How to Become an English/ESL Tutor

10 minutes • 1 July 2021

Those of us born in the United States may find it challenging to understand that for billions of other people in the world, the ability to speak, read and write English can transform lives.

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English skills open the doors to higher-paying jobs and enable immigrants to assimilate more easily into an English-speaking culture, while enjoying what is usually a higher quality of life.

As an English/ESL tutor, you can enjoy the tremendous professional satisfaction of helping people acquire skills that can empower them to succeed in a new country or open the doors to greater opportunity in their native country, as major corporations now maintain a major multinational presence with offices around the world.

You’ll be able to work with people from all walks of life, learn about their culture and share your own through instruction in English. This is a skill far more valuable than being able to understand Hollywood movies without subtitles or comprehending the lyrics to a hot new hip-hop song. By teaching English as a Second Language you are literally transforming lives for the better. Read on to discover what’s involved in becoming an English/ESL tutor.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as an English/ESL tutor
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for English/ESL tutors
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

English/ESL tutors earn an average income of $20,347 per year, according to a recent survey by GlassDoor. Experienced tutors at the top of the profession make $46,000 a year and up.

If you decide to offer private tutoring in English/ESL you can set your own rates, work as many hours as you wish (based on your ability to attract clients) and offer tutoring at any convenient location.

Close up of an "Everyday English" textbook

Training and Certification

You don’t need a government-issued license to tutor students in English as a second language. You could, in fact, start advertising today. But to attract students – and definitely if you want to get a job in a school system – you’ll need training and certification as a tutor.

There is no one certifying body or accreditation process for tutoring ESL; instead, individuals may pursue certification through a number of programs, which are available through language institutes, colleges and universities, and online institutions.

As a result, your choice of training program depends on whether you wish to work in a school system or be a private tutor. Let’s look at both options.

Employed school teacher

All states require that public school ESL teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree, which may be in English as a second language or a related subject. You must also complete a state-approved teacher preparation program either as part of a bachelor’s program or as stand-alone training after graduation. A master’s degree is typically not necessary to be an ESL tutor, although graduate study will hone your skills and enable you to charge more for services.

ESL teachers must obtain state teacher certification with an ESL, ESOL, ENL, or ELL endorsement.

Here’s the typical career path:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in ESL. TESOL or a related subject such as linguistics.
  • Complete a teaching internship in an ESL setting as part of your program.
  • Take your state’s tests for teacher licensure with an ESL endorsement.
  • Apply for your teaching license.

Other ESL degree coursework includes teaching reading and comprehension skills and successfully teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds. It will be helpful if you are also able to speak the language of the students you wish to work with. Helping students from Japan learn English will be easier for you and the student if you can speak conversational Japanese.

ESL programs also teach instructors how to integrate teaching English with other subjects, such as science, mathematics, and history.

English/ESL tutor sitting in a park while working on a laptop

Private tutoring

If you choose to tutor as a private instructor, there are many online ESL training programs that offer certification. To save time on researching potentially dozens of programs, contact your state’s Department of Education (DOE). All states have a division within the DOE dedicated to ESL educational issues. They can offer online training recommendations specific to your state or suggest programs with the best reputation.

Here is a complete listing of state DOE contacts.

Professional Groups to Join

Getting involved with a professional group shows your students and potential employers that you are serious about your work as an English/ESL tutor. Professional memberships also look great on a resume when you’re job hunting. Benefits range from networking with other pros in your field to ongoing education and training, news about the profession, getting referrals and the sense of comradery that comes with belonging to a group whose members share your passion. Here are three of the best known organizations catering specifically to English/ESL tutors:

TESOL International Association
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages is a professional organization for bilingual, ESL, and EFL educators throughout the world. There are different levels of membership depending upon your career status and income level, with rates starting under $50 per year. TESOL’s mission is to connect professionals in the field, assist with best teaching practices, and support members in shaping visionary educational policy. Benefits of membership include access to professional development resources such as virtual seminars, symposiums, online classes, conferences, intensive TESOL Academies, a career center with job listings, and information about scholarships, grants, and awards for TESOL professionals. All members receive the online TESOL Journal and a weekly digital English Language Bulletin. TESOL also offers an active online community with a forum covering 21 areas.

Three people pointing at a laptop screen

National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
Bilingual students, their parents, and bilingual professional educators make up the membership of NABE. Yearly memberships vary depending on professional status and start under $50. The organization promotes bilingual education and programs; defends the rights of minority language students and families; supports affiliated bilingual organizations throughout the country and continually refines teacher development programs to meet the needs of bilingual students. Member benefits include networking opportunities; information about organizational conferences and events; information about policies impacting bilingual education; access to the association’s Perspectives magazine; and discount subscriptions to its journals, The Bilingual Research Journal and The NABE Journal of Research and Practice.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
Teachers, administrators, and other professionals working with K-12 students can join this organization for under $100 per year. Students who work less than half time in the field can join for half price. Literacy, language arts, and English education are the core focus areas for this organization. Members have access to the group’s online forums, volunteer opportunities in professional development, and the opportunity to write journal articles, book proposals, or lesson plans for the council.

Some of the most respected professional groups in the tutoring field include the American Tutoring Association, the Association for the Coaching and Tutoring Profession and the National Tutoring Association.


There are many companies that offer English/ESL tutoring throughout the United States. Some have a national presence while others may be independent and locally owned.

You’ll want to prepare your resume, both printed copies and a digital version for online distribution. Sending job application materials via email or through the recruitment page of a company’s website is a fast and efficient way to reach many potential employers, compared to mailing out a huge stack of thick, manila envelopes stuffed with your printed information. When sending resumes by email, the best way to attach this document and supporting materials is by creating .pdf files of the documents with Adobe Acrobat. These types of files are considered safe to send and are less likely to trigger a spam alert in the recipient’s mailbox. Follow this tip and you’ll have a much better chance that your online correspondence lands in front of a real person, not a spam folder.

Also make photocopies of your professional certifications and memberships in music teacher organizations. These extra materials can pull your application to the top of the pile and set you apart from competitors for the same job.

English/ESL tutor looking at a laptop while biting down on a pencil

Finding Clients

If you decide that private tutoring is right for you, business cards and a basic website should be the core of your marketing toolkit as a professional English/ESL tutor. The website should be attractively designed, with photos of your office and a few images of you teaching students. You’ll need the student’s (or parent’s) permission to use a photo if the student is visibly recognizable. Your business location and contact information should be at the top of every page on your website. Search engines scan this information to match your website geographically with people searching for a language tutor, either for themselves or their children.

In addition to your website, the next thing to do is create an Instagram account to showcase your business. Instagram is the top online venue for professionals to promote their work. It’s a free marketing tool that’s always working on your behalf.

Now set up a Facebook page for your services. This is a great way to build a following and keep people up-to-date on your offerings.

Be sure to create a Google My Business page, where you can add hours of operation, photos and an interactive map of your location. This helps people in your geographic area find you.

All of these services are free. Setting up a page on each site takes less than an hour.

Other strategies for attracting new business:

  • Create a referral program with discounts for people who send new students to you.
  • Ask students to review your services online. According to a recent survey, 90% of people say their buying decisions are influenced by positive online reviews.

Good to know

Here are a few tips from English tutors on delivering the most effective and enjoyable instruction possible to engage students and make learning fun:

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  • Use online educational materials to help students as they learn English. Watching YouTube videos, listening to audio and following pronunciation exercises – these tools make learning more fun and engaging, leading to faster progress.
  • Create a public folder in the cloud where you and the student can easily exchange written coursework. This is generally easier and more efficient than trying to keep up with dozens of emails from different students.
  • Don’t overwhelm your students. Learning English is likely just one of many tasks they face every day. To keep students engaged, they must learn at a pace comfortable to their abilities. Otherwise, they may become discouraged.
  • Great tutors are patient tutors. If a student is grappling with verb conjugations, struggling to understand the sound differences between seemingly identical words (“I read the book” and “I read the book” can mean two different things, past or present tense), then it may be time to slow down. Mastery of one area at a time builds the foundation for learning.
  • Be flexible. Always be willing to try something new or consider different learning techniques. This adaptability will help you succeed with more students.
  • Enjoy your work. Students often become frustrated as they study a new language. That doesn’t mean you should, too. Remember, you’re the expert students look up to. That’s why you’re getting paid.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great content that can help you grow your career as an English/ESL tutor. Here’s a great place to start.PocketSuite has thousands of business owners who all started where you are right now. Our community is always happy to help you ramp up, grow your client base, and achieve your income goals, both within the PocketSuite app and as part of our exclusive Facebook Community Group. PocketSuite’s vision is for any professional to be able to work for themselves and make a great living. It starts here. It starts with you. It starts today. Let’s get started, download PocketSuite now! Feel free to reach out with any questions (we’d love to hear from you)! Text us @ (415) 841-2300.