Interested in teaching abroad? This certificate program could be your ticket.

August 30, 2021

UM-Dearborn’s 15-credit TESOL program prepares you to teach others English, which can literally open up a world of opportunities.

Erika MacLaren is a young white woman with straight, blonde, shoulder-length hair. She is wearing a pair of brown, cat-eye sunglasses, a thin white long-sleeve and light-blue skinny jeans.
UM-Dearborn master's student Erika MacLaren in Segovia, Spain. Now based in Spain, MacLaren is studying online to get her TESOL certificate, which she says will help her with her dream of opening a language academy.

In the world of language programs, there are lots of acronyms and capital letter abbreviations. ESL, or English as a Second Language, is the one you’ve likely heard about, mainly because it’s the endorsement Michigan teachers need if they want to do public school work with English language learners. (ELLs is the shorthand for that, btw.) But UM-Dearborn offers another certificate program called TESOL, short for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. So what’s the difference? TESOL Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor Kyongson Park says that for starters, the TESOL program offers a wider range of applications, it’s open to students from any major, and because it’s all online, you can study from any country in the world.

“The ESL endorsement is really targeted for those who want to be a K-12 teacher in Michigan,” Park says. “But the TESOL program expands your target students globally. Let’s say you want to teach English in the U.S. or outside the country in various educational settings, like a pre-school or adult education setting; or maybe you’re someone who dreams of living abroad for a while; or you are an international student who wants to teach English in your home country. If so, then the TESOL certificate is a pretty exciting credential to have. The ability to teach English for linguistically and culturally diverse students gives you a really marketable skill, especially if you have a TESOL certificate, because it’s recognized internationally.” 

UM-Dearborn MA in Education student Erika MacLaren says those perks are part of what drew her to the TESOL program. MacLaren did her undergrad in Spanish language education at UM-Ann Arbor, after which she traveled to Spain on a Fulbright and taught English in an elementary school. After that, she found the demand for teaching English was so strong, she started taking on private students. Now, her full client roster includes a five-year-old boy, a trio of 60-something women and just about everyone in between. The whole experience has left her with a big dream of opening her own language academy in Spain, and she sees TESOL as part of getting there.

Erika MacLaren, smiling, in a read coat, standing outside the school where she taught English in Spain.
Erika MacLaren, smiling, in a read coat, standing outside the school where she taught English in Spain.

“Especially in Europe, TESOL is the certification everyone recognizes,” MacLaren says. “And there’s just so much demand here. Nowadays in Europe, it’s becoming more and more common for employers to require intermediate-level English. And a lot of people want to learn so they can travel, because you can basically get by in almost any country if you can speak English. So there’s a lot of interest, because the value of knowing English has gone up so much.”

In addition to TESOL’s resume value, MacLaren says the coursework is already helping her become a better English teacher. Initially trained as a Spanish teacher, MacLaren says she’s learning how English, which is packed with irregularities, often requires a different pedagogical approach. “For example, Spanish is a totally phonetic language, so once you learn the sounds, you’ll be able to instantly read everything out loud. English makes a lot less sense, so I’ve learned through this program that you can’t lean so heavily on phonics. Instead, you load students up with a ton of listening and reading that’s comprehensible to them, and the more they read and listen, the more they pick up. Then, once we’re getting the hang of a few things, we focus on the rules. And it’s kind of a more natural way to learn a language.”

MacLaren says her trio of 60-somethings, in particular, love that approach. “They tell you straight up they don’t want to learn grammar,” she says, laughing. “They just want to practice speaking  — so they can travel more. But it works for them. And it’s a lot of fun.”


Interested in learning more about getting a TESOL certificate? You can get all the details on the main program page