English Language Learners are individuals for whom English is not a native language. To become certified to teach these students, you need either a degree or certificate to teach English as a Second Language. The type and level of certification you need depends on whether you plan to teach in a Pre-Kindergarten through high school setting or if you plan to teach adult learners in a university setting.

Teaching Pre-Kindergarten through High School

If you want to teach in an elementary, middle or high school in the United States, you will first need to earn a bachelor's degree. In addition, you will need to complete a teacher certification program for the state in which you would like to teach. At the end of your certification program, you will be required to take a certification exam, often the PRAXIS, which is offered through the Educational Testing System. Teachers also need to undergo a full background check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


The PRAXIS exam is the standard requirement for teaching ESL in a public school system. The specific PRAXIS exam you will need to take is called "The English to Speakers of Other Languages Test." The test is offered in ETS testing facilities and will take approximately two hours to complete. Broken into two sections, the exam consists of 120 multiple choice questions, including two 15-minute listening sections.

Exam Content

There are four categories of subject matter that you will be tested on in the PRAXIS exam: Foundations of Linguistics and Language Learning, Instruction, Assessment and Cultural Aspects of the Job. The first category weighs most heavily on your final score and is worth 40 percent of the total exam. You can receive your final score online or by phone after you take the test. There is, however, a charge for receiving your scores over the phone. The score minimum required to reach ESL in a public school setting varies from state to state.

Teaching ESL for Higher Education

For most universities, you will need a specific master's degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages to teach ESL in a university setting. Many TESOL degree programs require a Graduate Record Exam score for admission. There are three sections in the GRE: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing. You will not need to take a PRAXIS exam after you've earned your TESOL master's degree in order to teach ESL in a university setting.