Bilingual Teacher Career Guide

A bilingual teacher typically leads a classroom of students who are learning to speak 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 one, and the salary and job outlook for bilingual teachers.

Bilingual Teacher Job Description

The ability to speak a language other than English allows a bilingual teacher to communicate and interact more effectively with students who are not fluent in English. This relationship helps students integrate more easily and comfortably into the school environment. Bilingual teachers additionally help students acclimate to the culture, especially for students who have transferred from an education system in another country. A bilingual teacher 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 native English-speaking and ESL students learn together, or in which native English-speaking students work to learn a second language.

Bilingual Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Bilingual teachers typically must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field such as the second language to be used in teaching. Bilingual instructors should also hold certification in the additional languages he or she speaks if they are not native speakers. 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 the other 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, like all teachers, must maintain control in the classroom and keep the students focused. In order to help students be successful, 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 in a public school 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. Multilingual 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. Typically, students on either path will take two years of general education courses before beginning education 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, or those who are native speakers of a language other than English, 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 usually expect the same salary levels as teachers in other subjects. For elementary school teachers, the median salary was $61,690 per year as of 2022, with job growth prospects of 4% from 2021 to 2031.1,2 During the same time period, middle school teachers earned a median annual salary of $61,810, with a projected job growth rate of 4% through 2031.3,4 High school teachers earned an average median salary of $61,820 and can expect job growth of 5% through 2031.5,6 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 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 in the school environment due to a lack of resources and bilingual instructors.6

Helpful Skills and Experience

Bilingual teachers must have excellent communication skills both in English and in the other 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 non-English language is preferred by many schools seeking bilingual teachers.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Answer: A bilingual teacher in a public school must typically have state teaching certification that includes subject area endorsements in teaching English Language Learners and another 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 industries 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 typically given as students advance. That is why it is crucial for bilingual teachers to be fluent in both languages being used.

Question: What are the most common languages for bilingual teachers in the United States?

Answer: According to NABE, the majority of US dual language teachers instruct in Spanish/English; however, there are also dual language programs available across the US in German/English, French/English, Chinese/English, Vietnamese/English, Navajo/English, Apachi/English, and more.

1. 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. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252022.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252031.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm