The global English language job market is changing: what this means for ESL teachers

By Christie Van Tol, University of Toronto TEFL Online

As the fastest-spreading language in human history, over the past several decades, English has come of age as the world’s lingua franca — the common language. Today, English is spoken by 1.75 billion people — that’s a quarter of the world’s population. And this number is only set to grow. By 2020, the British Council forecasts that two billion people will be speaking or learning English.

Billions of people around the globe are learning English — not just as a hobby — but out of economic necessity.
English has the potential to generate opportunities, strengthen employment opportunities and expand horizons in today’s interconnected world. From its beginnings as the language of international trade under the British Empire, and its boom during the postwar economic expansion of the US, English has rode the wave of globalization, urbanization and technology like no other language before.

More and more, the international business world sees English as essential.
Multinational companies are increasingly mandating English as their corporate language of choice. English is now seen less as an optional “foreign” language and more as a core skill for the present and future generations — the operating system of the world’s global conversation. Or, as an Education First study puts it, “a basic skill needed for the entire workforce, in the same way that literacy has been transformed in the last two centuries from an elite privilege into a basic requirement for informed citizenship.”

Countries with better English have better incomes.
Emerging economies and developing countries have recognized the correlation between producing large numbers of graduates skilled in English and an increase in economic performance. Countries that focus on integrating English into the curriculum from the primary or even preschool years are attracting foreign investment — which means a rise in gross national income and GDP.

New findings about the English language learning marketplace
The dominance of English as the global language of business means it’s also the most widely taught language today.

Recognizing the value of an English-speaking workforce in our competitive global economy, countries are scrambling to increase investments in school reforms and teacher training programs aimed at raising English proficiency levels.

Some facts about English language learning worldwide that might surprise you
The growth of international business, travel, and education means that thousands of schools in countries throughout the world are hiring thousands of fluent English speakers every year to teach English:

  • Right now, ESL speakers outnumber native English speakers 2–1 worldwide.
  • China is already the largest English-speaking country in the world. The number of English language learners in China is at least as large as the whole US native English speaking population — over 300 million and counting.
  • Roughly 100,000 English teaching positions open every year.
  • Latest estimates put the number of ESL schools and language institutes at 40,000+ worldwide.

Three trends in foreign-language teaching that are here to stay

1. ESL students are getting younger and younger. 
Education markets at large are constantly evolving to meet the needs of policy makers, learners, industry and society. In the past ten years, the ESL industry has seen an exponential increase in the number of children learning English as a foreign language.

Parents are quickly catching on to the fact that strong English skills offers their children better employment opportunities in the future, but governments are leading the charge.

  • In many countries worldwide, English is now compulsory at primary or elementary grade levels.
  • For the past five years, countries including Saudi Arabia and Vietnam made English a mandatory subject for students in grades four and up.
  • At the same time, Japan has introduced English learning at the primary level and young learners in Dubai now start learning English in kindergarten.

Teaching young learners has its own unique set of challenges. So how can teachers looking to enter this area of English language teaching learn the strategies and techniques needed to teach English to children under 10 years?

There are online TEFL courses that offer specializations in teaching English to young learners for ESL teachers as employers increasingly recognize that further training is an essential requirement for any teacher looking to teach English in the young learner classroom.

2. Technology will continue to disrupt and innovate English language teaching strategies.
The foreign language classroom has come a long way and ESL teachers need to be able to cater to the needs of 21st century English language learners. In today’s world, technology is a significant force, forever changing how we do everything. English language teaching is no exception. Increased technology usage in the classroom is accelerating at a rapid pace.

The explosion of technology in today’s classrooms makes blended learning — where learning is done partly through online media — is a reality that most ESL teachers will need to embrace in order to be successful. Every month, we’re seeing more and more language apps appearing on the market for students who want to learn English on the go.

Given the abundance of mobile devices owned by learners around the world, it makes sense to use mobile technology to enhance classroom-based English language teaching — so that learners all over the world can access high-quality content anytime and anywhere. English language online learning products are poised for huge growth. According to a study conducted by Ambient Insight, worldwide annual growth for digital English language learning products is 6% and revenues are tipped to rise to $3.8 billion by 2020, up from $2.8 billion in 2015.

Young learners are already technologically savvy digital natives, so ESL teachers need to keep up with technological advances so they can continue to communicate and collaborate effectively with their students through modern technological aids.

3. English language learners are moving online.
Opportunities for online ESL teachers have been ramping up over the past number of years as more and more students turn to learning online. While school-aged students are generally supplementing the traditional school-based learning approach with educational apps and other digital products, more and more adults are moving to online classes. With geographical limitations no longer a factor, ESL teachers can now work from anywhere in the world.

So, how can ESL teachers strike while the iron is hot? Some emerging avenues for ESL teachers to ply their trade online include the following:

  • Select online companies offer full-time paid online teaching positions for ESL teachers, although these tend to be highly competitive teaching positions.
  • Entrepreneurial-minded ESL teachers are choosing start their private online English teaching business. Being successful in this area can be tricky and time consuming — although it can be a very lucrative way to teach exclusively online for ESL teachers who are willing to promote themselves and network effectively.

For ESL teachers looking to supplement their income or forgo the traditional classroom model entirely, online tutoring in the digital classroom is tipped for continued growth in 2017, with the global online tutoring market set to reach $103 billion market by 2018. Skooli Online Tutoring is one example of an emerging player in the online language tutoring space, offering a wealth of opportunities for certified teachers as well as English native speakers.

The convenience of online tuition is undoubtedly a big draw for both families and tutors. As the technology around online tutoring improves and as parents and the public become better informed about online options to learn English, demand for online tuition for English learners will certainly increase.

What does 2017 hold for aspiring and current English teachers?
Although there is an increased demand for English teachers, expectations for qualifications and professional credentials have risen too. It’s no longer enough to be a native English speaker to be a truly effective ESL teacher. The influx of technology and sea changes in teaching approaches has resulted in a number of unprecedented changes in the foreign-language classroom — and the wheels of change are spinning rapidly.

Because of this, ESL teachers need to not only keep with the latest developments in the ELT field — they have to be proactive in continuously developing their teaching skills in order to optimize their students’ English learning. ESL teachers share a responsibility to tune into the trends that are surfacing in their industry.

Now is not the time for English teachers to be complacent. Advances in the ESL teaching field are occurring so quickly that the teacher who opts out of continued study and professional improvement is the teacher that will be left behind in the future ESL marketplace.


Want to teach abroad in 2017, but finding it hard to sift through the endless information and advice online? Hard to know what information is credible and up to date? Look no further…

Request a copy of The No-Nonsense Guide to Everything You Need to Know About Teaching Abroad from University of Toronto TEFL Online.