Do English Majors Make Better ESL Teachers? Read Opinions

Do English Majors Make Better ESL Teachers? Read Opinions

Perhaps ESL teachers would like to “weigh in” on this topic…  Here’s some research I’ve done on whether English majors make better ESL teachers… 

Feel free to add to or revise this “living document” in the comments section below. 


  • Would an English major be a better teacher than a Science or IT major, for instance?  Most of the ESL teachers I’ve met have general arts degrees majoring in Psychology, Sociology, Religion, Education, Political Science and so forth. A comparison of the different majors might be a good starting point for this debate.
  • If you’re teaching in an English institute, then the job isn’t that difficult in terms of knowledge. Of course you have to follow an English course textbook or create engaging lessons that will amuse students, so if you’re teaching kids there probably isn’t much difference in qualifications between the various majors.
  • However, English majors have to do plenty of critical reading and interpretation of novels, essays and poems. Does this make them more familiar with the concepts of language and better English teachers as they move up to teaching high school, university students, and adults?  Given that they are specialized in English you’d think they would be more knowledgeable about teaching English. Just as an IT major would be more familiar with teaching about hardware and software, no?
  • Most non-native business professionals often prefer to talk about social or every day topics outside of their business fields. The reason being, is that they are already familiar with the English terms of their industry. It’s when they go out for dinner with their American counter parts, for example, where they can’t converse about situational topics like current events, hobbies, etc. So, it really depends on what level and interest of your adult student is to determine whether a teacher’s major (like IT) would be more relevant to helping him/her with English for their occupation.
  • However, if you’re teaching an executive who works for a multinational company in IT  like Samsung for example, having the technical vocabulary to converse about computer technology would allow you the teacher to converse fluently about your students occupation and could help him speak English better when he/she is worth customers, foreign staff members or partners.
  • Some would say English learners and foreign schools have a bias towards hiring English majors because they believe they might be better at explaining grammar. Not because they speak English better. English majors have to write a lot of essays and papers for sure, but whether they are actually better teachers than someone who is not an English major is up for debate. Just because someone studies English in university doesn’t mean they intend on becoming a teacher or are qualified to become a teacher. That’s why they would have to obtain an Education degree beyond their English degree.
  • All things being equal an English major at first glance is more relevant to ESL teacher recruiters than an IT, Science or Engineering major when it comes to hiring someone you’ve never met or seen teach before. Sure an English major could be a lousy ESL teacher just as a doctor with degree in medicine could be a quack.  However,, when that’s all you have to go on, then an English major, or better yet an Education major seems like the most relevant first choice. This is assuming they meet all the other teaching qualifications. Put yourself on the other side of the fence… if you were hiring a Japanese teacher wouldn’t you choose the one who majored in Japanese? The point is… having a major most specific to the job at hand would probably mean you’re the better candidate for the job, no?
  • If someone has studied a foreign language and achieved a certain level of fluency than this could be helpful in teaching English. In other words you’ve walked in their shoes and can understand better about the learning challenges they’re going through. You may even have some good advice or English teaching methodologies that would be best suited for them if you understand your students learning styles. It might be harder for an ESL teacher who can’t speak a foreign language (many), or who hasn’t attempted to learn a foreign language. For example, it’s hard to teach someone to drive a car, if you’ve never been behind the wheel yourself.
  • Some teachers would say that someone with a TEFL/TESOL certificate would be more qualified to teach English to ESL students than someone who majored or minored in English. This would be under the assumption that the certificate holder had some practical classroom experience teaching second language learners. Of course, the theory taught in a TEFL course is valuable, specifically on how to pin point the various “parts of speech”. But, again it comes down to actual experience that counts versus a degree in English.  If you have a degree in English your primary focus in college was on reading, interpreting and writing essays on such classics as Shakespeare and other famous authors.
  • Some English majors would argue that since they have read more, written more, and have larger vocabularies (in general) than a different major, that they would make more appropriate English teachers. However, we’re talking about ESL here. Even if you’re teaching English to what are considered advanced speaking students in any country, many of the words you’ve acquired during your post secondary education aren’t worth teaching your students. They want to be able to converse not show off their vocabulary of low-frequency words. The best communicators use simple straightforward language, not words the average Joe or Jane doesn’t know the meaning of.
  • If you’re teaching advanced or college level writing to ESL students than I could see where an English major would be more qualified. That’s assuming its general writing not specific to a certain industry or topic like science, for example. In that case I’d give the English writing job to the guy with the science degree, hands down.

Now, let’s not leave out the  fine arts majors.

Most of us would agree that teachers need to be lively and fun in the classroom evoking laughs and smiles. Knowing this wouldn’t you choose a teacher with skills in “acting or drama” to be in front of your students to keep them motivated to learn? ESL teaching is edutainment in Asia countries in particular. This opens up a whole new flurry of ideas for debate doesn’t it?

I do think this question makes for an interesting debate since we all chose our majors ourselves. And we all consider ourselves pretty good ESL teachers, no?

Feel free to share your opinions about which major would make the best English teacher. Try ranking all the different majors if you want. See which major comes out on top and at the bottom if you really want. It might be a great ranking exercise to try in class with your adult EFL students.

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