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Language Proficiency for TESOL Programs: What You Need to Know

TESOL program language proficiency

If you're considering a career teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), you'll need to demonstrate English language proficiency as part of your certification requirements. We'll guide you through the specifics of what you need in terms of the TESOL program language proficiency and any other additional requirements in order to obtain the proper teaching qualifications for this exciting career path.

We'll also give you an overview of the TESOL degree program at Pepperdine University's Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Read on to find out more!

Terms to Know

TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages—encompasses various educational settings, from kindergarten to adult education and across different geographic locations.

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language—teaching English and foreign language courses in countries where English is not the primary language

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language—standardized test that evaluates a non-native English speaker's proficiency in English. This is a graduation requirement for some TESOL certification programs.

IELTS: International English Language Testing System—another standardized test used to measure English language proficiency

What Are the Requirements for a TESOL Program Language Proficiency?

Teaching English is a specialized skill, and you must be proficient in speaking English in order to effectively communicate complex ideas, provide clear instruction around literacy development, and provide an engaging learning environment for your students.

In English language teaching, fluency isn't just about your ability to communicate; it's about your ability to teach English effectively. This is especially important for international students who may not be native English speakers. A strong grasp of the language is indispensable for navigating rigorous coursework, conducting impactful teaching practices, and actively participating in academic discussions, all of which are central to excelling in a TESOL program's language proficiency standards.

How to Prove Your English Language Proficiency

To show that you're qualified to teach English to speakers of other languages, the MA in TESOL program requires proof of language proficiency. This is important for making sure that all students, regardless of their native language, can handle the advanced language courses and succeed in teaching English to speakers of other languages. If you're a non-native speaker, you can take a standardized test like the TOEFL or IELTS as proof of proficiency.

Test Options

TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language)

The TOEFL exam is a standard assessment designed to measure the English language skills of non-native speakers who wish to teach English language learners. It serves as tangible proof of your language proficiency. Successful completion of this exam—along with the proper certificate courses—gives you the necessary qualifications for TESOL jobs around the world 


A minimum score of 550 is required if you're taking the paper-based test. For those opting for the Internet-based TOEFL test, you'll want to target a score of at least 80. These benchmarks are considered the passing grade for many educational and professional settings (including the admission requirements for the MA in TESOL program at Pepperdine University).

Scheduling Your Test

When selecting your test date, you should make sure to schedule your test at least 2-3 months in advance of the application deadline for your graduate studies in order to ensure your scores are received before the deadline.

While most people choose to take the online test, you also have the option to take a paper test. For more information on the paper test, visit ets.org website.

After you've taken the test, you'll receive proof of completion, usually in the form of an official score report, which you can then submit to schools or prospective employers as proof of your English language proficiency.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

As an alternative, you can choose to take the IELTS exam, where you’ll need a minimum score of 6.5. IELTS is another reputable test with a more task-based approach compared to TOEFL and can be submitted instead of the TOEFL test as part of your application forms. Visit IELTS’s official site for more details.

How to Improve Your Language Skills

As you prepare for a graduate-level program like the Master of Arts in TESOL, meeting the specific language proficiency requirements should be a top priority. Here are a few tips for improving your language skills as you prepare for your graduate school application. 

1. Engage in Conversation With Others

So much of language proficiency comes from using the language in real-world settings. Conversational practice is of the best ways to improve your English skills. It will help you understand the nuances of the language, including idiomatic expressions, slang, and the natural rhythm of spoken English. Plus, conversing regularly lets you apply what you've learned, reinforcing your speaking and listening skills.

2. Utilize Online Resources

There are all kinds of online resources to help you improve your English skills. Platforms like Duolingo and Babbel make learning engaging and fun. These apps definitely do not replace formal education, but they're an excellent supplement, especially for drilling vocabulary and basic sentence structures.

3. Read A Variety of Materials in English

Reading is an incredibly beneficial method to improve language skills, especially at the graduate level. It helps expand your vocabulary and understanding of English syntax and structure. Whether it's newspapers, academic journals, or fiction, a diverse reading list helps you improve your speaking, reading, and writing skills. The more you read, the better you'll understand the mechanics of the language.

4. Consider Taking ESL Classes

Self-study and informal practice are great, but there's also something to be said for structured learning environments. Enrolling in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes can provide a more structured approach to learning, which is great for students who struggle with self-guided learning. These classes are tailored to meet the needs of English learners and typically cover all language bases—speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Tips for Success on the Language Proficiency Test

TESOL program language proficiency

Once you feel like you have a strong grasp on the English language, you'll want to make sure you're well-prepared to take your proficiency exam. Here are some tips to help set you up for success.

Make Sure You're Well Prepared for the Exam

Be sure to start your preparation early so you give yourself plenty of time to understand your weaknesses and address them. Plus, when you're well prepared, it can alleviate last-minute stress and allow you to pace your study schedule more evenly. The extra time can be particularly helpful for those who might find certain aspects of English somewhat challenging.

Practice By Taking Mock Tests

You'll definitely want to prepare yourself for the testing format by taking some practice tests. You can take mock tests through the TOEFL Go! App that mirror the format of the actual exam and give you a sense of what to expect. These practice exams help you get used to the types of questions you'll see and the time constraints of the actual exam. Analyze your performance in these mock tests to pinpoint where you need extra practice.

What You'll Learn in a MA in TESOL Program

An MA in TESOL program is a great way to ensure you have the advanced skills needed to excel in your career. Whether you're planning to teach public schools and private institutions in the United States or international language academies, the knowledge you gain from advanced language courses in a graduate program will help set you up for success.

Here's what you can expect to learn in a MA in TESOL program:

  • Teaching Methods: The major foundation of the program is a focus on teaching methods that are effective for diverse English learners. You'll learn everything from traditional classroom techniques (like creating effective lesson plans) to more modern, tech-based approaches that will teach you to adapt to different learning styles and needs.
  • All Core Courses: Core courses dive deeply into the essential theories and practical applications of teaching English as a second language. Topics could include language analysis, curriculum development, and assessment strategies.
  • Student Teaching: The Pepperdine University program embraces the scholar-practitioner model, ensuring that graduate students gain experience outside a lecture hall. You'll have the opportunity to engage in student teaching through clinical practicum placements. These real-world experiences allow you to apply what you've learned in real-life settings.
  • Language Analysis: Courses in language analysis give you a deeper understanding of the English language, allowing you to effectively teach its complexities to your future students.
  • Capstone Experience: You'll also complete a capstone project as part of your graduation requirement. Successful completion of your capstone experience allows you to show off your skills and focus on either practical teaching methods.

Where Can You Work With a MA in TESOL?

TESOL program language proficiency

Once you've completed your MA in TESOL program, you have many options for where you can work, both in the United States and internationally.

  • Public School Systems: In the U.S., schools are always in need of qualified English language teachers to support a growing population of English learners.
  • Private Schools: If you've got an MA in TESOL, you've got a leg up when applying to private schools. These schools often value specialized skills and advanced degrees, and your MA could be just the thing to set you apart from the crowd. Plus, private schools often have the perk of smaller class sizes and their own unique approaches to curriculum, giving you a different kind of teaching experience.
  • International Language Academies: Ever thought about mixing work and travel? Teaching at an international language academy could be your ticket to both. Not only will you be imparting English skills, but you'll also get the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture, pick up a new language, and get to know a different educational system.
  • American Universities: Don't underestimate the impact you can have at the collegiate level. A lot of American universities offer English language programs specifically designed for international students. Your MA in TESOL could make you an ideal fit for these programs, helping students polish their English skills before they tackle a full-on degree program.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is TESOL Certification?

A TESOL certification qualifies you to teach English as a second or foreign language. It's different from a graduate degree program and focuses specifically on the skills needed to teach English to non-native speakers.

Do I Need a Degree to Get TESOL Certified?

Having a degree is certainly beneficial and is often required for teaching jobs abroad or at academic institutions, it's not mandatory in order to obtain your TESOL certification.

What Are the Language Proficiency Requirements for a TESOL Program?

TESOL program language proficiency requirements can vary depending on the program you're applying for. Pepperdine University requires a minimum TOEFL score of 550 (or 80 on the Internet-based test) or an IELTS score of at least 6.5 for non-native English speakers.

Is the TOEFL Exam Required for All TESOL Programs?

TOEFL is the most commonly accepted exam, but some programs also accept other tests like IELTS. Always check the specific requirements of the program you're interested in.

What Can I Do to Prepare for Language Proficiency Tests?

Early preparation is important. Find online resources, take advantage of opportunities for conversations with native speakers, read a variety of English materials, and consider taking ESL classes if needed. Mock tests are also a great way to familiarize yourself with the test format.

Do I need to renew my TESOL certification?

TESOL certifications generally do not expire, but it's always a good idea to keep up with professional development.

How long does it take to complete a MA in TESOL program?

The MA in TESOL from Pepperdine University can be completed in just 11 months.

What else do I need to do to get into the MA in TESOL program at Pepperdine University?

Admission requirements include:

  • official transcripts sent electronically via one of the approved companies listed on the GSEP website
  • a letter of recommendation from someone familiar with your academic and professional competencies (think a professor or faculty advisor or previous employer)
  • a 250-500 word statement of purpose
  • an in-person interview if your baccalaureate or master's degree GPA is lower than 3.0

International students must also submit a detailed foreign transcript evaluation report from any National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) member and passing TOEFL scores if your first language isn't English.

Explore an MA in TESOL at Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University's MA in TESOL program offers the expertise and practical experience you'll need for a successful career working in the TESOL field. From in-depth language acquisition courses to real-world teaching practice, the program covers everything you'll need to be successful in the field of English education.

Take the first step in fulfilling your educational and career goals by applying for the MA in TESOL program at Pepperdine University, and set yourself on the path to becoming an exceptional English language teacher.

Ready to transform your future? Click here to start the online application process today.