Step Aside, Kids—Here’s What You Need to Start Teaching ESL to Adults

by Published

Do you love explaining English words and phrases, but don’t love spending your days with children? Do you find commanding a classroom to be exhilarating, but aren’t sure that working with kids is for you? Do you want to travel and make an impact, but maybe not sing nursery rhymes? No worries! Adults all over the world want to learn English to advance their education or career, and there are exciting English teaching jobs for adult students waiting for you to apply. If you’d rather delve into the intricacies of English for business instead of “head, shoulders, knees and toes”, and you’re ready to travel anywhere from China to Zanzibar, than read on to learn how to get started teaching English to adults. 

Sitting behind a pile of books

You’ll have to hit the books a little more, even before your students do!

What’s the difference between teaching ESL to adults vs. teaching ESL kids?

Well, adults might not want to do “Wheels on the Bus” 17 times in a row (or they might! We all have our thing, right?). Every student is different, even when you teach ESL to adults. But, adults will likely come in far more focused, with an end goal in mind for the class. Maybe they want to learn English for work, maybe to get into a certain degree program, perhaps for an upcoming trip. Rather than be placed in an ESL class because it was required by their school or their parents, adult students are there for themselves, and that comes out in the classroom.

They’ll expect a lot from you and probably a lot from themselves. They might ask for very specific types of lessons—adult beginners might expect basic conversation fairly quickly, while advanced learners might ask for lessons such as English for business meetings, or English to sell to tourists, or English to pass a GED.

Adult students can sit and focus longer, but they also have more demands on their time. They may have full time jobs or children at home. They could be less patient if your class isn’t an efficient and sound use of their time. But they are also likely to be super grateful that you are there, and glad to support you! Having the gratitude and understanding of your students can be a huge help during the challenges of teaching. 

[Get matched with ESL teaching jobs]

Is there anything I should be aware of before I start teaching English to adults?

Be aware of the goals of your students! It wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask students what they want out of the class (if the class itself doesn’t make that explicit). Be aware of their expectation, time constraints, outside responsibilities, and sense of fun. Maybe it’s fun for them to try some kids song and games—adults like to play too! Or maybe that makes them feel uncomfortable. Which leads me to my next point...

With adult students, classes can at times be more collaborative. You can work together to build a curriculum that is tailored to them. You can involve in the process, as oftentimes, these students have very specific goals or even higher levels of English skills than a typical first grader. Their experience learning languages, including their own, have already given them a wealth of ideas the types of lessons they like. Why not leverage this knowledge to improve your lesson planning and executing while teaching ESL to adults?

How to start teaching English to adults 

Here are seven steps to help you find teaching English to adults jobs. Just seven measly steps! We cannot stress enough how easy it is to get started. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Get after it! :-)           

1. Get TEFL Certified

Because YES. IT. IS. WORTH. IT. While some schools might not require the TEFL certification for young children, for teaching ESL to adults you will definitely need it! This will help you do your job better, and ultimately prepare you for a fruitful and fun experience figuring out how to teach English to beginners adults (or advanced, whichever you prefer!).

It’s particularly important to have this training for teaching ESL to adults, because they will have very different learning styles from young children, have very different goals, and very different needs as ESL learners. You can’t just pluck any ol’ lesson from that TEFL prep coursebook. You need to make sure you know how to tailor a lesson to your adult learners’ needs.

Jumpstart your search. Find TEFL certification courses here.

adults standing together in casual clothing

Teaching ESL to adults comes with it’s own set of benefits and challenges. You’ve got to be ready for anything!

2. Pick a Location 

Is there a country you’ve dreamed of living and teaching in since you were playing classroom with your friends? Start your search there. With so many countries looking for qualified instructors to come in and start teaching ESL to adults, you’re sure to find a great position in your dream country. Do keep in mind that some countries have higher paying opportunities than others, but of course, it’s not always all dollar signs. If you want to learn a certain language, be in a specific climate, or have certain travel opportunities around you, all that will play into your location decision.

Teach abroad in great places. Here are top destinations for teaching abroad in 2018/2019.

3. Find a Program

This step does come with a few sub-steps, because the right program and teaching job could vary widely—from teaching at a university to an institution with night classes. To really get this ball rolling, you need to take a look at what’s out there. Start bookmarking programs left and right, compare their requirements, starting salaries, schedules, etc.

Do your due diligence in reaching out  to programs, connecting with teaching alumni, and reading reviews before even applying. That way you know you’ve made the right decision, and you’ve found *the one*. Read all contracts thoroughly, and don’t be afraid to negotiate once you land that awesome job teaching ESL to adults!

Stuck on your options? Here are tips to pick the right program for you.

4. Plan Some Great Lessons

Once you know the sort of institution you’ll be working in, plans some amazing lessons! That way you can start the term off right. Build in a lot of flexibility so you can tailor your lessons to your students. Nothing is worse than a rigid lesson plan that doesn’t hold up in the classroom. When teaching ESL to adults, it’s important to pack as much punch in a lesson as you can. Really maximize learning and immersion.

You might not love lesson planning yet, but you’ll hit your stride soon. Bookmark these great ESL activities.

5. Pack Your Bags! 

This step is a given now that you’re all ready to go! Pack a nice balance of comfy clothes and “teaching clothes,” though depending on your placement those may be one in the same! Some recommended items to pack for your: a few of your favorite objects, art, and media that expresses your cultural and linguistic background. It’s always fun to share with students!

6. Plan Even More Lessons. Because #teaching.

Yep. It doesn’t end with your bags being packed. Learn from your students and your successes and challenges in the classroom and plan lessons based on that!

Here are 10 more ESL resources to utilize as you become a lesson planning god(dess).

7. Make a Difference

Learn English can really change your students lives - they can have more job and educational opportunities. You could be the reason they get that dream job or into the degree program they always wanted! Your ESL teaching could open up opportunities to take in books and music they had never heard of, or build new friendships.

[Free Ebook! The Best Advice Across the Web for New ESL Teachers]

man reading red hard-bound book

Be sure to have plenty of extra curricular reading for your star ESL students!

Check out these top programs to help you find teaching English to adults jobs! 

From TEFL certifications if you’re new to the ESL space, to highly paid placements for the experienced, to exciting volunteer opportunities, there is a program out there for you!

TeachingChile 

TeachingChile places you in adult-learning institutes with small class sizes. The course curriculum is provided and you can teach in the institute classrooms or at business sites. Great if you’re interested in teaching business English for adults! 

Reach to Teach 

Teach business English and conversational English at a popular adult school in China with Reach to Teach. They’re looking for experienced English teachers, but if you have that experience, it’s a great opportunity with decent pay and new facilities. 

African Impact 

Teach adults in Zanzibar (or kids or teenagers!) through this highly rated volunteer program. Their adult English classes reach over 100 adult students every day. If you’re looking to volunteer rather than find employment, this could be a great opportunity to use your ESL skills and start teaching English to adults!


Language Link 

Language Link has schools in 10 cities in Russia, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, where you can teach business English to adults. They help cut through the red tape of moving to Russia, including aiding in finding housing. If you want a teaching English to adults job in a vibrant city, this could be a great opportunity. 

younger man and older man playing chess outside

Your adult ESL students could be younger or older, so be sure to tailor lessons to students’ ages and proficiency levels.


Global Nomadic

This program in sunny Costa Rica allows you to earn your TEFL certification (a must for finding a job teaching English to adult learners!) and the course has you teaching free local classes to adults. They focus on innovative, hands on TEFL courses so you’ll be ready for the classroom in no time. 

Gold Star TEFL Recruitment 

Teach adult students in Guangzhou, China in tiny classes (3 students!) on evenings and weekends. If small classes and day times free to prepare, study Mandarin (free classes provided!) and explore sound like your jam, this could be the perfect fit. Gold Star also helps with accommodation and other support services. 

[Not quite right for you? Browse all teach abroad programs.]

Bonus! A collection of free resources for teaching English to adults 

We’ve compiled EVEN MORE resources from across the web to help you out. We accept thank yous in the form of comments below and having an AMAZING experience abroad.

  • is a classic and has amazing ESL teaching materials for adults
  • Is a treasure trove of ESL for adults worksheets  
  • has tons of song ideas and ESL for adults worksheets centered around learning English through music 
  • is a go-to for lessons in higher level writing and resume writing—even for your adult ESL students
  • is a MEGA RESOURCE for teaching ESL to adults
  • is perfect for your adult business ESL class 


Tools to help you start teaching English to adults

Check out these resources to help you learn how to start teaching English to adults. Learn from current and past ESL teachers and take advantage of the expertise of GoAbroad!

  • Still looking for the perfect program? Our Online Advisor is here for you—poised and ready to match you with ideal programs based on your preferred locations, contract length, and project focus. No kiddie-program suggestions here!
  • Want to strike out on your own, or not sure how to make sense of the recommendations given to you? We get it. There are a LOT of choices. That’s why we created MyGoAbroad, a free tool to help you compare program options side-by-side. This can be SUPER helpful if you’re narrowing down your choices between your top contenders.
  • Need more advice? If you’re totally new to teaching ESL to adults, this article will help with those first baby steps! 
  • Let’s talk $$$. Your teach abroad salary is an important part of your experience abroad. If you’re wondering how to negotiate a salary, or even what’s an average pay rate, you’ll probably love/bookmark/read this article a dozen times: The Truth Behind Your Teaching Abroad Salary.

[What to Look for in ESL Teaching Jobs]

man and woman browsing through stacks of books in bookstore

Inspire your students to continue learning on their own

Teaching ESL to adults is in your future

Teaching English to adult jobs can be fulfilling, impactful, and a great career step. Use the resources, advice, and program suggestions in this article to start you off! Whether you’re highly experienced or a completely newbie to ESL teaching, a great program can get you where you want to go. And we can help. Pack those bags, brush off your English dictionary, and let’s get started! 

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Topic:  Before You Go