A key issue to consider before applying to any job is whether or not qualifications are necessary.

Becoming an ESOL tutor is no different. 

There are many factors to take into consideration for a teaching position, not least experience and qualifications. For that reason, it's good to be clear on what exactly is expected of an ESOL tutor with regards to these issues.

While it may be true that the path to becoming an ESOL tutor might be more straightforward than the path to becoming an ESOL teacher, there are still requirements, and you will also be dealing with student expectations.

Since you will have to generate your own business, and market yourself in order to find students, the matter of qualifications and experience becomes an issue of credibility and perhaps the difference between having 10 recurring students, and 20.

The value of experience

Man teaching with a projector
Experience is important, but is it essential?

Experience is invaluable in the field of education.

While for some careers qualifications are preferred over experience, I would argue that it might be the other way around for an ESOL tutor.

By experience, I'm not only referring to the experience that comes from teaching students, but also the kind which comes from putting the hours into learning a foreign language.

To have the best chance of success as an ESOL tutor, you should become very well acquainted with the perspective of both the teacher, and the learner.

If you can see the process of learning from both points of view, then you will better be able to empathise with your students, and become a better teacher as a result.

First let's tackle the issue of teaching experience, and then we'll assess the importance of language experience for an ESOL tutor.

Teaching experience

If you have aspirations of becoming an ESOL tutor, then I'd wager that you have some kind of teaching experience under your belt, even if only a brief stint of practical experience at a school or college.

This will help you a lot in your quest to make it as an ESOL tutor, as, needless to say, prospective students will appreciate experience when they are searching for someone to teach them the English language.

While it isn't the only thing valued by students, teaching experience counts for a lot, and if you don't have any then it’s worth putting yourself out there to get some under your belt.

Whether it's volunteering through an educational programme, working as a teaching assistant abroad, or testing out your teaching skills on friends and family, this experience will help you out a lot in the long run.

Not only will you feel more confident knowing what to charge if you have been there and done it before, but you will also be better equipped to plan lessons as an ESOL tutor and be in touch with the learner’s needs.

Don't fret if you aren't the most qualified ESOL tutor offering private classes, since experience is a highly coveted asset in the world of teaching, and is perhaps harder to come by than qualifications - especially given how straightforward the TEFL qualification is for example (I obtained one within a few weeks of study).

Language experience

Writing in different languages on the chalkboard
Knowledge of different languages is a huge plus.

The second type of experience that could very well come in handy as an ESOL tutor is language experience.


While it might seem obvious, you first need to get to know the English language inside and out.

Being a native speaker of the language doesn't make you an expert in it, far from it, in fact.

Speaking from personal experience, it can be quite sobering giving an English class to a student who is more familiar with the names of all the tenses in your own language than you are.

Mastering the ins and outs of the grammar, spoken expression, and the written word and quirky spelling of English can take a lot of time and effort.

A good way to find out if you know the English well enough to teach it as a foreign language is to try questions from the C2 proficiency exam. If you can do this, then you'll be in a great position to teach English language learners how to pass that same exam.

Foreign language

Once you've come to terms with all the nuances of the English language, it will benefit you to try your hand at a foreign language too.

While you can clearly teach someone your language without any prior language learning experience yourself, it's advisable to go through the process of being a language learner.

If you've faced the same challenges and obstacles of your prospective students, then you will be able to relate to their struggles, and will be in a better position to help them break through a plateau which is impeding their progress in English.

This is especially useful for understanding issues with spoken English, as learning a second language makes you understand how embarrassing or nerve wracking it can be to express yourself in a language other than your own.

Are qualifications necessary?

A stack of papers
A TEFL qualification can help you to teach English abroad
Do you need a lot of qualifications to become an ESOL tutor?

Now that we’ve got experience out of the way, let’s address the question as to whether qualifications are necessary to become an ESOL tutor.

In short, yes, they are. However, you shouldn’t let this deter you if you don’t currently have any, since the main qualifications you’ll need aren’t too challenging to acquire.

First, you’ll likely need a bachelor's degree from university. A degree related to the field of education or foreign languages is preferred, but the degree itself is the most important thing.

A Master’s is likely to increase your chances of landing students, but isn't necessary to become an ESOL tutor.

As I mentioned earlier, it can be argued that experience prevails over qualifications in the world of tutoring, so any qualification you get aside from a bachelors and a TEFL certificate can be seen as a bonus, rather than being essential to your success as an ESOL tutor.

Teaching certificate

Next, you’ll need a teaching certificate.

This certificate will give you credibility as a tutor, and prove to prospective students that you know the theory behind teaching and the best methodologies for teaching English as a foreign language.

A TEFL certificate should suffice, and as I alluded to earlier, it isn’t too difficult to acquire.

If you’re concerned about how much this will set you back, check Groupon and similar websites for discount offers, and you’ll likely save yourself a lot of money.

The TEFL certificate course requires you to read materials on a variety of issues such as classroom management, teaching methodology, and the best ways to teach English in particular.

At the end of each unit you will have to answer some questions testing you on your knowledge of the material you have just covered.

As well as providing a big boost to your chances of becoming an ESOL tutor, the TEFL certificate will also teach you a lot about the teaching dynamic, and how you can be the best teacher, which should give you more confidence going forward.

Should you get a teaching license?

While not strictly a qualification, another thing that you will need to get your hands on before you start teaching is a license of some sort.

This depends on exactly what you are looking to do, and what type of tutor you want to be.

If you want to operate on a local level and give out classes to anyone interested within your community, then you will likely need to go through the process of becoming self-employed, since you will be running your own business.

Alternatively, if you are looking to set yourself up as an online ESOL tutor, which is becoming more popular these days, then you will need to follow the same process, and fill out a self assessment tax form with HMRC.

Aside from that, you should be good to go without any further paperwork or requirements.

Getting a language certificate

While a certificate of proficiency in another language definitely isn't necessary, nor expected of you as an ESOL tutor, it can actually be very useful for securing more clients.

Think about it, if you were looking for someone to teach you Italian, for example, you might be more inclined to opt for a teacher who has had prior experience learning another language and was successful enough in it to get a proficiency certificate.

It can also help you make the lessons run more smoothly. Say you have a C1 in spanish, and a B1 in Italian, you are now likely to be so much more appealing to both native Spanish speakers and native Italian speakers.

A lot of students will feel more comfortable if they know you can explain something to them in their own language, and put them at ease.

It is also a great way to bulk out your profile as a tutor, and make it more attractive to prospective students, especially if you don't have a lot of experience or other qualifications.

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Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.