ERIC Identifier: ED276306
Publication Date: 1986-08-00
Author: Kreidler, Carol J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
ESL Teacher Certification. ERIC Digest.
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.
WHO NEEDS AN ESL TEACHER?
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
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.
HOW IS TEACHING ESL DIFFERENT?
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.
WHY CONSIDER ESL CERTIFICATION?
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.
WHAT CONSTITUTES PROPER PREPARATION FOR TEACHING ESL?
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
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
These guidelines have been used by some states to develop their requirements
for certificates or endorsements.
WHAT DO STATES REQUIRE FOR CERTIFICATION?
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
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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.
GUIDELINES FOR THE CERTIFICATION AND PREPARATION OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH TO
SPEAKERS OF OTHER LANGUAGES IN THE UNITED STATES (1976). Washington, D.C.:
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, 1976.