Foreign Language Teacher Certification

Parlez-vous francais? Hablas Espanol? In an increasingly connected world, speaking French, Spanish or another foreign language is a necessary skill for the next generation of American students. Studies show foreign language instruction correlates with higher standardized test scores and higher overall academic achievement, even at the college level (ACTFL, 2018). Teaching a foreign language is an opportunity to pursue a personal passion, develop international goodwill, and help U.S. students compete in a global economy.

Foreign Language Teaching Job Description

Foreign language teachers plan and implement grade-level appropriate instruction in the target language. Instruction generally focuses on learning to read, write and speak the language. Foreign language teachers also instruct students in the history and culture of the countries where the target language is spoken. They encourage respect for and interest in other cultures, and they promote the idea that U.S. students are ambassadors of American culture when interacting with people of other cultures.

Language teachers may travel from classroom to classroom or have their own classroom. Many foreign language teachers also sponsor language-related extracurricular activities such as language clubs or trips abroad. Foreign languages are taught at all grade levels from pre-K through high school. In many schools, the menu of language choices has expanded from the traditional French and Spanish to include a host of other options such as Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Italian.

Foreign Language Teaching Requirements

Foreign language teachers must be fluent in their target language and knowledgeable about the history and cultures of the countries where the language is spoken. Foreign language teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree, typically in elementary or secondary foreign language education. Many have a master's degree or other graduate level coursework. Some degree programs require a passing score on an oral language proficiency exam by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language.

All 50 states require that foreign language teachers be licensed. Exact requirements vary, so you should check with your state department of education for more information. Basic licensing requirements include a bachelor's degree, a student teaching internship and a passing score on a national competency exam such as the Praxis I.

Foreign Language Teaching Career Outlook

While the job outlook for all language teachers is high, foreign language teachers may be needed in some states more than others. In 2017, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages reported that for the third year in a row 40 states experienced a shortage of language teachers on par with key subjects like science, math and special education.

The job outlook for foreign language teachers also depends upon your language specialty. For example, the American Association for Employment in Education reported in 2016 that there is a shortage of nearly all qualified language teachers, with the highest considerable shortage in Chinese,  Japanese and Greek language teachers. The supply and demand of candidates for classic languages like Spanish, French and German are more balanced, but the there is still some shortage.

Foreign language teachers often receive decent pay on par with most teachers, with pay varying due to the level of education you teach. For example, the average salary for elementary teachers in 2017 was $57,160 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Middle school teachers earned an average of $57,720 whereas high school teachers pulled in an average $59,170 (BLS, 2017).

Foreign language teachers at the college level, however, may earn the highest salary. Teachers at this level may be required to earn a graduate degree or even teach a course like sign language, and the BLS reports a median annual wage of $75,950 per year. The states with the highest need of foreign language teachers at this level include:

  • California
  • New Jersey
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

Foreign Language Teaching Trends

Foreign language immersion programs are an increasingly popular method for teaching a second language, and according to a 2018 exploration on the benefits of these foreign language programs, immersion education benefits academic achievement and cognitive skills (University of Minnesota, 2018).

First introduced in 1971, total and partial immersion programs are now available in many schools across the country. In immersion programs, teachers speak only the target language to teach core subjects such as English and math. The goal is for students to become fluent in the foreign language as well as English.

Online Foreign Language Teacher Education

If you are fluent in Spanish or French and would like to teach languages to elementary, secondary or postsecondary students, an online foreign language education program can be a convenient, flexible way to earn your degree.

The choices in online foreign language education programs are more limited than in other education specialties, but they do exist. Some of these programs are delivered fully online while others require some on-campus attendance and/or study abroad. Most require that applicants have a bachelor's degree and ability to demonstrate competence (often via a writing sample and an oral reading recording) in their target language.

Typical online coursework includes:

  • Foreign language teaching methodology
  • Linguistics
  • Culture
  • Literature

Some programs also require classroom observations or practice teaching. Most online foreign language education programs take two to two-and-a-half years to complete.

The Department of Distance Education at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces has a useful online self-evaluation to help you determine if you have the skills, personality and resources to succeed in an online degree program.

Online Foreign Language Education Degrees to Consider

Online foreign language programs are available throughout the country, with most coursework split between online and in-person discussion. When choosing the right school for you, consider your online learning needs. Think about which program aligns with your languages and future career goals.

New Mexico State University offers a Master of Arts in teaching with a concentration in Spanish that is available online, on campus or through a combination of the two. It is intended for current Spanish language instructors in public and private schools and community colleges.

Nova Southeastern University in Miami Beach, Florida, offers an online Master of Science in education with a specialization in Spanish. This program teaches skills appropriate for K-12 Spanish teachers, teaching Spanish as a foreign language and Spanish for heritage speakers. A bachelor's degree and some previous knowledge of Spanish are required.

Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, has a Master of Arts in Romance Languages with options to concentrate in French and Spanish college teaching or Spanish K-12 teaching. This is a hybrid program that combines online coursework with on-campus meetings and summer workshops at Appalachian State University at Hickory. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in French or Spanish.

Useful Resources

Below, EducationDegree.com interviews Dr. Joan E. McRae, Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Middle Tennessee State University and a professor of French. In the video, she discusses foreign language teaching and why you should consider getting involved in the field.