Types of English to Teach

Teaching General English

The most widely accepted and respected of English exams are offered by Cambridge.

Close to 2 million people take various Cambridge exams every year from around the world. Most commonly, both abroad and in the U.S., you will come across the PET (Preliminary English Test) and the FCE (First Certificate in English). These are two of the lower level general English exams; PET is best for those at the intermediate level, while FCE is for upper-intermediate level students. The PET is less widely recognized, and is often used as an internal assessment by an employer. The level of the FCE is a step up from the PET, and is often used for students who want to study abroad. There is a KET (Key English Test), which is actually the very first level and comes before the PET, but it is less likely that you will see students spending time on preparing for this exam, since it is really used to determine if the student can move on to the next level (PET) or not.

You will also come across students (this is especially in private lessons or small classes in private language schools) who want to simply use the PET or FCE textbook to study with during classes, but have no serious intention (or cannot pay the testing fees of usually $100 or more) of taking the test. Official study guides and textbooks for these tests will often include practice tests at the back of the book, or you can have the students take a practice test online. See Cambridge’s official ESOL exam website:


Probably the exam that will cause your students the most stress is the fourth exam in this set, the CAE (Certificate in Advanced English).

This exam is for advanced level ESL students who are striving for study abroad programs (usually U.K. or U.S.) or for a better job or job promotion, so you will be teaching for this exam only if you are among high school or college students or professionals, either in the U.S. or abroad.

Finally, the last level is the CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English), for proficiency level students. Since the CAE is adequate for most universities and employers, you are more likely to encounter the CPE only in a private lesson situation for a student who is in academia and trying to attain a higher position or degree. Also, this exam is often a requirement for non-native English speakers who want to become English teachers. Then again, if you are going to be preparing someone for the CPE, or even the CAE for that matter, it is rather important that you know your stuff. If you are brand new to the ESL world, you might not be asked to teach these kinds of classes, unless you have prior experience or adequate certification.

Also widely accepted, especially now in the U.S., is the IELTS – International English Language Testing System – administered jointly by Cambridge and the British Council, with almost one million test takers in 2007. This test also is an assessment for those wanting to study or work in an English-speaking country. Specifically, according to the IELTS website, this test is accepted at 1,800 American universities and also as part of the U.K.’s immigration system.

Teaching Business English

As far as business English, this is definitely the best-paid market for ESL teachers, since large corporations, especially multinationals, won’t think twice about paying for the betterment of their employees’ English skills. This is the case when teaching English abroad and in the US as well.

Cambridge also administers the most widely accepted business English exam, called the BEC (Business English Certificate). BEC offers three different levels (Preliminary, Vantage and Higher), and examines business English in an international context, making this a very important and relevant exam especially for multinational corporations. A second business English exam also given by Cambridge is the BULATS, although this is more for internal assessment by employers.

Teaching Academic English

The most accepted exam for non-native English speakers entering or moving up in academia is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The TOEFL is a common requirement for foreign students wanting to enter English-speaking universities, especially in the U.S. and U.K., but is accepted by over 6,000 universities worldwide. Again, to be capable of teaching TOEFL exam preparation courses, you must be a solid teacher and know your grammar. It is definitely not a job for a newbie ESL teacher.


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