What skills do ESL teachers need?

We have all spent a lot of time in classrooms during our lives and we have probably all experienced what it is like to be taught by a good teacher and varying degrees of less than good ones. The good ones seem to make it all look very easy as everyone in the class is interested, engaged, and keen to learn, but how do they do it? In most cases experience is the main reason why they make it look so straightforward, as doing something over and over again allows a good teacher to develop their skills and the best methods for getting the best results. However, there are a few common skills that are generally present in good teachers no matter how long they have been in the job.

Excellent communication skills

It probably goes without saying that a good teacher needs to have exceptional communication skills. Successful ESL teachers typically enjoy being around people, are enthusiastic, and always positive no matter what is happening in the classroom. By exhibiting positivity and enthusiasm, as well as teaching with a smile on your face, the energy will spread to most members of the class increasing motivation and therefore promoting a successful outcome. This set of personal skills can often be even more important when teaching in a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with your surroundings and the local culture.


Flexibility is a key skill in ESL teaching as things don’t always go exactly as planned. Your carefully planned activity timings might be off, technology can fail at crucial moments, and well used activities can sometimes fall flat on their face for no obvious reason. Whatever happens to go wrong in a lesson can always be overcome if you are flexible and prepared to deal with problems when they happen. You might have spent considerable time putting together an effective lesson plan, but good teachers are also able to think on their feet and adapt the lesson to what is actually happening in the class.

Good management skills

It is often the case that the success or failure of a lesson hinges on how the classroom is managed. Good organizing skills are key in this area as any teacher who has failed to plan a lesson early in their career will have found out. If you turn up to a lesson without a proper plan in place things can go very wrong, very quickly. As you gain experience you will need less time to prepare each lesson, but in the early days it is vital. Good management also includes laying out the class in the best way to encourage participation and dealing with any disruption in an effective manner. In a well-managed classroom, every student knows what is expected of them and they will always respond using pre-established procedures.


Patience is incredibly important in an ESL teacher as every student learns at their own pace and in their own way. A few members of the class will probably grasp new concepts and ideas quickly, while others will struggle and continue to make the same mistakes. The rest of the class will be somewhere in between the two. A good teacher will ensure that every member of the group receives the level of attention they need to succeed and not just the more gifted ones. No matter how difficult things might get, a good teacher will never show any frustration, they will instead find another way to keep every member of the class moving forward towards their individual study goals.


Most of the skills mentioned above can be learned or improved upon during your TESOL course training or by gaining experience in the classroom. However, passion for the job you are doing is something you either have or don’t have. If your time in front of your students is lacking in any passion you should not expect to get a very positive response in return. If you are only there to earn some cash then the students will soon pick up on it and any chance of success will probably go out of the window. If you care about the success of your lessons you will certainly enjoy your working day more, your students will be happy to participate, and your employer will be more than satisfied.

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