To teach English overseas should I get a master’s degree or a certificate?

“It depends on which country you will serve.”

This depends most on where you want to teach. In many places just a certificate will do. Typically the more developed a country is, the more certification its institutions will require from expatriate teachers. The master’s degree will give you more versatility (and probably equip you to be a better teacher), but if you know where you want to go and they accept a certificate, why spend the extra years in school?

Answer from Nate, who formerly served with Caleb Project.

“Where I worked, you had to have a master’s degree.”

I taught twelve years in a university and one year in a language institute in the Arabian Peninsula. In the Gulf, if you want to teach in a university, you’ve got to have an M.A. 

One good thing about teaching in a university, at least here, is that you may have a teaching load of only twenty hours per week and be teaching during the day. If you don’t have an M.A., you might be teaching thirty hours per week and most of them in the evenings. As a church-planting tentmaker, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and students (outside the classroom) if you are teaching in a university.

Answer from Richard, who has served for thirteen years in the Arabian Peninsula with Christar.

“It depends on which level you will teach.”

I served in Japan and worked for the largest language teaching company in Japan. I loved sharing the gospel with the businessmen who were my students. I also knew missions agencies ministries that used TESL for church planting. To join them, you may not need much training in TESL (teaching English as a second language). 

When I began as a tentmaker missionary in the mid-1980s, I found that much of the world was open to anyone who was a native English speaker and had a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Some places want a certificate or degree TESL. Generally speaking, to teach in a language school, the CELTA certificate is the way to go. If you want to teach in a university, a master’s degree in TESL or linguistics may be best.

Answer from Jeffrey, who served for two years in Japan with Tentmakers International.

“Take the shortest course you need.”

Many of us who teach English have absolutely no credentials other than being native English speakers. Of course, knowing HOW to teach is a big help, but a master’s degree is probably just overkill, especially if teaching English will essentially be your “second job.”

Answer from Lori, who has been serving in Asia for five years.

“Know what you are doing.”

There are people in almost every country eager to learn English. In most countries you can teach without any credentials. However, I do not recommend it.

A lot of people teach languages with methods that are ineffective or even worse. Generally this is because either these methods SEEM reasonable or because it’s the way they have seen others teach. Even if you have observed effective methods, you may not have been aware of important factors that are less obvious.

Credentials also provide some reassurance to those you will work with. If you are “on your own,” they make it easier to attract students. For many, a certificate from a respected program (and the knowledge it represents) is sufficient. If you expect to live on the pay for teaching, then I would recommend the Master’s.

For anyone teaching a language, I recommend the book “Working with Teaching Methods: What’s at Stake?” by Earl W. Stevick. At first glance, the book appears to present three very unconventional teaching methods. But its greatest value in my mind is in getting readers to think about what kinds of interpersonal relationships are involved in these and other methods. Stevick was a Christian whose grace and competence made him highly respected by colleagues who were not.

Answer from Wes who has served with O.M. and several other organization on a short-term basis and is currently pursuing long-term service.

Take The Next Step

Subscribe to My Newsletter

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter. I don’t send any spam email ever!