Bilingual Teacher Career Guide

A bilingual teacher typically leads a classroom of students who speak or are learning English as a second language. These learners are known as English as a Second Language (ESL) students or English Language Learners (ELLs). In school districts that have a high percentage of ELLs, bilingual teachers who speak a student’s native language can offer personalized instruction that a teacher who only speaks English cannot. This guide provides further information on what bilingual teachers do, how to become a bilingual teacher, and bilingual teacher salary and outlook.

Bilingual Teacher Job Description

The ability to speak another language allows a bilingual teacher to communicate and interact more effectively with students who are not fluent in English. This helps students integrate more easily and comfortably into the school environment. Bilingual teachers additionally help students acclimate to the culture, especially when students have transferred from an education system in another country. A bilingual teacher still handles all the duties and responsibilities of a regular teacher, including creating lesson plans, leading class activities, and grading assignments. A bilingual teacher also meets with students’ parents, who may have limited or no English proficiency. Bilingual teachers may also lead immersion programs in which English-speaking and ESL students learn together, or in which English-speaking students work to learn a second language.

Bilingual Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Bilingual teachers must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field such as the second language to be used in teaching. An ELL instructor should also hold certification in the additional languages he or she speaks. Bilingual instructors are often expected to teach multiple subjects to ELLs, and as such must be able to teach subject material with clarity and accuracy in both English and their second language. Specific lesson plans could include reading a short story and discussing it with the class. Group activities have also been proven to be very helpful in integrating non-English speakers. Additionally, bilingual teachers must control the class and keep the students focused. In order to help students reach success, the bilingual teacher must identify students who underperform in English and provide or arrange for additional instruction.

How to Become a Bilingual Teacher

The first step to becoming a bilingual teacher is earning a bachelor’s degree with a teacher preparation program that qualifies students to pursue state-level certification. To qualify for teacher certification, such a program must typically be approved by its state’s board of education for the preparation of teachers. Prospective bilingual teachers typically earn a degree in teaching English as a second language supplemented by courses in education. Multi-lingual teachers who want to teach a specific subject, such as chemistry, in more than one language will typically major in that subject as well as take a second major in the other language spoken. Typically, students on either path will take two years of general education courses before beginning teaching courses and higher-level language courses. During the junior and senior years of college, prospective bilingual teachers will participate in classroom observations and undertake a student teaching engagement, usually for at least one semester. The common pathway to becoming a bilingual teacher is as follows:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a second language or a related field that includes a teacher preparation program.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship in an ESL or bilingual classroom setting.
  3. Take your state’s required tests for teacher certification.
  4. Apply for your teaching license.
  5. Begin applying for open bilingual teacher jobs.

In many states, especially those in which bilingual education has been identified as a high-need area, there are alternative pathways to licensure. One such alternative pathway is to earn a master’s degree in education. Those who have achieved fluency in a second language in another career, such as translation, may be eligible to pursue other pathways to certification; some certification requirements are typically exempted for transitioning teachers in high-need areas.

Bilingual Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

A bilingual teacher can expect the same salary levels as teachers in other subjects. For kindergarten and elementary school teachers, the average salary is $54,550 per year with job growth prospects of 6% from 2014 to 2024.1 Middle school teachers earn an average annual salary of $55,860 and also have a projected job growth rate of 6% from 2014 to 2024.2 High school teachers earn an average annual salary of $57,200 and can expect job growth of 6% from 2014 to 2024.3 According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, prospective teachers specializing in bilingual and English as a Second Language education may have stronger job prospects as there are many non-English speaking students struggling to integrate due to a lack of resources and bilingual instructors.3

Helpful Skills and Experience

Bilingual teachers must have excellent communication skills in English and in the second language being used in the classroom. Patience and persistence with students, especially those who are struggling to learn new material and acclimate to a new culture, are must-haves for prospective teachers. Previous classroom experience, preferably in a bilingual environment, is helpful for beginning teachers. Advanced education such as a master’s degree in a second language is preferred by many schools seeking bilingual teachers.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Bilingual Educator
  • English Language Learner (ELL) Teacher
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher
  • Teacher of English as a Second Language (TESOL)
  • Teacher of Foreign Languages (TEFL)

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Bilingual Teacher

Question: What certification(s) do I need to become a bilingual teacher?

Answer: A bilingual teacher must typically have state teaching certification that includes subject area endorsements in teaching English Language Learners and the secondary language to be used in the classroom. However, requirements vary by state. Aspiring bilingual educators should check with their state Board of Education or local teacher preparation programs for exact requirements.

Question: What non-traditional career paths are available for bilingual teachers?

Answer: Educators who have fluency in multiple languages are in demand beyond the traditional public classroom. Many bilingual educators pursue teaching English in foreign countries. Bilingual teachers can also find work in government and private industry teaching second languages to adult learners.

Question: How much instruction should a bilingual teacher be prepared to provide in another language?

Answer: The division of instruction in English and a second language varies based on the level of the class being taught, the goals of the curriculum, and students’ abilities. Generally, the goal of bilingual education in US classrooms is to help students achieve fluency in English and meet state standards for core subjects; as a result, more English instruction is given as students advance. Bilingual teachers must have fluency in both languages being used.

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