How to Become a Foreign Language Professor

Do you have a love for sharing your hobbies, interests and culture with others?

Does the thought of getting paid for that sound like a dream come true?

With a passion for teaching and a few professional qualifications, you can become a foreign language professor.

How to Become a Foreign Language Professor and Get Paid for Passion

Professors get to talk about everything interesting, including literature, music, movies, food and even politics.

Not only that, but you’d also be interacting with students who love your language and want to learn more. You can help them learn how to communicate when traveling, or give them the language skills needed to climb the professional ladder if they’re studying to further their careers.

If this sounds like the perfect job for you, read further to learn the nuts and bolts of becoming a foreign language professor.

What It’s Like to Be a Foreign Language Professor

By and large, working as a foreign language professor is a rewarding job with a number of excellent benefits. But there are also some common misconceptions about being a language professor you should know beforehand.

Here are some important things to consider before making the jump into academia.

You probably won’t get the summer off

Three months of uninterrupted beach time may seem like a huge part of the appeal to being a teacher, but it’s not actually like that in real life.

While you may enjoy some much-needed downtime in the warmer months, the bulk of your time will be spent developing new curriculum or working on academic books and articles.

With that said, there are many things about being a foreign language professor which are quite blissful. It’s an exciting job to have, especially if you’re creative and like to come up with outside-the-box solutions.

But don’t count on getting those extra beach days.

It takes years to earn tenure

There’s just something incredible about becoming a tenured professor. More than just higher pay, tenure is a highly-respected status that tells everyone you’re valued in the academic community. But getting it can be a lengthy process.

If you’d like to learn more about how to get academic tenure, check out this article by Discover.

There’s a lot to do—but it’s worth it

Foreign language professors have a variety of responsibilities, including:

  • Planning curriculum
  • Grading papers
  • Organizing events
  • Coordinating with other faculty members

Characteristics of a Great Foreign Language Professor

Here are some characteristics that make a good foreign language professor:

1. Competency in your language

This might seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily make you competent in teaching it.

Your language competency must far exceed that of your students. And in order to do that, you need to know the ins and outs of the language you’re teaching so you can explain confusing and challenging concepts to your learners.

Your own fluency gives you a clear picture of the goal you’re trying to reach with your students, and it will help you with making decisions about their progress. It’s hard to know how to guide them to their destination if you’ve never been there yourself.

2. Willingness to try different methods

Everyone learns differently. What works for one student doesn’t always work for another. For this reason, a good professor is always experimenting with new teaching styles to add to their repertoire. Learning how to incorporate a variety of teaching styles into your skill set gives you the ability to connect with more students, making you a more effective professor.

3. A passion for the languages and teaching

Passion might not be something you can teach, but it’s definitely contagious. If you’re passionate about teaching languages, your students will be passionate about learning them. Moreover, being a passionate teacher is instrumental in carrying yourself through those tough days when things don’t go exactly the way you had hoped. Because instead of planning on a comfortable day in the office, you’re more concerned with helping your students succeed.

4. The ability to inspire and motivate your students

A great professor doesn’t just tell students what to learn—they inspire their pupils to learn independently.

By asking engaging questions, as well as choosing or developing informative and entertaining materials, you can spark curiosity in your students so that they’ll be eager to advance to the next level. As a result, you’ll be doing more than just teaching your students. You’ll also inspire them to seek out more information in their personal time, helping them improve their language skills outside the classroom.

Preparing for a Career as a Foreign Language Professor

So, you know you’re competent, flexible, passionate and inspiring.

You’ve decided that working as a foreign language is exactly what you want to do. What’s next?

Below is a step-by-step process to help you with becoming a foreign language professor.

Earn a master’s degree in foreign language education

More often than not, you’ll have at least a master’s degree before getting a teaching job at a college. While there are some exceptions to this rule, the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities prefer to hire people with a graduate degree.

A master’s in education or the language you’re teaching are both acceptable teaching qualifications, but a degree in foreign language education can also be beneficial. The reason for this is because foreign language education specifically focuses on teaching a second language.

Once you’ve decided on the right degree program for you, it’s time to hit the books.

There are a number of universities that offer degrees to help you teach foreign languages at the college level. Depending on the program that you choose, you can get your degree online or study in-person while working part-time at your job. There are even some programs where you actually go abroad to earn your master’s, so take some time evaluating the programs that are out there to choose one that meets your needs.

Here are three popular universities that offer a master’s degree in foreign language education or a similar equivalent:

  • The University of Edinburgh gives you the opportunity to live in Scotland while earning a master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
  • The University of Nebrija in Spain offers a masters in bilingual education. As you’ve probably guessed, the degree program is taught in Spanish

Next, get a doctoral degree in language education

Some people are lucky enough to get into a doctoral program straight out of college, but most students get their master’s as a stepping-stone to earning their PhD.

Ideally, you’ll want to get a doctoral degree because your master’s may be sufficient teaching at community college, but most universities require their lecturers to have a PhD or relevant doctoral degree before becoming part of the faculty.

While there are fewer options available for a degree this advanced, there are some good programs.

Spend time experiencing the culture

As a professor, you need to be able to teach more than just language. Your students will look to you as an expert in government, food, family life, favorite pastimes and anything else related to the language and culture.

If you’re not teaching your first language, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the culture before you start teaching the language. You could do this by visiting a relevant country abroad. In fact, many foreign language teachers and professors actually earn their degrees abroad so they can get a first-hand experience of the culture and everyday life while studying.

Directories like Go Overseas or Go Grad allow you to search graduate programs all over the world.

Get trained as a lecturer or an adjunct

Everyone has to start somewhere.

Your initial experience with teaching at the college level might be in a part-time capacity as a lecturer. You might even be hired just to teach one or two courses. Still, it’s a good opportunity to experience the basics of teaching a college course before taking on the extra responsibility of being a professor.

If you end up being happy working as a lecturer or adjunct, you can choose to remain in that position and teach courses as they’re needed. While the pay is lower than a full-time professor’s salary, it gives you time to figure out whether this truly is the right career path for you.

Ready to Get That Faculty Position? Find Jobs for Foreign Language Professors

Once you’ve got your qualifications and are ready to begin your new career, start looking for positions that pique your interest.

Starting out? Apply to your community college

You might want to start full-time at a community college.

There, you’ll probably be teaching basic conversational language courses to students pursuing two-year degrees. The pay may not be as good as a teaching position at a four-year university, but it’s a great starting point. And if you’ve got a master’s degree and need some job experience, it’s the perfect way to get started—they may even pay for you to get your doctoral degree.

Getting the coveted university language professor position

As a full-time, tenured professor, your responsibilities are numerous and varied. You have to teach classes, assess student work, research language literature and organize immersive events at your university.

A good place to start looking for vacancies is on university websites. You can also look on job boards like Higher Ed Jobs or jobs on There are a number of options available, but you need to be constantly on the hunt, as positions come and go rather quickly.

What Are You Waiting For?

As long as you have the drive to help others succeed and you’re willing to put in the work to develop your career, then you’ve got what it takes to teach a foreign language at a college or university.

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