With more than 1 billion people worldwide studying English, finding ways to encourage students of widely differing backgrounds, ages and skills has never been more important.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of State has free, easy-to-access resources for both students and teachers.

The most effective English-teaching programs emphasize the power of the human connection, which can transform language learning into “a space to build bridges between people, cultures and countries,” says Heidi Howland, a program officer at the State Department’s Office of English Language Programs. That’s the guiding principle, she adds, behind a trio of State Department programs for English-language teachers.

Sharpening skills through online classes

The E-Teacher Scholarship Program, designed for English-teaching professionals who are not U.S. citizens, allows participants to take one of nine online, university-level classes through the University of Oregon. Over the course of 10 weeks, participants explore concepts and issues in the English as a Foreign Language field and connect with U.S. English-language teaching experts while also building a professional network of international colleagues.

Ndeye Bineta of Senegal says the program has made her a better teacher: “As a result of [my] taking the online course, my students’ interest in English classes has increased considerably.”

As an added benefit, outstanding participants are brought to the United States each year for a professional development exchange.

Helping educators gain international experience

The English Language Fellow program is aimed at U.S. educators in the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), and candidates must have a master’s degree. Participants commit to 10-month fellowships at academic institutions around the world, sharing their professional expertise while honing skills, gaining international experience and learning about other cultures.

A group of English Department teachers at Abyi Adiy College of Teacher Education in Tigray, Ethiopia, discuss U.S. Department of State teaching materials presented to them by EL Fellow Hannah Murphy. (State Dept.)

To date, more than 1,000 EL Fellows have conducted projects in more than 80 countries. EL Fellow David Masterson teaches English classes in Sevastopol, Ukraine, where he also holds teacher-training conferences and hosts conversation clubs for local residents to practice their English and learn about American culture and traditions.

Masterson says he uses music to help his students learn vocabulary, pronunciation and common phrases in English. His EL Fellowship experience has taught him to feel comfortable giving presentations to audiences of up to 150 people, which he’d never done before.

Bringing innovative teaching methods to classrooms worldwide

The English Language Specialist program recruits U.S. academics and professionals in English teaching, applied linguistics or related disciplines to conduct programs overseas ranging from two weeks to five months. U.S. embassies assign participants to local schools and other institutions, where they create English-language training programs that can include teacher training, curriculum and textbook development, and host-institution program evaluation.

EL Specialist participant Jason Levine, who recently conducted teacher training in Tunisia, says he likes to demonstrate “the benefits of teaching and learning through having fun in the classroom.” The success of his EL Specialist program, he says, can be attributed to “the enthusiasm Tunisian students and teachers have for embracing change.”

Candidates for the EL Specialist program must have a master’s or doctoral degree in TESOL or a related field. Information on finding an EL Specialist program is available on the State Department’s exchange programs Web page.

The State Department’s English-teaching programs are administered through U.S. embassies and consulates, and overseen by regional English language officers (RELOs), who are located in every region of the world. You can also check with your local U.S. Embassy to find out about programs near you.

For additional help, visit the State Department’s American English website, an online resource center for teaching and learning about American English and culture. Also, follow the Office of English Language Programs on Facebook and YouTube, and follow the more specialized EL Programs feed on Twitter.