Postsecondary Foreign Language Teacher: Education and Career Info
Learning a foreign language enriches your mind and improves your job prospects. Indeed, people who know more than one language and culture have a distinct edge in today’s global economy. That’s why institutions of higher education dedicate entire departments to teaching foreign languages.
Postsecondary foreign language teachers help their students learn how to read, write and speak a foreign language. Teaching a foreign language gives you the opportunity to help others fully participate in the cultures, communities and economies of countries around the world.
This guide reviews what it takes to become a postsecondary foreign language teacher or professor, 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: postsecondary foreign language teachers
|Community college foreign language instructor||Four-year college/university foreign language professor|
|Minimum education||Master’s degree; doctorate preferred||Doctorate|
|Estimated annual income||$63,500 (BLS)
$69,520 (Journal Times)
Postsecondary foreign language teacher job description
The job description for a postsecondary foreign language teacher is simple: educate your students effectively so they can fluently converse and communicate in a foreign language. In introductory courses, you’ll teach the basic components of a foreign language. At more advanced levels, you’ll teach students about foreign language literature and culture.
Who makes a good foreign language teacher?
Someone who is:
- Fully literate in English and at least one foreign language
- Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
- Excited about learning
- Sociable and easy to talk to
- Patient and resourceful
- Skillful in leading discussions
- Open to answering questions
- Good at motivating and inspiring students
- Organized and careful about time management
- Devoted to learning
- Qualified with an advanced degree in an education-related field, or a field related to the social sciences
Different types of postsecondary foreign language teachers
The road to becoming a postsecondary foreign language teacher depends on which employment environment you pursue: two-year community college or four-year college/university. Let’s take a look at these career paths in more detail.
Community college foreign language instructors
These foreign language instructors work at local or regional two-year colleges.
Continue reading to learn more about community college foreign language instructors
- What community college foreign language instructors do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a community college foreign language instructor
What community college foreign language instructors do
At the community college level, foreign language instructors develop and deliver lessons on the grammar, vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and idioms of a foreign language. They lead their students through practice conversations and reading and writing exercises. Organizing and encouraging in-class discussions immerses students in the language, leading to faster improvement for everyone.
Throughout the course, foreign language instructors assess the speaking, reading and writing abilities of their students. Assigning and grading homework, tests and quizzes helps the teacher identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student and tailor their teaching approach to best fit the entire classroom.
More advanced courses usually include a close study of the literature of the country (or countries) that speak the foreign language, as well as cultural immersion and analysis.
The main tasks of community college foreign language instructors include:
- Developing course materials such as a syllabus, tests, homework, handouts and essay prompts
- Lecturing students on grammar, vocabulary and syntax in basic courses and literature and culture in more advanced courses
- Grading students’ essays, exams, quizzes and homework
- Holding regular office hours to answer questions and provide guidance
- Advising students on research projects
- Leading foreign language discussions during class time
- Encouraging students to communicate with one another using the foreign language grammar and vocabulary they’re learning in each lesson
- Hosting and/or attending immersive foreign language social, cultural and academic events
Education and certification requirements
At minimum, community college foreign language instructors must have fluency and deep expertise in the foreign language they are teaching. In most cases, you will need a master’s degree in the foreign language to teach at the community college level.
Here are three estimates of what you might earn as a full-time foreign language instructor at a community college:
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: $63,500
- Glassdoor.com: $55,289
- PayScale.com: $47,086
Full-time faculty at community colleges generally command higher salaries than adjunct instructors. Adjunct instructors are paid by the course and don’t always receive benefits. For more about the difference between full-time faculty and adjunct instructors, check out our article on community college instructors.
Pros and cons of being a community college foreign language instructor
These are the key advantages and disadvantages of becoming a community college foreign language instructor.
- Teach students who are dynamic, enthusiastic and eager for opportunities
- Rewarding to educate many first-generation college students
- Focus on teaching exclusively
- Flexible hours and opportunities to take time off
- Can work well in some cases as a side job
- Little opportunity for research or publication
- Lower pay than professors at four-year colleges and universities
- Many teaching positions at community colleges are adjunct, meaning lower pay, few benefits and little job security
Foreign language professors at four-year colleges and universities
Foreign language professors teach courses at four-year colleges and universities.
Continue reading to learn more about university-level foreign language professors
- What foreign language professors do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a foreign language professor
What foreign language professors do
In addition to teaching , foreign language professors conduct research into the literature, culture and politics of the foreign language they teach, and then publish their research in academic papers and books. The next two sections will break down their main responsibilities into two categories: teaching and research.
Foreign language professors’ teaching duties depend on whether they teach introductory or advanced courses. Their duties include:
- Planning, preparing and delivering foreign language lessons and/or lectures
- Assigning readings in the foreign language
- Leading foreign language discussions in class
- Encouraging students to communicate with one another using the foreign grammar and vocabulary they’re learning in each lesson
- Leading discussions or giving lectures on literature written in the foreign language
- Preparing teaching materials such as assignments, quizzes, tests, essay prompts and informational handouts
- Working with students to improve listening, speaking, reading and writing skills via individual and group sessions
- Talking with students about current events in a foreign country that speaks the language the class is studying
- Grading homework and tests
- Hosting and/or attending immersive foreign language social, cultural or academic events
Research and scholarship
Foreign language professors may produce scholarship on the foreign language and its culture and politics. A foreign language professor’s research and scholarship duties may include:
- Contributing to the academic study of the foreign language, usually by analyzing literature written in the language, as well as studying the culture and politics of the country or countries where the language is spoken
- Publishing the results of critical inquiries in academic publications and books
- Constantly reading texts written in the foreign language
- Applying for grants to gain external funding from foundations, governments and businesses
- Leading a team of research assistants
- Supervising graduate students’ research projects
Education and certification requirements
Gaining a professorship at a university or four-year college can be a monumental task. At minimum, aspiring foreign language professors will have to complete a doctorate demonstrating a commitment to research and inquiry in the foreign language they plan to teach. Getting a full-time faculty position at a college or university frequently requires that you publish original research and earn the respect and admiration of your colleagues. Some of these requirements may be reduced or waived if you are hired only to teach basic to intermediate courses.
Foreign language professors usually earn significantly more than their counterparts at community colleges. Here are annual salary estimates for foreign language professors:
- BLS: $63,500
- PayScale.com: $47,086
- Salary.com: $93,735
- Journal Times: $69,520
Pros and cons of being a foreign language professor
Consider both the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a foreign language professor at a four-year college or university.
- Full benefits for health insurance and retirement security
- Higher pay than most other teaching jobs
- Can be a tenure-track position, with an opportunity for long-term job security
- Ample opportunities for research
- Publish your findings in prestigious journals and books
- Get to teach students with a passion for learning and achievement
- Probably responsible for joining a committee and attending many extra meetings and professional events
- Can be frustrating to work in bureaucratic institutions like universities
- Academia can be highly competitive and exhausting, with a “publish-or-perish” norm
- Many years of advanced education required
Professional development for postsecondary foreign language teachers
There are a few excellent ways to develop your professional outlook as a postsecondary foreign language instructor. You should definitely prioritize living abroad in a country that speaks the language you plan to teach. Working as a teacher or completing a research fellowship in a foreign country is an important step to developing your career as a foreign language teacher.
Consider joining a professional organization like the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) or Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL). These groups will keep you up-to-date on the latest advances in foreign language pedagogy and give you access to networking opportunities.
If your ultimate goal is to obtain tenure as a foreign language professor, you’ll want to take a careful look at the publishing requirements. You will need to publish research and criticism in prestigious academic journals, which accept only 10 percent of submissions. This means you will need to do an inordinate amount of reading and discussing ideas with your peers.
Benefits of continuing education
To become a postsecondary foreign language teacher at any level, you should seriously consider pursuing an advanced degree in a foreign language or in the field of education (MEd or EdD).
Jobs for postsecondary foreign language teachers beyond teaching
With additional education or certification, postsecondary foreign language 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: Postsecondary foreign language 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, postsecondary foreign language teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.
School principal: Postsecondary foreign language 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 postsecondary foreign language teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles
The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent postsecondary foreign language scholars and educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.
Favorite foreign language websites and blogs
Favorite foreign language Twitter handles
- Pilar Munday: @mundaysa
- Donna Shelton: @donna_shelton
- Kevin Gaugler: @gaugler
- Todd Presner: @ToddPresner
- Araceli H-Laroche: @AraceliHLaroche
- Dave Fedman: @dfedman
- Anita Huang: @HLaoshi
- Professoressa: @Italianbcc