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What is ESL? Who are ESL Students? Reasons for Teaching ESL?

Updated on January 25, 2013

What is ESL?

ESL or English as a Second Language is taught in many countries world wide.
ESL or English as a Second Language is taught in many countries world wide. | Source

Define ESL

You might have heard the term ESL from a friend or stumbled upon it in internet searches. You may have read an article that mentioned ESL. For me it was the other way around. A little old Chinese woman put an idea in my head and a few Google searches later I discovered the term ESL. After hearing or reading this mysterious term for the first time you might be asking what is ESL?

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. The term ESL refers to the growing global industry built around teaching English as a Second Language to ESL students in many different countries. ESL is a big business. English is either an official language or a dominant language in many countries around the world. English has been listed as the third most common language behind Chinese and Spanish. English is the reigning language of worldwide business and trade. The ESL industry has grown in many countries due to this popularity of English.

Who are ESL students?

Often ESL students are working profesionals who are studying English in order to advance their career.
Often ESL students are working profesionals who are studying English in order to advance their career. | Source
Many ESL students are are college students who want to study abroad.
Many ESL students are are college students who want to study abroad. | Source
ESL students might be children whose parents believe that learning English will create oppotunities for their child.
ESL students might be children whose parents believe that learning English will create oppotunities for their child. | Source

Who are ESL Students?

ESL is taught in many countries for many different reasons. These are some of the most common reasons that people choose to study ESL.

  • Business people in many countries study ESL. There is no single professional group or job that requires people to learn English. Adult ESL students might be accountants, automotive engineers, quality control specialists, buyers or merchandisers. Often someone's employer may require them to learn English. This varies based on the needs of the situation. Many companies operate in more than one country and often there is need for communication between offices. Often these ESL students are learning English not to communicate with native speakers but with people for whom English is also a second language. In other cases the employee may not be required to study English but may work for a company that offers incentives such as a higher pay grade or the possibility of promotion for those who can prove English proficiency.

  • High school and College students who are planning to study abroad may choose to study ESL. Many ESL students are preparing for tests such as the GRE, the TOEFL or the IELTS. ESL students taking the GRE or TOEFL tests are generally interested in study in America. Students studying for the IELTS may be interested in any English speaking country. There are two versions of the IELTS. The first version is for general immigration. The second is for academics.

  • Children in many countries are often ESL students. Many parents believe that learning English will improve their children's opportunities in life. Because of this there are many public schools including middle schools, primary schools and kindergartens that offer ESL classes for their students.

  • Non-native speakers who are already living in a country where English is a dominant or official language often will take ESL classes.

  • People who are interested in or enjoy learning a second language. While this group is likely the smallest there are some people who study English for no other reason than they enjoy it.

Where is ESL taught?

There are many countries where ESL is taught. Some of the biggest ESL markets are in Asia, most notably China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Thailand. ESL is also taught in many middle eastern countries. There is a growing ESL market in South American Countries. There are even many European countries where ESL is taught.

What Kind of Schools is ESL Taught In?

ESL classes may be given in public schools starting from kindergarten through high school. There are many colleges which offer ESL classes. These classes may be given for general students or for English language majors. Most often ESL is taught in private language schools and training centers. It is not uncommon for young students to receive English classes while attending public school and at the same time take classes from a private training center.

Why Teach ESL?

Teaching ESL allows you to travel and see parts of the world you may not otherwise see. It is a great experience. Whether you choose to teach for only a year or make a career out of it you'll never forget it.
Teaching ESL allows you to travel and see parts of the world you may not otherwise see. It is a great experience. Whether you choose to teach for only a year or make a career out of it you'll never forget it. | Source

What Kind of Person Teaches ESL?

Teaching ESL is an attractive career to many people from various backgrounds. The concept of learning through immersion, for good or bad, is largely driving the trend toward hiring foreign experts from countries where English is spoken as a native language. There may be a preference in some schools or countries for hiring teachers who come from the United States, the U. K., Canada or Australia but foreign experts may come from any country where English is the native language.

For some people who work as foreign experts, teaching is their career of choice. Many of these ESL teachers plan to eventually teach in their home country but are seeking the opportunity to explore another culture first. For others the lure of teaching abroad is too much for them to consider the possibility of returning home. Many ESL teachers intend to seek other careers but choose to teach ESL simply as a means to allow them the opportunity to travel to and live in another country. A few have simply yet to decide what it is they want to do with their lives. For some teaching ESL is a method for paying off student loans or saving up money to pay for postgraduate school.

What are the Requirements For Being an ESL Teacher

ESL markets are as varied in their requirements for foreign ESL teachers as they are diverse. In most of main land China the requirements for teaching ESL vary but are generally low. Some foreign teachers have little more than a high school diploma while others have ESL certifications in addition to bachelor’s degrees. Areas such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai have greater competition which results in higher requirements. These areas tend to have higher salaries for ESL teachers but it is also more difficult to get a job there than in other areas.Taiwan requires a minimum of an associate's degree in any field but only from accredited colleges which they recognize. Teaching in South Korea, considered one of the more lucrative locations, requires a Bachelor’s degree in any field and an ESL certification from a recognised school.

Copyright Notice

© Copyright 2012. Wesley Meacham- This article is copyright protected and is the property of Wesley Meacham. All images in this article, unless otherwise stated, are the property of Wesley Meacham. Please do not copy this article in whole or in part without giving credit to the original author.

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    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Hi, Wesley!

      As busy as you are with your traveling and teaching, it's nice to see that you find time to write. This is a wonderful piece about a subject many of us Americans take for granted.

      I wanted to share with you, Wesley, that my daughter--who has just finished her freshman year at the local university--will be serving as a student missionary in Cambodia for the next nine months. She and a fellow female student will be teaching grade and high school students math and English. In a sense, then, she will be engaged in ESL by way of instant immersion, learning Cambodian as well as teaching English "by the seat of her pants" rather than after having a formal ESL certification education. I imagine these "old school" kinds of teaching still occur in the world and may have "their own place" in the big scheme of things. Anyway, just wanted to share this tidbit with you.

      Thanks, Wesley, for a wonderful read. Best wishes to you for continued success in the good work that you are doing in China.

    • jojo29 profile image

      Jane Boucheirre 5 years ago from CA

      this is very informative, indeed