Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation

Library | SearchERIC | Test Locator | ERIC System | Resources | Calls for papers | About us



From the ERIC database

ESL Teacher Certification. ERIC Digest.

Kreidler, Carol J.

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers must have special preparation to teach English to non-native speakers; being a fluent speaker or an effective teacher of English to native speakers is not enough. Just as teaching mathematics or French requires special knowledge and skills, teaching English as a Second Language does also.

This Digest outlines some of the relevant issues concerning ESL teacher certification: profiles of students needing ESL instruction, reasons for considering certification, academic preparation needed to teach ESL, and a description of state requirements for certification.


Estimates based on the 1980 Census indicate that in 1980-81 at least three-and-a-half million school-age children in the United States lacked the English language skills needed to succeed in school. These children, whose native language is not English, generally fall into two groups.

The first, limited-English-proficient (LEP) students, speak, understand, and may read and write English, but not well enough to keep up academically with their native English-speaking peers. The second group, non-English-speaking (NES) students, do not speak or understand English and may have no literacy skills in their native language. This factor complicates attempts to teach them English.

A 1980 national survey (O'Malley 1983) estimates that half of all public school teachers in the United States in 1980 either had LEP students in their classes or had taught such children previously. However, only 1 teacher in 17 had taken a course or courses in techniques for teaching ESL classes, 2 of 5 had minimal preparation, and 3 of 5 had no preparation.


Teaching English to those who already speak it well is a different task than teaching it to non-native speakers. The objective of teachers of language arts or English is to help native speakers increase and refine their knowledge of and their skills in using English. In contrast, the objective of teachers of ESL is to give their students a basic, working command of the English language.

By the time they enter school, native speakers of English have learned to pronounce English words and to put them together into sentences with native pronunciation and structure. Native speakers also know certain rules of communication that vary from culture to culture, such as how to make suggestions and how to apologize.

ESL instruction includes teaching these rules, other aspects of using English, and information about American culture to speakers of other languages.


Special preparation suggests the need for certification or licensure, indicating the state's recognition that ESL requires special skills and knowledge. Certification can legitimize and institutionalize the field just as licensure has done for special education, for example.

Trained ESL teachers living in states without certification requirements for this field may be denied jobs because they are not certified in a subject recognized by their state. As a result, teachers assigned to ESL classrooms may lack the necesary special training, jeopardizing the education of ESL students.


In 1975, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), an international organization, adopted Guidelines for the Certification and Preparation of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages in the United States.

In addition to defining the role and specifying professional competencies and personal qualities of the ESL teacher in American schools, the guidelines list the features of an appropriate education program for teachers of ESL. Briefly, the major program components suggested are the following:

--academic specialization, including courses covering language; the grammatical, phonological, and semantic systems of English; the process of language learning (both first and second languages); and language in culture

--pedagogy, including courses covering methodology, second language assessment, and practical experience

--the learning of another language, including its linguistic structure and cultural system

These guidelines have been used by some states to develop their requirements for certificates or endorsements.


At least 23 states and the District of Columbia have established certification or endorsement of ESL teachers.

A survey of state certification requirements (Kreidler 1983), informally updated recently, indicates that course work totaling 24 or more credit hours is required by 11 out of 13 states for their ESL certificate or endorsement.

Information on credit hours and details of curriculum requirements were not available for some states because they simply list completion of "approved programs" as the requirement for certification.

All of the 10 states reporting credit hours and curriculum information require ESL methodology courses, and eight specifically cite practical experience, usually in the form of student teaching in ESL.

In the area of academic specialization, 9 states require courses in linguistics and/or English linguistics while 8 require courses in culture and society. Six states require the learning of another language (firsthand knowledge of the process of learning a second language is considered beneficial).

States that have certification or endorsement in ESL are: Alaska, California (Language Development Specialist with emphasis in ESL), Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. At this writing, Maryland's Board of Professional Standards is considering an application for ESL certification.

Information on specific state requirements for certification can be obtained from each state Department of Education.


Blatchford, C. H. DIRECTORY OF TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS IN TESOL AND BILINGUAL EDUCATION: 1980-84. Washington, D.C.: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, 1982.

Fanselow, J. F., and R. L. Light, editors. BILINGUAL, ESOL AND FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHER PREPARATION: MODELS, PRACTICES, ISSUES. Washington, D.C.: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, 1977.

Kreidler, C. "Standards, Accreditation, Certification: Defining Terms." TESOL NEWSLETTER 17 (1983):30.

O'Malley, J. M. THE 1980-81 TEACHERS LANGUAGE SKILLS SURVEY (FINAL REPORT). Rosslyn, VA: InterAmerica Research Associates, 1983.

O'Malley, J. M., and D. Waggoner. "Public School Teacher Preparation and the Teaching of ESL." TESOL NEWSLETTER 18 (1984):18-22.


This Digest was prepared for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, 1984.


This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education

Title: ESL Teacher Certification. ERIC Digest.
Author: Kreidler, Carol J.
Publication Year: 1986
Document Type: Eric Product (071); Eric Digests (selected) (073)
Target Audience: Teachers and Practitioners
ERIC Identifier: ED276306
This document is available from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service.

Descriptors: Elementary Secondary Education; * English [Second Language]; * Evaluation Criteria; Higher Education; * Language Teachers; Limited English Speaking; Non English Speaking; Second Language Instruction; * State Standards; * Teacher Certification; Teacher Education; Teacher Education Curriculum; * Teacher Qualifications

Identifiers: ERIC Digests

Degree Articles

School Articles

Lesson Plans

Learning Articles

Education Articles


 Full-text Library | Search ERIC | Test Locator | ERIC System | Assessment Resources | Calls for papers | About us | Site map | Search | Help

Sitemap 1 - Sitemap 2 - Sitemap 3 - Sitemap 4 - Sitemap 5 - Sitemap 6

©1999-2012 Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. All rights reserved. Your privacy is guaranteed at

Under new ownership