOL has regional TESOL conferences every year. If you’ve done some original work for a term paper, apply to present it.

Prepare  your documents

Alumnus Kirk Jordan has provided detailed guidelines to the certificates and apostilles you will need for working overseas.

Consider further education

In higher ed TESOL jobs, a PhD or EdD may be needed for advancement. This guide to EdD programs in TESOL and Bilingual Education is one place to start.

Foreign language teaching

Linguists who are fluent in a foreign language may work as foreign language teachers. Linguistics training gives you a general understanding of language structure and language acquisition, knowledge that you can adapt in teaching any language. To teach in public schools, specific credentials are required. Please consult the CSULB Credential Center for more information. Teachers of strategically important languages may able to find government jobs. Examples of employers include: