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2023 Best Online ESL Certification Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 6/26/2023
2023 Best Online Certificates in ESL Badge

As our world becomes more connected and integrated, the demand for trained English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors continues to grow in academic and business settings. Online certification in ESL can help individuals develop the skills to instruct English to immigrants, foreign nationals, refugees, school children, and adult learners. Since these are non-degree-granting programs, these online certificate programs may be completed in a year or less. 

We’ve ranked these programs by online enrollment to see which programs are most popular with students who may share similar backgrounds and career goals. However, if you hold a bachelor’s degree and are interested in a graduate degree in this field, an affordable online master’s degree in ESL may be a viable option. View our methodology for more details about our list, or learn more about OnlineU.

2023 Best Online Certificates in ESL Badge
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Online ESL Certificate Degrees You May Be Interested In

List Of Accredited Online ESL Schools

School Online Enrollment Annual Tuition
Northwestern State University of Louisiana 1,757 1,757 $19,556 $19,556
University of Cincinnati 1,526 $26,994
East Carolina University 1,174 $23,515
Northern State University 1,038 $11,821
Fox Valley Technical College 828 $6,688
Western Kentucky University 825 $26,496
North Carolina State University 784 $29,220
University of South Florida Online 706 $17,324
Brigham Young University - Idaho 704 $4,208
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee 679 $21,168
Kennesaw State University 670 $12,888
University of North Georgia 574 $13,776
University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign 571 $32,264
Georgia State University 562 $24,517
George Mason University 511 $36,024
University of Missouri 507 $28,348
University of Maryland - College Park 493 $36,891
Boise State University 491 $24,988
Eastern Washington University 453 $25,057
Liberty University 450 $11,700
Stephen F. Austin State University 437 $18,972
Marshall University 422 $19,266
Oregon State University 361 $31,215
University of Southern Maine 350 $22,050
University of Massachusetts - Amherst 342 $35,710
Ohio University - Chillicothe Campus 334 $8,666
Northern Arizona University 315 $26,516
Wilson College 306 $25,300
Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis 286 $30,710
Regent University Online 284 $18,620
University of Colorado Denver 280 $25,823
Touro College 270 $20,550
West Chester University of Pennsylvania 269 $22,245
University of Missouri at Saint Louis 265 $27,342
Ohio University - Main Campus 251 $22,406
Missouri State University 246 $15,898
Indiana University - Bloomington 235 $36,512
Georgian Court University 222 $33,610
University of Kansas 220 $28,034
University of Connecticut 218 $39,894
Austin Peay State University 210 $13,847
Fitchburg State University 202 $16,690
Eastern Kentucky University 193 $19,948
University of North Florida 189 $20,793
University of Louisville 179 $27,954
University of North Carolina at Greensboro 177 $22,562
University of Northern Colorado 170 $22,245
Mercer University 164 $37,808
Campbellsville University 163 $25,400
University of Arkansas 161 $25,872

Northwestern State University of Louisiana

  • Annual Tuition: $19,556
  • Locations: Natchitoches (LA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Northwestern State University of Louisiana (NSULA) is a public institution in Natchitoches offering an online Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) through the ENSU global campus for students who are not seeking state teacher certification and who wish to teach English outside the public school system. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree to apply. This online certificate program comprises 15 credits and can be completed in one academic year. Prospective students apply to this program through NSULA’s Graduate School.

NSULA’s online TESOL certificate students use the Moodle learning management system to participate in courses such as Principles of Second Language Learning, Instruction, and Methodology; Fundamentals of Linguistics; and Syntactic Theories and Applications.

University of Cincinnati

  • Annual Tuition: $26,994
  • Locations: Cincinnati (OH) (and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ohio’s University of Cincinnati (UC) is a public institution offering an online Graduate Certificate in Adult/International TESL for prospective students intending to teach adults English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) domestically or abroad. They must hold a bachelor’s degree to be eligible to apply. This online program is offered through UC’s School of Education. It takes approximately one year to complete this graduate certificate program. An enrollment advisor can help determine which classes are necessary. Similarly, UC also offers an online Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

UC delivers its online curriculum via Canvas. It’s unclear which courses are necessary to complete this TESL online program; an enrollment advisor can share the most current listing of available online classes.

East Carolina University

  • Annual Tuition: $23,515
  • Locations: Greenville (NC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina, is a public institution offering an online Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) for baccalaureate holders interested in teaching English language learners (ELLs) in the public and private sectors or EFL abroad. It takes students approximately one year to complete this nine-credit online graduate certificate program.

ECU’s distance learners access the school’s online programming through Canvas. Online TESOL graduate certificate courses include Principles of Language Testing, Writing Systems of the World, Language and Society, and The Structure of English: Phonology and Morphology. In addition to coursework, a practicum is necessary to graduate from this program.

Northern State University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,821
  • Locations: Aberdeen (SD)
  • Accreditation: HLC

South Dakota’s Northern State University (NSU) is a public institution offering an online Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Certificate available at the undergraduate and graduate levels for prospective students with bachelor’s degrees. The online undergraduate TESOL certificate requires 12 credits and generally takes a year. The online graduate TESOL certificate requires nine credits and takes about the same time and possibly less.

NSU uses the Desire2Learn (D2) learning management system for online curriculum delivery. Depending on the certificate level, online TESOL certificate students take courses such as Introduction to Linguistics, Modern Grammar, Second Language Development, and Methods of Teaching English as a Second Language.

Fox Valley Technical College

  • Annual Tuition: $6,688
  • Locations: Appleton (WI) (and 5 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Midwestern Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Wisconsin is a two-year public institution offering an online Certificate in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language as an undergraduate-level program for students interested in working as ELL specialists, literacy advocates, missionaries, and teaching English overseas. This nine-credit online certificate program takes students about a year to complete, possibly less.

FVTC’s online students receive coursework and instruction via Blackboard. Those in the one teaching English as a second or foreign language certificate program must complete three classes: (1) English Language Learning Theories, (2) English Language Learning Methods, and (3) an English Learning Practicum.

Western Kentucky University

  • Annual Tuition: $26,496
  • Locations: Bowling Green (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Western Kentucky University (WKU) in Bowling Green is a public institution offering an online Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) for prospective students who wish to teach in language institutes worldwide and in the U.S. without becoming licensed teachers. Students must complete at least 16 credits — five English courses — to complete the program and field experience in the final semester. It takes them about a year to finish.

WKU delivers its online course content via Blackboard. Online TESOL certificate courses include Linguistic Analysis, Psycholinguistics and Sociolinguistics, Integrated Teaching English as a Second Language, Teaching and Testing ESL Grammar, and the TESL Practicum. Students also have the option to take six credit hours in one foreign language.

North Carolina State University

  • Annual Tuition: $29,220
  • Locations: Raleigh (NC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh is a public institution offering an online Licensure in English as a Second Language Add-On for licensed North Carolina teachers who want to serve their English language learners better. Students complete 12 credits, which generally takes less than a year.

NCSU’s distance learners access Moodle to participate in classes and receive instruction. The online ESL add-on certificate program courses include Linguistics for ESL Professionals, Methods and Materials in Teaching English as a Second Language, and Perspectives on English as a New Language. Students also complete an internship in Teaching English as a new language to earn certificates.

University of South Florida Online

  • Annual Tuition: $17,324
  • Locations: Tampa (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of South Florida Online (USF Online) is a public institution in Tampa offering an online ESOL Graduate Certificate for prospective students holding bachelor’s degrees and teaching certifications who wish to specialize in teaching ESOL in K-12 educational settings. This online certificate program consists of 15 credits and takes students about a year to complete.

Distance learners at USF Online use Canvas to complete assignments and participate in classes. Those enrolled in the online ESOL graduate certificate program are required to take five courses: (1) Cross-Cultural Issues in Teaching ESOL, (2) Curriculum and Instructional Materials Development, (3) Instructional Methods and Strategies for Teaching ESOL, (4) Applied Linguistics for Teaching ESOL, and (5) Assessment and Progress Management for Teaching ESOL.

Brigham Young University - Idaho

  • Annual Tuition: $4,208
  • Locations: Rexburg (ID)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Brigham Young University - Idaho (BYU - Idaho) is a private institution affiliated with the Mormon Church. It offers an online Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) for non-licensed instructors interested in teaching EFL in private institutes and businesses. This online introductory certificate requires completing 16 credits, generally taking a year. Support and resources for this program are available from BYU - Pathway Worldwide.

BYU - Idaho uses Canvas to deliver its online programming, including the online TEFL certificate program. Distance learners in this program complete courses such as TESOL Pedagogy I and II, Diverse/Exceptional Students, and English Grammar for TESOL.

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

  • Annual Tuition: $21,168
  • Locations: Milwaukee (WI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (UWM) is a public institution offering an online Graduate Certificate in Translation for students interested in careers in the language services industry or other fields requiring advanced professional use of a non-English language, such as German, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian. It’s designed for students with a bachelor’s degree and either significant industry experience or a post-graduate degree. To earn this certificate, students must complete 21 credits, including a language concentration. They can finish the program in about a year.

UWM delivers online coursework and instruction to distance learners via Canvas. Online translation certificate students take nine credits in a language concentration and other courses, including Computer-Assisted Translation, Seminar in Literary and Cultural Translation, and an Internship in Translation/Interpreting.

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Overview of Online ESL Degrees

The training involved in becoming an ESL instructor depends on the academic level that the individual wishes to teach. To teach English as a second language at the elementary and secondary level requires the same certification that is required for any teacher- a minimum of a bachelor’s degree as well as state certification. To teach adult literacy and GED classes, one needs a bachelor's or master's degree, but not necessarily a certification. Doctoral degrees in ESL are also available, though this level is only required for those who want to teach at the university level or go into research.

Online Certificates in ESL

There are many online options available to those looking to earn a certificate in teaching English as a second language. An online ESL teaching certificate program can be found at various universities, and most are available at the graduate-level. A certificate program will typically take a year or two to complete. Some schools allow students to complete this type of certificate while also working on a graduate degree in education.

A certificate by itself is not enough to qualify a graduate to gain teaching licensure but those with just a certificate may be able to find work teaching in private settings, like private language schools or businesses. Teachers who already have licensure may wish to earn this type of certificate in order to teach a wider variety of classes and students. Students will learn how to create lessons and develop the skills they need to effectively teach ESL learners of various ages how to speak, read, and write English.

Requirements for Becoming an ESL Teacher

As with any teaching profession, those who work as ESL teachers in the Pre-K through 12th grade setting will need to be licensed. Licensing varies from state to state, but usually an aspiring ESL teacher will need at least a bachelor's degree. They will also have to go through teacher training, either as part of their undergraduate program or during a master's or certification course, and student teaching will be required. A certification test will also likely be required.

ESL is also widely known as ELL (English Language Learners), so a student who is interested in teaching ESL will also find value in ELL programs. However, it should be noted that earning a degree in ESL and becoming a licensed ESL teacher is different from earning a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or similar certificate on its own. This type of certificate will qualify an individual to teach English overseas in private language institutes, but not in public schools in the United States. Program descriptions should be read carefully.

The Importance of Accreditation for ESL Programs

One thing to keep in mind when choosing a degree program is accreditation. One important type of accreditation is regional accreditation, which is the most highly regarded and most widely accepted accreditation for higher education institutions. Regional accreditation means that the school has been evaluated by an outside organization which has determined that the school meets certain educational standards. This type of accreditation is important for a variety of reasons, including that credits earned through that school will transfer to other schools and also that students will have access to federal financial aid.

Another important type of accreditation is programmatic accreditation. This is when an organization specializing in a particular subject accredits programs that teach that subject. For many years, NCATE, or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, was the main professional accreditation agency for education programs, along with The Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC). As of July 1, 2013, NCATE and TEAC merged to form The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP uses a set of five Standards to evaluate programs, with criteria including the quality of the professors and the kinds of practical experiences, such as student teaching, that a student has access to. Those who wish to become an ESL teacher should find a program that has received programmatic accreditation from CAEP or NCATE, because this will give them assurance that they are receiving a quality education that will prepare them for their future careers.

This website offers school details to prospective students as an informational resource. The appearance of a school listing on this website should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the school by this site.

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