ERIC Identifier: ED289361
Publication Date: 1987-11-00
Author: Kreidler, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.

ESL Teacher Education. ERIC Digest.

Although the teaching of English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) is a relatively young profession, it is, in reality, quite an old activity. When the Angles and Saxons invaded Britain some 1500 years ago, the two tribes found it easier to teach their own language (which has evolved into present-day English) to the conquered Britons than to learn the Britons' tongue.

Until the time of World War II the teaching of English was rather hit or miss in the United States. Most immigrants found the lack of ability to speak English an occupational as well as a social and psychological handicap. Instruction in English for adult immigrants was provided in Americanization schools for those who wished to enroll, while public school children were required to do their studies in English with no extra help. There was no concentrated effort to aid non-English speakers.

In 1940, the first teachers of English as a foreign language were enrolled at the University of Michigan in a training program that was based on structural or descriptive linguistics. At about the same time in the Army Language School, the analysis of a variety of languages and their contrasts with the English language added to the expansion of the evolving field of linguistics. These developments in the study of languages, including the English language, gave impetus to the inauguration of programs in linguistics at colleges and universities. General linguistics programs often included classes or areas of concentration in applied linguistics which, at that time, were mainly programs of preparation for teaching English to speakers of other languages.


In 1964 the National Defense Education Act authorized summer institutes to provide training for teachers of English as a second language (ESL), and the number of university programs in ESL grew. Forty-six programs in 36 institutions were described in a 1972 directory of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) preparation programs; the 1986 edition of the directory lists 196 programs offered at 143 institutions.


A milestone in professionalization occurred in 1966 with the founding of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a professional organization for those concerned with the teaching of English as a second or foreign language. TESOL started with 337 members; today the organization numbers more than 11,000.

TESOL, in an attempt to address concerns of educators, held a conference (1970) to develop guidelines for certification and preparation of ESL teachers in the United States. These guidelines, which are in three parts, define the role of an ESL teacher in an American school, describe the personal qualities and professional competencies the teacher should possess, and describe the features of a professional preparation program designed to fulfill those competencies. They have been used extensively by the states in setting their requirements for certification.

From 1976 to 1980 the number of states offering some kind of certification in ESL increased almost five-fold, from 4 to 19. At present, 33 states and the District of Columbia have certification or endorsement and two states have pending certification legislation.


It has been claimed that an English-speaking child has the ability to use most of the sounds and grammatical forms in a communicative context by the beginning of school. The content of training programs must, therefore, be different for those who will teach anyone who does not already know these forms. The teacher of ESL must know more than simply how to speak the language. Studies in English linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology, as well as in education, form the special areas of preparation for the ESL teacher.


Traditionally, the study of linguistics has been a graduate endeavor; likewise, programs for preparing teachers of ESL have usually been offered at the graduate level. Out of the 46 teacher preparation programs listed in the 1972 directory mentioned earlier, only five were at the bachelor's degree level, while 33 were at the master's level. The 1986 version of the directory lists 25 programs at the bachelor's level and 120 at the master's level. Professional preparation programs at one or both of these levels are in place for most states at state universities and/or private institutions.

The fact that most of the programs are graduate programs also accounts for the number of states that have endorsements for ESL rather than full certification since teachers often get their additional training in ESL adding endorsements to previous basic certification. Many school systems provide inservice training in ESL; moreover, the TESOL organization, through its affiliates and their conferences which offer Continuing Education Units, has taken the responsibility for a great deal of inservice ESL teacher education.


Since the 1970s, a change in teaching methodology that has pervaded the teaching of ESL is the change from a teacher-centered classroom to a student- or learner-centered classroom. In the learner-centered classroom the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, and it is important that students in teacher preparation courses are taught in a manner that reflects this approach to learning.

Teacher preparation programs are presently being challenged to produce teachers who understand the theory behind the methodologies. Freeman (1987) points out that the teacher trainer's first task is to find out how people learn to teach, to understand the processes through which individuals learn to be language teachers. Only then can we concentrate our efforts on improving the quality of language teacher education.

But teachers of ESL are, above all, teachers. New directions in ESL preparation parallel new directions in the preparation of all teachers. In education today there is discussion regarding the amount of time prospective teachers spend learning how to teach rather than learning the content of what they will teach. Prospective teachers of ESL are in this way like those of other fields. For years the emphasis has been on the learner in the classroom; now we are beginning to see more emphasis on the teacher. After all, the teacher is a crucial determiner of success in the classroom.


Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is a membership organization that publishes a bimonthly newsletter, a quarterly journal, and other publications. In addition to the previously mentioned Guidelines for Certification, the TESOL organization has also published standards for professional preparation programs. The address for TESOL is Suite 205, 1118 22nd St. NW, Washington, DC 20037.


Alatis, J.E., Stern, H.H., Strevens, P., (Eds.). (1983). Georgetown University Roundtable on Languages and Linguistics. "Applied linguistics and the preparation of second language teachers: Toward a rationale." Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Brown, D. (1982). TESOL in a changing world: The challenge of teacher education. In M. Hines, & W. Rutherford, (Eds.), "On TESOL '81." Washington DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 223 084)

Fanselow, J.F., & Light, R.L., (1977). "Bilingual, ESOL and foreign language teacher preparation: Models, practices, issues." Washington, DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 154 637)

Frank-McNeil, J. (1986). "Directory of programs in TESOL in the United States: 1986-88." Washington, DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Freeman, D. (1987). Some thoughts on redefining the challenge in language teacher education. "Teacher Education Newsletter" 3(2). Washington, DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

"Guidelines for the certification and preparation of teachers of English to speakers of other languages in the United States." (1976).Washington, DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Norris, W.E. (1972). "Teacher qualifications and preparation: Guidelines for TESOL/US." (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 060 698)

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