How to Become a Foreign Language Instructor



Foreign language instructors can teach at any level, and for virtually any age group. Working as a one can be a great career choice for someone who’s passionate about a language, and equally passionate about sharing it with others.


Below, we’ve outlined everything you need to know to become a foreign language instructor. We’ll show you what employers will be looking for in terms of your education and skill set, as well as what personal traits and qualities you’ll need in order to be effective in this line of work. 


We've also included helpful supplementary information, such as a job description, an overview of the job duties, average salary levels, a list of possible employer types, and more.



Experience You Might Need

Although not always listed as a mandatory requirement on job postings, employers generally prefer to hire candidates for foreign language instruction jobs whom have experience working as a language teacher, translator or interpreter.


Relevant experience can easily be gained while you’re a student. If you’re in an education program, you will have to complete a practicum or work placement, which can count as work experience. 


Success Tip: If you’re not in an education program, or if you are and are looking for additional experience, it can be gained working as a private tutor, or as a teacher’s assistant.



Educational Requirements for Becoming a Foreign Language Instructor

The educational requirements you’ll need to meet will vary, primarily based on the level at which you will be teaching. Below, we’ve outlined the typical requirements for each level:


Elementary, Middle and High School: To teach a foreign or second language in a public or private elementary, middle or high school, you will need to be a certified teacher, and fluent in the language that you will be teaching. Becoming a teacher will involve earning bachelor’s in education, as well as passing a certification exam administered by the province/state in which you wish to teach. 


Post-Secondary (University/College): Teaching a foreign language at the college or university level will require either a mater’s or doctoral degree in education with a high level of proficiency in your subject language, or a master’s/doctoral degree in that language.


Casual, Non-Credited Classes/Adult Education: The requirements at this level can vary wieldy; most employers will require that you have a bachelor’s degree in teaching, as well as a native or near-native understanding of the subject language. Others might only require that you have casual teaching or private tutoring experience, combined with a near-native or native understanding of the language.





Skills Needed to Be Successful

To truly be effective and successful as a foreign language instructor, you’ll need to have skills beyond subject-language fluency. Such skills include:


• The ability to create an environment in which students feel comfortable and will participate

• A clear speaking voice 

• Knowledge of pedagogy and teaching methods 

• Knowledge of various elements of the culture(s) related to the language, such as government, food, family life, favourite pastimes, and others



More About This Career: General Job Description

Foreign language instructors (also known as “language teachers”) are responsible for teaching secondary languages to students whom have varying levels of exposure to that language. They can teach at a variety of levels, including pre-school, primary and secondary school, college and university, as well as casual/non-credited.



Overview of the Typical Job Duties

As with most other professions, the job duties of foreign language instructors can vary from job to job. In general however, they are responsible for the following:


• Instructing groups or individuals

• Performing classroom management duties, including behaviour supervision and roll call

• Organizing social and cultural activities such as sports competitions, dinners and excursions

• Developing a curriculum, or following one that’s established

• Maintaining records, such as those pertaining to student progress and examination results

• Providing feedback based on results, and proposing methods for developmental improvement if necessary

• Planning, preparing and delivering lessons to students of different ages and skill levels

• Preparing and administering tests and examinations

• Traveling to and from the client’s location, or working around their schedule

• May be responsible for performing marketing duties for the program with which they work, or for themselves, if self-employed





Important Personal Traits and Qualities

By now, you should have a good sense of what foreign/secondary language instructors do for a living, and what you’ll need to become one. But to enjoy your work, and be effective at it, you’ll also need to be a good fit for it, and vice-versa. Having the following personal traits and qualities should go long way towards ensuring your success and fulfillment:


• A genuine interest in, and respect for, your students 

• A keen interest in language, particularly the subject language 

• Imagination, creativity and enthusiasm, with regard to preparing and implementing lesson plans

• Interest in the idea of supervising and evaluating students, and monitoring their progress

• You’re comfortable with public speaking 

• You enjoy finding different ways to present information

• You can remain patient and calm when students struggle with the lessons 



Average Salary Level 

The actual wages and salaries of foreign language instructors can vary greatly, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education and experience

• The amount of responsibility inherent in their job

• The size of their student base

• The size and type of their employer, or whether or not they're self-employed

• The region in which they work

• The level at which they’re teaching 


Foreign Language Instructor Salary - Canada: According to the Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the average salary level of Albertans working in the closely related occupational field of “College and other vocational instructors” is $67,814 per year, while those in the “Secondary school teachers” group earn an average of $73,966 per year. Unfortunately, there were no figures available from reliable sources for the rest of Canada at the time of writing (July 16, 2019). 


United States: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary level of Americans working in the “Foreign Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary” occupational group is $79,160 per year, and the median salary of those working in the “High school teachers” group is $60,320 per year (May, 2018 figures).



Who Employs Them?

Foreign/secondary language instructors are often employed by elementary, middle and high schools, as well as colleges and universities. They can also be employed with private companies that specialize in language instruction, private tutoring companies, or non-profit organizations that are involved with teaching language and literacy skills.


Foreign language instructors can also be self-employed, and work as private tutors (internet-based and locally), or can work as industry consultants.



Foreign Language Instructor Jobs - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has foreign language instructor job postings in your area (when available). Give it a try to see if there are any positions that interest you:



Some Career Advancement Possibilities 

There are numerous ways to grow within a career as a foreign or second language instructor. A common path to take would be to advance within your chosen level of instruction.


For example, if teaching at the elementary, middle or high school level, your career could advance by becoming a department head, or moving into an administrative role.


If you’re instructing at the college or university level, you could earn a permanent or tenured position, which would come with increased responsibility, pay and benefits. At this level, you could also eventually move into a leadership position, such as becoming a department chair, or an academic dean.


Teaching at the casual or non-credited/adult education level could involve taking on more private customers, charging higher rates, or employing others within your service. 


Alternatively, another career advancement path would be to move into a higher level of instruction (which may require additional education). You could also combine roles, and ‘moonlight’ as a private tutor or aspiring language instruction company owner, while working as a language teacher during the day.



Similar Occupational Guides in Our System

Listed below are occupational guides in our system that are similar in nature to this one. We've chosen these because they require many of the same skills, interests and competencies, and involve many of the same responsibilities:


Adult Education Instructor

• Elementary School Teacher 

• English Teacher Abroad

• ESL Teacher 

• High School Teacher

• Translator

• Tutor

• University or College Professor 



References for This Career Guide

The following sources were referenced in the preparation of this career guide. Please visit them to learn more about the various aspects of this profession.


Occupational Profiles:English as a Second Language Teacher - Adults.” (March 9, 2016). Alberta Learning & Information Service - Government of Alberta. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

Occupational Profiles: “Secondary School Teachers.” (February 1, 2012). Alberta Learning & Information Service - Government of Alberta. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

Occupational Employment Statistics:Foreign Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary.” (March 29, 2019). United States Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

Occupational Outlook Handbook: “High School Teachers.” (June 24, 2019). United States Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

Blog - Teaching Careers:Postsecondary Foreign Language Teacher - Education and Career Info.” Robbie Bruens (October 4, 2012.). Concordia University - Portland. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

Career Advice:Why I Used to Think Being a Foreign Language Teacher Was the Loneliest Job.” Colleen Haggarty (April 18, 2018). We Are Teachers. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

Blog - Colleges:Becoming a Foreign Language Teacher.” (January 3, 2018). Peterson’s. Retrieved July 16, 2019.


Please Note: Many actual job postings were referenced in the preparation of this career guide. However, due to the brief nature of their online presence, they are not listed here as cited references.



Scholarships for Becoming a Foreign Language Instructor

All of the scholarships found on our Linguistics Scholarships, French Scholarships, and Educations Scholarships pages are relevant for becoming a foreign language instructor.


Success Tip: You may be more qualified for the awards you find than you think - millions of dollars of unused scholarship money goes to waste in North America every year. Be sure to apply to any for which you are even remotely qualified!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below will serve as an excellent educational foundation for this career:


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