English and Spanish are two of the most spoken languages in the world, with 1.268 billion and 538 million speakers, respectively. Professionals fluent in both languages increase their chances of finding career success—one of the reasons why Spanish is the first language spoken by the majority of ESL learners. Programs designed to help ESL learners are commonly led by two types of teachers: English as a second language (ESL) teachers and bilingual education teachers.

Bilingual education teachers are fluent in students’ native language and able to ease the transition between students’ native language and English. ESL teachers, on the other hand, do not speak the student’s native language, instead focusing on implementing the best process for immersing students in the English language. Both ESL and bilingual education are effective for teaching students English, but which approach will you utilize in your classroom?

ESL Education

ESL classrooms are filled with students with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages. However, there’s only one language used for teaching in an ESL classroom: English. Do ESL teachers have to be bilingual? No, English is the only language an educator needs to know to excel as an ESL teacher. The principle driving ESL education is that students will learn English faster if they are immersed in the language. Although they’re supported every step of the way, it’s sink or swim for ESL learners as they’re taught to read, write, and speak English. The use of other languages may be even be prohibited in an ESL classroom to encourage the use of English.

There are several types of ESL programs, but pull-out is one of the most popular forms. In this model, students are pulled out of their general education classes and instructed by ESL teachers either in groups or one on one. This is where some confusion arises between ESL vs. ELL students. English language learners (ELL) is a broad term that applies to any student learning English. In what is known as the push-in model, English language learners are generally kept in general classes and instructed by visiting ESL teachers.

ESL education can produce exceptional English speakers. However, students in ESL education who are unable to fall back on their native language may struggle to grasp complex concepts in English. Furthermore, students’ proficiency in their native language may suffer as they focus solely on learning English. As an ESL teacher, it would be your job to help your class overcome these challenges.

Bilingual Education

If you are fluent in a second language, bilingual education may be the more fulfilling and financially rewarding career option. Students in a bilingual classroom all speak the same native language. For example, a bilingual education classroom may be entirely filled with Spanish-, Chinese-, or Arabic-speaking students. Students find that their native language is valued in a bilingual education classroom, which in turn helps them feel valued.

In bilingual classrooms, students are instructed in math, geography, history, and other traditional subjects. Unlike a traditional classroom, however, students are taught in both English and their native language. With the aid of a teacher who can engage in discussions, debates, and presentations in their first language, students in bilingual classes have a better chance of becoming fluent in both languages.

Dual language education, also known as two-way immersion, is a type of bilingual education that is steadily growing in popularity. As opposed to other programs that immerse students in a target language as quickly as possible, dual language education teaches ESL learners and native English speakers together with the goal of functional bilingualism and biliteracy for both groups. In an article published by NPR, George Mason University professors emeriti Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier looked at eight million student records and found that dual language students had higher test scores, higher parent involvement, better attendance, and fewer behavioral problems than students in English-only classrooms.

What Do They Both Have in Common?

ESL and bilingual education teachers both nurture and cultivate English language skills. Teachers in either profession can enjoy fulfilling careers teaching students a language that will better connect them to the world and people around them. Permanently enriching the lives of students is the goal of every educator, but that’s not the only thing these two career options have in common.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were five million ESL learners enrolled in the United States public school system in 2017, up from 3.8 million students in 2000. Texas, in particular, has a high need for ESL and bilingual education teachers, with 20% of the state’s total student population identified as ESL learners. As the number of ESL learners continues to rise, school districts will be in greater need of ESL and bilingual education teachers. Once you’ve earned your degree and are looking at ESL vs. bilingual certification in Texas, know that either option leads to a growing career field.

Bilingual education teachers often earn annual salaries of about $50,000, per Glassdoor. The top-earning bilingual education teachers make over $70,000 annually. Although they may not speak a second language, ESL teachers possess a highly sought-after skill set and earn about $45,000 annually, with some ESL teachers making as much as $60,000 a year. A career as an ESL or bilingual ESL teacher is both financially and emotionally rewarding, but you’ll first need to enter a master’s degree program that builds upon your strengths.

Earn Your MA in Bilingual/ESL Education Online

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers an online Masters of Arts in Bilingual/English as a Second Language Education program for teachers and administrators interested in a career educating ESL learners. Spanish-speaking students pursuing an MA in bilingual education learn how to teach science, social studies, math, language arts, and reading in Spanish, whereas students pursuing an MA in ESL education are empowered with the skills needed to pass on their own English language skills to their pupils. Upon completion of the program, students enrolled in UT Permian Basin’s MA in bilingual education program have the option of sitting for the Texas Bilingual Supplemental Exam, as long as they meet the other eligibility requirements.

Whether you immerse your students in a new language or act as a bridge between two languages, our online program will empower you with the skills needed to teach any ESL learner who enters your classroom.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online MA in bilingual/ESL education program.