English as a Second Language Teacher - Adults

English as a second language (ESL) teachers provide English language and life skills instruction to immigrants, international students and others whose first language is not English.

Also Known As:Educator, Instructor, Teacher
NOC Number(s):4131
Minimum Education:Education/training requirements vary
Employment Outlook:Job openings: turnover plus new jobs due to above average growth in occupation in Alberta 2013-2017
Interests:I D S

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ESL- Adults

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study


The main objective of ESL instruction is to develop the second language proficiency of new immigrants and international students to the point where they can participate effectively in an English speaking environment. Traditionally, ESL programs have been designed to improve the following skills:

  • listening comprehension
  • reading comprehension
  • pronunciation and intonation
  • oral fluency
  • writing and composition
  • grammar and vocabulary
  • communication and learning strategies.

Beginning ESL courses generally focus on topics that help newcomers participate in their communities or help overseas students begin to develop basic English proficiency. For example, themes for new immigrants may include:

  • renting accommodation
  • using public transportation
  • banking and shopping
  • using telephones
  • health or medical care
  • travel
  • making friends
  • citizenship education.

Cultural orientation as well as language instruction is provided to help students adjust to Canadian life as quickly and successfully as possible. Field trips (to banks, grocery stores, shopping malls, cultural and job sites), guest speakers and research projects help immigrants learn about their new country and share aspects of their own culture and country.

Intermediate and advanced level classes generally focus on improving fluency and communication skills, and providing transitional support for those wishing to go on to further training or educational opportunities. International students often plan to return to their own countries but expect to use English for personal development, to complement studies in their home countries or for business and commerce.

ESL classes may include an employment component with topics such as interview strategies, work vocabulary and workplace communication strategies. Some ESL classes are designed specifically to help people prepare for work in particular types of workplaces or occupations, or to prepare for further education.

Working Conditions

Hours and classroom facilities vary greatly. Classes may be taught:

  • in academic environments (public schools, language centres, post-secondary institutions, private institutes)
  • in community facilities (community centres, churches, temples, synagogues)
  • at job sites (factories, hospitals, hotels, offices).

Class sizes vary from one to one tutoring situations to academic classes of 20 or more students.

Personal Characteristics

ESL teachers need the following characteristics:

  • excellent communication skills
  • an interest in language
  • imagination, energy, creativity, patience, enthusiasm, commitment and adaptability
  • a sense of humour
  • the ability to work well in a multicultural environment and demonstrate respect for other values and cultures
  • the ability to create an environment in which students feel comfortable and will participate
  • the ability to make classes relevant to the needs and interests of diverse groups.

They should enjoy co-ordinating information and preparing teaching materials, supervising and evaluating student progress, and helping others.

Educational Requirements

No consistent academic requirement has been established for teachers of adult ESL classes. Each employer sets its own hiring policies, requirements and standards. Consequently, required qualifications vary greatly. However, many employers prefer to hire applicants who have a bachelor's degree and accreditation from Alberta Teachers of English as a Second Language (ATESL) or TESL Canada (Teaching English as a Second Language in Canada).

It is not necessary to be fluent in another language to teach adult ESL, although learning a second language does provide insight into the language learning process.

Work related expertise is required to teach courses that are designed to prepare people for work in particular types of workplaces or occupations.

Accreditation requirements for ATESL members include:

  • a bachelor's degree
  • a diploma program in ESL instruction which includes at least 250 hours of TESL related course work at the senior undergraduate or postgraduate level from a recognized post-secondary institution
  • 250 hours of classroom ESL teaching experience.

Accreditation requirements for TESL Canada members include a university degree and instruction in methodology and theory, a supervised adult ESL classroom practicum and a minimum number of hours of teaching experience:

  • Professional Standard I requires a bachelor's degree, 100 hours of methodology and theory, 20 hours practicum, 1,000 hours of teaching experience and positive performance reviews.
  • Professional Standard II requires a bachelor's degree, 250 hours of methodology and theory, 20 hours of practicum, 1,500 hours of teaching experience and positive performance reviews.
  • Professional Standard III requires a master's degree in applied linguistics or TESOL and 20 hours practicum (or a Professional Standard I or II with a master's degree in a related field), 2,000 hours of teaching experience and positive performance reviews.

Professional Standard I is entry level. Employment in Canada often requires Professional Level II.

Both ATESL and TESL Canada offer interim accreditation to recent graduates of ESL training programs which can become permanent when the required hours of teaching experience have been reached.

School boards and most post-secondary institutions require a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree or teacher's certificate with a specialization in teaching English as a second language (TESL). Some institutions require a graduate diploma or master's degree in TESL or applied linguistics. For information about B.Ed. degree programs, see the Elementary School Teacher and Secondary School Teacher occupational profiles.

In Alberta, the following institutions offer training programs that may lead to ATESL or TESL Canada accreditation:

  • The University of Alberta in Edmonton offers Teaching English as a Second Language diploma program and a course-based Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree program and a PhD program. The entrance requirement, for both the diploma and master's programs, is a bachelor's degree including other specific prerequisite courses.
  • The University of Calgary offers Teaching English as a Second Language diploma programs, and M.Ed., Master of Arts, Doctor of Education and PhD degree programs. The entrance requirement is a bachelor's degree with a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0/4 including other specific prerequisite courses.

The above diploma programs meet requirements for TESL Canada Professional Standard II and the master's degree programs meet requirements for Professional Standard III.

TESL Canada (but not ATESL) also accredits graduates of the ACE TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate program offered at Mount Royal University in Calgary. This program meets Professional Standard I requirements. Applicants must have a university degree.

For current information about programs, admission requirements and mature student admission policies, please check post-secondary calendars or websites.

Other private and public post-secondary institutions may offer short training courses for people planning to teach English as a second language overseas.

Employment and Advancement

Adult ESL classes are taught in:

  • universities
  • colleges
  • private schools
  • community centres
  • churches, synagogues and temples  
  • agencies and organizations serving immigrants.

There are few permanent teaching positions available in this occupation. For most ESL teachers, work tends to be on a short term contract basis or part time.

ESL teachers are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 4131: College and Other Vocational Instructors.  In Alberta, 78 per cent of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Over 9,800 Albertans are employed in the College and Other Vocational occupational group which is expected to have an annual above average growth of 2.7 per cent from 2013 to 2017 in Alberta. It is forecasted that about 264 new positions will be created each year in addition to job openings created by employment turnover. (Note: Since ESL teachers form only a part of the larger occupational group on which this forecast is based, only a portion of the new positions created will be for ESL teachers.)

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Section revised November 2013


Many ESL teachers are paid by the hour. They may be paid for actual classroom teaching time (contact hours) and not for the substantial amount of time they spend preparing. Some teachers are hired on short-term or sessional contracts; others have permanent positions with benefits and a negotiated pay grid.

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the College and Other Vocational Instructors occupational group earned on average from $27.21 to $38.36 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $34.27 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

Section revised February 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website:

Alberta Teachers of English as a Second Language (ATESL) website:

TESL Canada (Teaching English as a Second Language in Canada) website:

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) website:

Related Occupational Profiles
College, Technical or Vocational Instructor
Language Interpreter
Secondary School Teacher
Training and Development Professional

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; Health, Recreation and Human Services (Human and Social Services); Languages (other than English); and Science

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Education and Library Studies; and Humanities and Languages

Produced December 2011
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For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.

Government of Alberta, Human Services