Foreign Language Teacher Career Guide

Foreign language teachers aid students in learning a foreign language from the conversational level through fluency. To be successful, a teacher of foreign languages must be fluent in the language(s) to be taught. In this guide, you will find further information on what foreign language teachers do, how to become a foreign language teacher, and foreign language teacher salary and job outlook.

Foreign Language Teacher Job Description

The role of a foreign language teacher is to teach courses in a specific language, which in modern curriculums often includes instruction in literature and cross-cultural studies. Foreign language teachers are masters of their language, demonstrating a high proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking the language they are are teaching. With these skills, instructors create an environment for students to learn effectively. Foreign language teachers usually teach several levels concurrently, from beginning speakers of foreign languages to students who are approaching fluency. Instruction in foreign languages includes vocabulary, grammar, and accent as well as spelling and other mechanics of language.

Foreign Language Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

To enter a career as a foreign language teacher there are certain requirements that must be met. Minimum requirements include a bachelor’s degree in foreign language, linguistics, or a related field, native fluency, an understanding of the culture associated with the language(s) taught, and a strong desire to teach the subject. Like other educators, foreign language teachers are responsible for planning and delivering lessons. At the high school level, foreign language teachers often sponsor and supervise foreign language clubs and related extracurricular activities. Since many students take foreign languages preparatory to applying to college, teachers of foreign languages may take on a mentoring role and participate in the college application process with students. Secondary schools with diverse curriculums may ask teachers of foreign languages to instruct English-speaking classes on the literature and culture in which the teacher is an expert, such as French Literature.

How to Become a Foreign Language Teacher

Along with a bachelor’s degree, an instructor should have the subject endorsements needed to teach a foreign language. This may vary from state to state and it is advisable to check certification requirements in your state prior to committing to a program. Many states have alternative pathways to certification for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree.

The first step for prospective foreign language teachers who have not previously completed a college degree is to enroll in a college or university that has an accredited education program. The process for earning a bachelor’s degree and receiving certification typically takes four to five years. Most students begin by taking two years of general education classes, which encompasses a wide array of classes, including math, English, science, and humanities.

After general education requirements are met, the student must be accepted into the school of education at their college. The student will typically major in the language they want to teach (i.e. Spanish, French, or German) and minor in education. Many programs also require a practicum and student teaching experience. To qualify for teacher certification, students will also need to take the appropriate assessments for basic skills, content knowledge, and teaching proficiency. The classes and certification tests required will vary based on whether the prospective teacher wishes to become certified to teach K-8, secondary, or K-12 grade levels. Some states and school districts have more opportunities for foreign language in middle schools than others. Graduates must then apply to the state to issue a teaching certificate and appropriate subject endorsements.

If a prospective teacher already holds a bachelor’s degree, he or she may apply to graduate school or an alternative teacher preparation program to prepare for a teaching career. The coursework required will depend on the individual’s educational history and experience. If the student already holds a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language, he or she may need to take fewer courses for certification. If the student’s background is not in a teachable foreign language, he or she will need to take enough courses in the specific language to constitute a language concentration according to the state’s requirements. Practicum hours and student teaching may be a requirement for either path.

There are, of course, other paths that a student can take in order to become a foreign language teacher. Requirements to teach college, for example, can be much different than those of the high school or middle school setting. Most colleges require at least a master’s degree to teach a foreign language, while others require a doctoral degree in the specific language to be taught. However, even at the K-12 levels, a graduate degree can be helpful as it provides greater mastery of the language.

Foreign Language Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

As globalization connects different areas of the world, the demand for foreign language teachers is rising. The salary for a foreign language teacher varies depending on the grade level taught and location. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, middle school teachers earn an average salary of $55,860 annually and can expect job growth of 6% from 2014 to 2024.1 High school teachers earn an average of $57,200 per year and can expect job growth of about 6% between 2014 and 2024.2 The increase in job growth is largely anticipated due to increases in student enrollment.1,2 The job market in education will also be driven by the retirement of career teachers.1,2 In addition, many school districts report difficulty in filling positions for teachers of English as a second language, which may represent opportunities for bilingual educators.1

Foreign Language Teacher Career Interviews

Helpful Skills and Experience

While education and state teacher certification are requirements for foreign language teachers, they should also have certain personality traits. Being patient, having a sense of creativity, and possessing the ability to use the latest technology will ensure a productive learning environment for learners of foreign languages. Teachers of foreign languages who have lived abroad in nations that speak the language(s) taught in a study abroad program or who have earned other form of experiential learning will sharpen their skills in the language and may be able to gain a competitive edge in the hiring market.

Additional Resources

  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages draws its membership from educators of all grade levels as well as educators in business and industry. The association aims to improve and expand the learning of foreign languages in the US and provides such member benefits as free subscriptions to language publications, career search resources, and professional development activities.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Foreign Language Teacher

Question: What certifications are needed to become a foreign language teacher?

Answer: To teach in public schools, teachers of foreign languages must hold a teaching credential as well as a subject endorsement in the language(s) taught. Your state Board of Education or local college teacher preparation program can provide additional information on specific requirements for your area. You can also learn more through our guides to traditonal route and alternative route teacher certification.

Question: Is there a difference between teaching a foreign language and ESL/TESOL?

Answer: Teachers of foreign languages typically specialize in teaching native English speakers how to communicate in another language. ESL/TESOL teachers teach native speakers of other languages how to communicate in English. However, depending on the school district and certifications held by the individual educator, a teacher may be both a foreign language teacher and an ESL/TESOL teacher.

Question: What specific tests must a foreign language teacher complete to become certified?

Answer: The tests required vary by state so it is advisable to check with your state Board of Education. However, many states require at least four tests for a foreign language endorsement: the basic teaching skills test; a content area test in the language to be taught; a professional teaching assessment; and an oral proficiency test to assess spoken fluency.

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm