Why Grads Should Take a Gap Year to Teach ESL

By the time many students finish a degree they are ready for a change of pace or an adventure. And most of these grads are also desperate for a paycheck. With the growth in opportunities for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), this is an option growing in popularity.

As the economy continues to move at a sluggish rate, U.S. job prospects in many fields are still hard to find and highly competitive. This is not true everywhere. Around the world people are eager to learn English, and many foreign markets are rich with opportunities to do such work.

There are many programs, certifications and jobs out there. It’s hard to know the best direction to move at first. This guide will point you to the best ESL opportunities, and tips for selecting a job or program and teaching resources.



After an initial search, you may be confused by what seems like a number of different certifications for one field. The profession of ESL is referred to by several different names, according to the Washington Academy of Languages (WAL).

  • Teaching English as a Second Language usually refers to teaching English to students whose first language is not English in a region where English is the primary language.
  • TEFL is Teaching English as a Foreign Language usually refers to teaching students English in a foreign country where English is not the primary language.
  • Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, or TESOL, is yet another name for the same type of teaching.

There is not a global standard for teaching English, therefore there are many different certification programs. Short-term programs are generally a good way to get started in the field, but longer programs at accredited universities are often regarded as the best way to begin a long-term career as an English teacher, according to WAL.

Depending on the institution, program or geographical location ESL teacher qualifications are different, according to the University of Washington, Seattle. Some private language academies require less preparation, while colleges, universities, and international schools will usually require more. Interested applicants should also be aware of market trends as that may change what potential employers see as a competitive applicant.

The four-week, 120 hour course Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) is one such short-term teacher training program that gives you helpful credibility while you begin your search, but does not require a large investment if you are just looking to get experience.

Many institutions of higher education offer some sort of certificate course. The program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, is a 21-credit program with GPA guidelines and a practicum for certification. This program at Western Washington University is designed to help students teach in international language schools, community language settings for recent immigrants and community college classes, according to its website.


Opportunities and Programs

Korea is a popular destination for teaching as the Korean government sponsors a special program for foreigners to enter the school system. GEPIK is the Gyeonggi-do school division’s English program, created through a government contract. The teachers placed through this program are working at schools within the province of Seoul, often as the only native English speaker. Created through government initiative teachers are paid, often provided with housing, overtime and vacation through their contracts.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme is a world-renowned program now in its 26th year. Beyond teaching English this program works as an international exchange of language and culture between Japan and other nations. This program also has an entry-level Assistant Language teacher (AL) position, which is a nice option for students with little experience.

Another option for teachers that have already earned their Master’s Degrees is to apply for the EL Fellow Program, a project through Georgetown University in Washington DC. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Office of English Language Programs.

The EL Fellow program places highly qualified educators with a TEFL/TESL focus in different regions of the world to work with U.S. embassy projects to help promote English language learning around the world. The program’s mission is to foster mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those from other countries.

Beyond Asia, the Czech Republic also offers an English teaching placement program through the Ministry of Education. There is another well-respected program through the Chilean Ministry of Education and the UN Development Programme called the English Opens Doors Program. This program works with native and near-native English speakers between the ages of 21 and 35 years of age to teach English in Chile under the direction of head teachers in public and semi-private schools.



The award winning Lessonstream.org is a great website created by language teacher Jamie Kennedie to provide language learners with the best language learning tools available. His materials are structured by level of language learner, type and topic. Kennedie is a teacher trainer, writer and presenter who has published a teacher resource publication by Oxford University Press. He works as an associate trainer at the Norwich Institute for Language Education in the United Kingdom. This is his personal blog.

A British Council/BBC website called TeachingEnglish is another excellent resource for ESL teaching, training and curriculum. It features links to everything from lesson planning materials to continued professional development and teacher blogs.