The qualifications required for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) will depend upon who you want to teach and where you want to teach. For example, do you want to teach elementary school children, adults, new immigrants, business professionals? Do you want to teach at a university, a community college, a private language school, a public adult school, a non-profit organization? Do you want to tutor students privately in your home?
Whenever anyone asks me how to start teaching ESL, I ask them to consider the above options and then refine their question. First they have to know what “teaching ESL” means to them. After the potential teacher or tutor figures out exactly what they want, then they can narrow their search for the necessary requirements to meet their goal. A better question would be, for example, what are the qualifications required for teaching elementary school students in a public school? Or, what are the requirements for teaching English as a Second Language to adults in a non-profit organization working with recent immigrants?
The answer to these more refined questions will vary as each of these settings has different requirements. Also, you could become a volunteer teacher or tutor with no or very few qualifications at all. If you wish to pursue teaching English as a career, then you will have to meet some minimum qualifications. These could include an English degree, a TESOL or CELTA certificate, a TEFL certificate (to teach in a non-English-speaking country) and/or a teaching credential. Again, the necessary requirements will depend upon where you want to teach. Incidentally, speaking a language other than English may be helpful at times, but it is not an absolute requirement for the majority of ESL teaching jobs.
Usually, the highest paid ESL teaching opportunities are in universities. Most of these positions require at a minimum a Master’s degree related to English; probably the best is MATESOL – Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Teaching in public schools, ranging from elementary schools through public adult schools, usually requires a Bachelor’s degree (not necessarily in English) plus a state teaching credential.
Private language schools are another place to teach ESL. These usually require a certificate in TESOL or a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). They do not always require a college degree if you have one of these certificates and meet other school-specific requirements.
Another option is to become a private ESL tutor. There are no requirements for teaching privately, although there may be some state business licensing requirements. This is something you should look into if you plan to start your own tutoring business. As for the ESL learner, if someone is willing to pay you to teach English when you have no specific ESL teaching qualifications, then that is between you and your students. However, most adult students will want their English tutors to have some minimum teaching qualifications, and most parents of young ESL learners will almost certainly want their child’s tutor to have some qualifications.