The Basics of ESL Teaching

by Fae Esperas

English as Second Language (more popularly known as ESL) is probably the most in-demand type of teaching job abroad. Mainly due to the growing number of individuals who are eager to speak English fluently. With English acting as the world's universal language, knowing how to speak it and use it properly not only opens doors to global communication and work abroad, but also to opportunities for professional and social development. Those who land decent work positions, receive good pay, and suffer from relatively less stress compared to teaching classroom English to native speakers.

Beginner ESL Students with Their Foreign Teacher
Beginner ESL Students with Their Foreign Teacher. Photo by Mark Tang

Types of ESL Teachers

Just like in regular classroom settings, ESL students vary in learning levels and abilities. Hence, teachers must focus on a particular student audience, depending on their expertise and comfort. Students at ESL schools range from kids and teenagers to adults and even senior citizens. These schools offer a good opportunity for teachers to choose which specific learning level to concentrate on. Teachers can choose the age range which they feel best fits their teaching style and who they will work the best with. It is important to make this determination because it defines the strength of a teacher in ESL teaching. One of the highly essential components of ESL teaching is being comfortable with the student audience, so the teacher is able to utilize their language skills to the fullest.

Student Types

There are no defined student brackets in ESL teaching, as the learning levels of students may go far beyond age. However, if pursuing an ESL career the following types of students are usually what individuals encounter.


Beginner students are those who are new to the English language. Primarily, these are kids who are very young, such as those in kindergarten or in their first years of elementary school. these students are easier to teach, in the sense that they are just being introduced to the basics of the English language. Therefore, these students aren’t frequently challenging their teacher’s abilities because courses begin with things as basic as the alphabet. Younger children are also better at following verbal instructions, as their attention is more focused on what the teacher is saying since they see more authority in their teachers.

There are also beginner ESL students who are already adults. These include individuals who migrated to the United States or another English-speaking country later in life and want to develop their ability to communicate locally. Although considered beginners, these students are a bit more difficult to teach in comparison to children because they are already fluent in their mother tongue. It takes them more time to translate the language and develop their skills, and they often times feel frustrated when faced with the inevitable challenges of learning a new language. Not to mention it is scientifically proven that learning a language at an older age is actually harder.


Intermediate learners are those already studying English in school or private lessons. These include older grade schoolers up to college level students. Individuals at this level are among the best students to teach, because it isn’t as difficult to communicate with them in English.

Intermediate English speakers tend to struggle most with grammar and diction, more than basic verbal communication. The great thing about this level is they are eager to use the lessons they have learned in school, so the role of an ESL teacher becomes enhancement of communication skills alone. These students can be taught through casual conversations, so it will be easy to see how far they are in terms of embracing the English language and fluently conversing.

Business ESL

Students in Business ESL courses are most often business professionals who want to learn more about the English language for work purposes. These include high ranking employees, CEOs, and business leaders who are trying to penetrate into English-speaking markets but are hindered by their language capabilities. This group also includes those interested in attaining a position in English speaking companies or countries, but need to improve their abilities to meet the application or company requirements.

In these courses formal English is taught, such as vocabulary and topics used for corporate communications. Basics of global business etiquette may also be covered as well, since it goes hand in hand with socializing in business circles.

How to prepare

When preparing for a career in ESL teaching abroad, the first thing you want to do is brush up on your English communication skills. This is very important as you may not want to stutter or stammer when handling a room full of students. English communication refresher courses won’t hurt either, unless you are a native English speaker. Taking a certification course or attaining a TOEFL or TEFL certification will be greatly beneficial in the job market, and they will also test your skills. Passing TOEFL and TEFL exams and becoming certified will increase your chances of getting hired as an ESL teacher abroad, as employers look at these scores to determine whether or not you are fit for the job.