Bilingual teachers instruct in two languages
Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated February 28, 2020

Bilingual Teacher: Job Description, Career, Salary Information

By Robbie Bruens

In today’s interconnected world, children who know more than one language and culture have a distinct advantage — that’s part of why so many schools emphasize bilingual education. If you speak two or more languages and enjoy helping young people learn, you should explore the possibilities of becoming a bilingual teacher.

Bilingual teachers do much the same work as conventional K-12 classroom teachers, except they teach their subject area expertise in at least two languages. Some bilingual teachers help native English-speaking students to learn a foreign language, while others help English language learner (ELL) students improve their fluency in English.

This guide will provide an overview of what it takes to become a bilingual teacher, including the prerequisite education, likely income, and advantages and disadvantages of this career. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:

At-a-glance
> Bilingual teacher job description
> Who makes a good bilingual teacher?
>Income projections for bilingual teachers

Types of bilingual teachers
> Bilingual teachers for students learning a foreign language
> Bilingual teachers for ELL students

Professional development
> What kinds of programs can help bilingual teachers?

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: bilingual teachers

Bilingual teachers for students learning a foreign language Bilingual teachers for ELL students
Minimum education Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred Bachelor’s degree
Estimated annual income $63,500 (BLS)
$48,284 (Glassdoor.com)
$63,500 (BLS)
$48,284 (Glassdoor.com)

Bilingual teacher job description

Bilingual teachers’ duties mirror those of K-12 teachers. In elementary schools, they usually teach several subjects to one class of students. In middle and high schools, they teach one or two specialized subjects to multiple classes. The one central difference is teaching the designated material in two languages.

Some bilingual classrooms help immerse native English-speaking students in a foreign language and culture, while others help ELL students learn English while providing a high-quality education in the standard K-12 academic subjects. With a growing bilingual population and greater cultural and socioeconomic importance placed on speaking at least two languages, bilingual teachers play an increasingly valuable role in today’s education system.

As a bilingual teacher, your office will be your classroom. Your day-to-day job duties will likely include:

  • Teaching a curriculum provided by the school
  • Assigning and grading homework
  • Creating and grading tests and quizzes
  • Engaging your class with lectures, classroom discussions, relevant activities and demonstrations.

You’ll also be challenged to connect course curriculum to pop culture, current events and the social realities of your students’ lives. These activities will help your students engage with the subject matter and understand how the content of the course plays a role in the larger world.

Bilingual teachers can expect to work school days: mornings and afternoons five days a week, nine to 10 months of the year. You may enjoy winter, spring and summer vacations, and may even pursue a second career when school is not in session.

Who makes a good bilingual teacher?

Someone who is:

  • Fully literate in English and at least one more language
  • Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Excited about learning
  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Skillful in leading discussion
  • Open to answering questions
  • Good at motivating and inspiring students
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to learning
  • Service-oriented
  • Able to express ideas precisely in writing and in oral presentations
  • Qualified with a degree in an education-related field

Income projections for bilingual teachers

Because bilingual teaching is a narrow specialty, it’s hard to find precise and comprehensive salary estimates for people in this career. Some bilingual teachers earn more than their single-language colleagues, but there will be exceptions depending on the school district.

These salary estimates gathered from around the web can give you a sense of the pay range for bilingual teachers.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that foreign language instructors earn a median salary of $61,380. The agency doesn’t break out estimates for bilingual elementary, middle and high school teachers.
  • The BLS does estimate the median salaries of single-language K-12 teachers:
    • $54,550, elementary
    • $55,860, middle school
    • $57,200, high school
  • Glassdoor.com estimates that bilingual elementary school teachers earn a national average salary of $48,284.
  • Los Angeles Unified School District, a national leader in bilingual education, says bilingual teachers can earn up to $3,060 more annual pay than single-language K-12 teachers receive.

Different types of bilingual teachers

As you think more about becoming a bilingual teacher, consider whether you want to primarily teach in classrooms of native English speakers learning a foreign language, or in classrooms of English language learners.

Bilingual teachers for students learning a foreign language

You will teach students who are native English speakers. However, these students frequently speak two languages at home and are enrolled in dual-language schools or educational programs.
Continue reading to learn more about bilingual teachers for students learning a foreign language

What bilingual teachers for students learning a foreign language do

Dual-language schools and education programs serve the children of parents who want their children educated in two languages simultaneously. This may be because the parents are recent immigrants, or they may have a strong connection to another language and culture through heritage and family background. In other cases, parents see dual-language education as an important advantage in helping children succeed in the 21st century.

Dual-language schools and education programs may specialize in Spanish, French, Japanese or another foreign language in addition to English. You will seek employment in a school focused on teaching the two languages where you have a strong background.

The school (or program) may determine how curriculum and class time are divided between the two languages, or they may give you discretion to teach in both languages as you see fit. In any case, you will create activities, projects, games and group activities to help your students use and develop their non-native language skills.

As a bilingual teacher, you must focus on ensuring that lessons conducted in a foreign language are engaging so students do not become bored or confused. You may need to periodically schedule one-on-one meetings with students to check on their individualized language learning and development goals.

Education and certification requirements

Requirements to become bilingual teachers for students learning a foreign language depend on employer type. Many dual-language schools are private, which means they may not require a state-issued teaching credential, but they usually expect a bachelor’s degree at minimum. In addition, they want to see certification or some other evidence of your fluency in the foreign language you will be using in class alongside English. If you do work for a public school, you’ll need a state-issued teaching credential as well as a bachelor’s degree.

A degree in the foreign language you will use in class can be a major asset. Otherwise, your employer will look for an academic background in the subject(s) you plan to teach. Dual-language schools will look for prior classroom experience on your resume.

If you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, consider enrolling in a master’s or doctorate program.

Pros and cons of being a high school bilingual teacher

It helps to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming a bilingual teacher for students learning a foreign language.

Pros

  • Salary is above U.S. median household income
  • Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
  • Potential to earn job security via tenure
  • Time off for summer and winter vacations
  • Can be very fulfilling to help students learn a new language
  • Work in a place that values diversity and learning

Cons

  • Can be frustrating to deal with students who are unruly and/or ungrateful
  • Teaching license may be required for some jobs
  • Master’s degree may be required for some jobs

Bilingual teachers for ELL students

Many children of recent immigrants to the U.S. primarily speak a language other than English at home. These children learn how to speak English alongside other subjects in school. As a bilingual teacher for ELL students, you will make sure your students don’t fall behind in the subject matter you teach just because they are still becoming fluent in English.
Continue reading to learn more about bilingual teachers for ELL students

What bilingual teachers for ELL students do

Bilingual teachers for ELL students work in a broad spectrum of learning environments. Some classrooms have a few ELL students, while others may be all ELL students. Some schools make bilingual education a central focus, but it might be a secondary objective in others. For all this diversity, your job will be the same: ensuring your ELL students keep up with their English-only peers in math, science, reading, history and other subjects.

Here are some of the main responsibilities of a bilingual teacher for ELL students:

  • Immersing ELL students in English grammar and vocabulary
  • Constantly communicating with ELL students using English to answer their questions and even joke around and have fun
  • Communicating with the parents of ELL students in their native language and helping to integrate them into the school community

As a bilingual teacher, you will do a lot of out-of-class planning and curriculum development. You must create a strategy and schedule for each day’s lessons. This may involve deciding the language used to teach the lesson. Including games and group activities in each day’s schedule will make it easier for students to learn English at the same time as another academic subject.

Teaching students in two languages can be challenging. Giving a science lesson in English to ELL students can leave them confused, frustrated or bored. You must frequently check in with your ELL students to make sure they understand how you are communicating. You may need to translate especially difficult words or sentences. Repetition is your friend: You will need to teach many words and concepts more than once.

In addition to grading your ELL students with tests, homework and other measures, you may have to regularly assess their English language comprehension. You may have to keep weekly, monthly or quarterly records of ELL student progress in achieving English language fluency.

Educational and certification requirements

A bachelor’s degree and a state-certified teaching credential qualify you to teach in most public schools. Private schools may not require you to have a state teaching certificate. All employers look for certification or some other evidence of your fluency in the foreign language you will be using in class alongside English.

A degree in the foreign language spoken by the ELL students you will be teaching can be a major asset. Otherwise, your employer will look for a degree in the academic subject you plan to teach as a bilingual teacher. Schools also look for student teaching and other prior classroom experience.

If you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, you should think about pursuing an advanced degree.

Pros and cons of being a bilingual teacher for ELL students

These are the key advantages and disadvantages of becoming a bilingual teacher for ELL students:

Pros

  • Help your students fully integrate into the educational system of the United States
  • Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
  • Higher pay than single-language K-12 teachers in many cases
  • Potential to earn job security via tenure
  • Focus exclusively on teaching and students
  • Support immigrant families working to gain an education for their children

Cons

  • Frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or disruptive students
  • Many schools with large numbers of ELL students do not receive adequate funding
  • Not as prestigious as a professorship in the higher education system

Professional development for bilingual teachers

To begin pursuing a career as a bilingual teacher, you’ll want to develop your pedagogical skills and improve your professional connections. You should also master at least one foreign language if you haven’t already done so.

You should complete an advanced degree in education or in the foreign language you plan to use as a bilingual teacher. Also consider applying for a student teaching internship — classroom experience will make you much more attractive when you seek employment as a bilingual teacher.

Get involved in organizations focused on bilingual education such as National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) or National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) to gain access to networking opportunities, skills-training workshops and much more.

Benefits of continuing education

Becoming a great bilingual teacher requires advanced proficiency in at least one foreign language along with great teaching skills. If you’re already fluent in two languages, consider pursuing an advanced degree in an education-related field to balance your knowledge of languages with highly effective teaching skills.

Jobs for bilingual teachers beyond teaching

With additional education or certification, bilingual teachers may become librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to a subject like curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.

Education consultant: Bilingual teachers can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.

Education policy analyst: With an advanced degree in an education-related subject, bilingual teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.

School principal: Bilingual teachers wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Educational administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree or doctorate in educational leadership may be required.

Best of the web: our favorite bilingual teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent bilingual educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite bilingual teacher websites and blogs

Favorite bilingual teacher Twitter handles

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