Bilingual Teacher: Job Description & Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a bilingual teacher. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information, and experience you will need to start a career as a bilingual teacher.

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Should I Become a Bilingual Teacher?

Bilingual teachers typically teach English to students whose primary language is not English. Bilingual teachers may choose to teach either children or adults and may work in a variety of environments, including school classrooms and continuing education programs at community colleges or universities. They may also work at prisons and community learning centers. Oftentimes, adult students are eager to learn, which can make bilingual teacher jobs rewarding. A bilingual teacher job description often includes evening work to accommodate any students with jobs.

Degree Level Bachelor's; master's preferred in some positions
Degree Field Biligual or bicultural education, elementary education, education
Licensure/Certification Licensure varies; TESOL and/or ESL certification required
Key Skills Communication skills, cultural sensitivity, patience, creativity, knowledge of computer-based training software
Median Salary (2019)* $54,350 (for adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers and instructors, including ESL teachers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Individuals who wish to be bilingual teachers at any level must typically earn a bachelor's degree in education or early childhood education. Some universities offer undergraduate programs in bilingual and bi-cultural education. Individuals who participate in such a program typically take courses in literacy instruction, evaluation, diagnostic assessment, teaching methods, and curriculum development.

Success Tip:

To help with employment opportunities, bilingual teachers should strive to become fluent in a second language. While some employers hire bilingual teachers who speak only in English, it may be beneficial for a bilingual teacher to have the ability to communicate in the language of the students he or she will eventually serve. Many undergraduate degrees require classes in foreign language as an integral part of a degree program.

Step 2: Obtain a Master's Degree

While some schools employ bilingual teachers who have a bachelor's degree, other employers require a master's degree, especially for teachers working in a university or community college setting. Such a degree program might include courses in the following topics as they relate to bilingual education:

  • Program development
  • Bi-literacy
  • Teaching English as a second language
  • Language acquisition
  • Linguistics

Master's candidates may also be required to write a thesis paper.

Success Tip:

To gain experience along the way, aspiring bilingual teachers can complete a practicum. Many academic programs require teaching students to complete an internship or practicum as part of their training. An individual who participates in a practicum typically observes a classroom led by a master teacher. A practicum may help a prospective teacher become more familiar with the teaching profession.

Step 3: Become Certified

Individuals who wish to become qualified as bilingual teachers typically need to attain certification in one or more areas. Educators who wish to teach adults are commonly required to earn certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Teachers in public schools will typically become certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) by the state in which they practice their profession. Some states require special credentials on top of regular teaching licensing for bilingual teachers. For example, California bilingual teachers must have English learner authorization and complete a bilingual authorization program.

Step 4: Join a Professional Organization for Bilingual Teachers

Prospective teachers about to enter the workforce may find it beneficial to join a professional organization for bilingual teachers, such as the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE). NABE offers continuing education and networking opportunities for bilingual teachers, as well as a job board which may be useful for researching potential employers.

In summary, bilingual teachers often teach students whose first language is not English, so they should consider learning a second language while pursuing a degree in education to help with employment opportunities.

A bilingual teacher works with students who are learning a second language


Can I Become a Bilingual Teacher Without a Master's Degree?

In some cases, being a bilingual teacher does not require extensive education or certification. If you are interested in teaching English abroad, for instance, you will generally only need a bachelor's degree and sometimes a TEFL or TESOL certification. The salary for international English teachers is highly variable and will depend on the country in which you choose to teach. Teaching English internationally comes with its own set of challenges, but it can be a rewarding alternative for those who are not yet able to pursue a master's degree or who want to gain teaching experience.

What Does a Bilingual Teacher Do?

What exactly does a bilingual teacher do? Bilingual teachers work with students of various ages and teach them English (or, in some cases, teach students who already speak English another language). Bilingual teachers generally work in classroom settings, though they may do so in a school, in an extra-curricular program, or in their own private practice. Teachers will usually need to do some or all of the following:

  • Develop lesson plans and curricula for students
  • Create age- and level-appropriate activities
  • Establish rules in the classroom (for example, English being the only permissible language)
  • Speak clearly and expressively
  • Explain English grammar, spelling, and vocabulary concepts to students
  • Work with students on concepts they are struggling with
  • Assign and grade essays and other work

What Skills Should a Bilingual Teacher Have?

Traits and skills that bilingual teachers should cultivate in order to succeed in their careers include:

  • Patience
  • Compassion
  • Understanding of cultural differences
  • Positive attitude
  • High energy levels
  • Knowledge of English grammar
  • Ability to work with young children, in some cases
  • Adaptability

What Kinds of Bilingual Teachers Are There?

This article has focused primarily on people who speak English as their native language who then go on to teach English to others. However, there are many other kinds of bilingual teachers. Some teach English speakers another language like Spanish, French, or Mandarin. Some work in schools as French or Spanish immersion teachers, delivering students' entire curricula in a language other than English. Others work as tutors to help students with languages that they are learning in school. The important thing about being a bilingual teacher is being fluent in the language that you want to teach. In many cases, it is not essential for bilingual teachers to be bilingual themselves, as their students will likely be learning their target language in an immersion environment.

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