Teaching English Language Learners
Teaching English Language Learners

Learn to teach multilingual learners with a cultural and language immersion in Ecuador!

Penn State offers an exciting alternative to the ESL certificate program courses offered on campus. The ESL certificate can now be completed with a field teaching experience abroad. The immersion program includes courses at Penn State University Park and at the Universidad de Cuenca, Ecuador, for a summer intensive study experience. There are five courses that make up the ESL certificate program, and the summer experience in Ecuador includes one course in the Spring semester (offered online with two-weekend in-person sessions) and two courses (6 credits) that integrate a teaching practicum and language and cultural learning at the Universidad de Cuenca in Ecuador.  At the Ecuadorian university, students take Spanish or have the chance to learn Kichwa, an indigenous language of the region.  Each year, in June, the group travels with Penn State faculty to Ecuador's Andean highlands for an intensive five-week culture and language immersion and practice teaching experience.

How to Apply

The application process is simple. Just go to the How to Apply link below, complete the online application form and send us your unofficial transcript. We accept applications from late September through December to participate during the following Spring and Summer. You should also plan with your academic advisor because many of the ESL certificate courses can satisfy general education and program requirements.

Scholarship Funding Now Available!

Read Penn State's newswire articles about the TESL program:

About the Program

  • Mentored teaching practicum with Ecuadorian learners of English
  • Second-language study (Spanish or Kichwa, an indigenous language that was adopted by the Incas and, in its various dialects, is widely spoken today in the Andes)
  • Homestay with an Ecuadorian family and culture exploration and learning
  • Explore the Andes - a subtropical cloud forest, volcanic peaks, indigenous cultures, and handcraft markets
  • All the certificate courses conducted in Ecuador are taught in English. You will learn current best practices for teaching English language learners in public school classrooms
  • The ESL certificate includes 5 courses (15 credits). You are not required to complete them all in the same year, but if you are interested in the Ecuador abroad experience you should try to follow this sequence
  • Beginning in the Spring semester, the first course (WLED 483) is offered as 'blended' online instruction with online and in-person weekend (Saturday) sessions on the University Park campus. Additionally, that course incorporates a teaching practice with English language learners
  • Next, there is an optional course (WLED 400) offered during Maymester. You are not required to take this course at this time (it is offered in the Spring session too), but you will need it for completing the certificate
  • The Immersion experience in Ecuador begins in June (through mid-July) and includes a mentored teaching practicum with Ecuadorian English language learners and two courses on ESL teaching methods and culture in the classroom (APLNG 493 & WLED 444). Students will also participate in cultural exploration activities and language classes (in Spanish or Kichwa). We take these classes at the Universidad de Cuenca and you are taught by Penn State instructors who are with you the entire time in Ecuador. We return in July (5 weeks in Ecuador)
  • After returning from Ecuador, there is one final weekend class session on the University Park campus that is a part of the WLED 444 course. To complete the certificate courses you will need to complete APLNG 484 during another Fall or Spring semester

Spring Semester

  • WLED 483 - Evaluation & Assessment in Schools & Programs for English Language Learners - Once you are accepted to the program, we will register you for this course. The course will be offered in a blended format with instruction online and two-weekend sessions (Feb. 3 and March 23, 2024). We will have a final predeparture session which begins the summer courses on Saturday, April 20.  Final course session is scheduled post-travel for August 2
  • APLNG 484 – Discourse-Functional Grammar (You may take this course during any semester. It is offered during the Fall semester and often during Maymester)

Summer Sessions

  • WL ED 400 Foundations of Second Language Learning offered in WEB format during Maymester. (It is optional during Maymester, you can complete it during Fall or Spring semesters too)

Summer Sessions I and II

Immersion experience in Ecuador - June 8 - July 13, 2024 (5 weeks)

You will complete two courses in Ecuador:

  • APLNG 493 Methods of Teaching English as a Second Language
  • WLED 444 Teaching Language and Culture in the Classroom
  • During the stay in Ecuador, key learning experiences include a teaching practicum, Spanish or Kichwa language instruction, cultural interaction with a host family, and excursions to explore other cultural groups and rural areas in the region. The course sessions are offered daily (in English) in an intensive study format. In order to complete the full 15-credit ESL certificate, you will need to complete APLNG 484 during another semester. It is offered in both Fall and Spring
  • Visit this link to read a short course description of the five Teaching ESL certificate courses
  • After the immersion experience in Ecuador, we will meet one final time on August 2, 2024  University Park to complete the two courses and process our experiences in Ecuador. 

The ESL program specialist certificate at Penn State may be completed in two ways: 1) through a traditional program with all classes held on campus, or 2) by enrolling in this Teaching ESL with Immersion option, explained on this website, which offers weekend and online courses and an international field teaching experience in Ecuador.


Penn State's ESL certificate program has been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Teacher Certification and Preparation. The program includes five courses and covers the competencies in key domains that the state has outlined for the ESL program specialist certificate:

  • Language
  • Culture
  • Observing, Planning, Implementing, and Managing Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Professionalism
  • Field experience (60 hours)

After successfully completing the Penn State Teaching ESL program, certified teachers may apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for the ESL Program Specialist Endorsement. At the successful completion of the program, each participant will receive an acknowledgment that they have completed "Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language" program from Penn State.


Note: Our participants normally include both in-service teachers and pre-service education majors. So that we can offer intensive mentoring during practice teaching in Ecuador, we limit the number of participants each year.

Applicants: Click here for the online application.

Recommendations: Click here for online recommendation form.

How to Apply

To apply you need to take these steps:

  • Read the Guidelines for Participation document
  • You will be prompted to attest to your agreement with those guidelines as part of the online application
  • Complete the online application form by clicking the link above
  • Ask two faculty members to give you a recommendation for participation in this study abroad program that involves a teaching practicum and immersion experience.
  • Send us an unofficial transcript
  • Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, beginning in October. After we receive the information above, we will contact you for an individual interview.
  • Recommendations: You should ask two faculty members to complete a recommendation to support your application to this study abroad program. The recommendation is available on the link on this page. Please send the link to your recommender and ask that they complete it. Your recommendations might be from a faculty member, work supervisor, or work colleague.
  • Transcript: The transcript can be unofficial. Please email an electronic copy to the program coordinator. Pennsylvania-certified-teachers should also send a photocopy of their Pennsylvania Instructional Certificate. Please note that teaching certification is NOT required for application to this program. The program is open to any individual interested in learning to teach English language learners.
  • Please read the Guidelines for Participation link above before you submit your application. You will need to electronically sign to confirm that you have read and agree with the guidelines as part of the online application.
  • Students or Teachers not at Penn State. If you do not have an account, you may create a Friends of Penn State Account.
  • Once a student has been notified of acceptance, a $1,100 nonrefundable deposit must be submitted in order to reserve a place in the program. This deposit is credited to the study abroad program fee. Space in the program cannot be guaranteed until the deposit has been submitted. If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Smolcic. If you have any technical problems or problems with the application form, please fill out a Helpdesk Ticket at
  • Key Dates: Applications are accepted on a rolling basis from October to November of each year for the following year's program. Once your application materials are submitted, you will be contacted for an interview. We will accept students as they apply, saving some openings for later submissions. Participants will receive additional information about the program, course in the spring semester and travel to Ecuador during a group meeting in January.

Final application deadline: December 8
Acceptance notification: December 23
Final deadline for deposit: January 4

Upon successful program completion, you will receive a verification letter which certified teachers can use to apply for the ESL Program Specialist certificate as outlined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. For students, note that you must first complete your teaching certification program before the ESL Program Specialist endorsement can be added to your teaching credential.


Program Abroad Fee: There is a study abroad fee of approximately $2200 that will cover most costs of the stay in Ecuador. The study abroad fee covers transportation and food/lodging related to overnight weekend group excursions, orientation by the University of Cuenca, and use of university facilities, language instruction, and homestay, including meals. The fee does NOT cover airfare to and from Ecuador, books for Penn State courses, local bus or taxi services, or personal expenses.


Airfare: You will purchase your own flights with the guidance of the program coordinator. We will work with a travel professional to identify sample flight itineraries from several departure cities. You will be encouraged to work with this travel professional to purchase your flight to arrive in Ecuador on a specific day and time (and depart on a specific day) so that the group can travel together to Cuenca. The estimated round-trip airfare from a major East coast city to Quito, Ecuador in the summer, is approximately $1000.


Tuition: After you are accepted, you will be registered for the spring course (WLED 483) and two courses (APLNG 493 and WLED 444) during the Summer Session. Tuition rates are set by Penn State and vary by individual. In-state/out-of-state tuition rates apply to this program.


Financial Aid: Financial aid may be available for both degree and non-degree program participants. The Penn State Outreach Financial Aid office can help participants identify financial aid options for summer study. They can be reached at [email protected] or at 814-867-4244. Education Abroad, part of Global Penn State, offers specific scholarships for study in Latin America, and the College of Education also offers support for students with financial needs.


Payment Schedule: Once you have been notified of your acceptance, you must submit a nonrefundable deposit (a portion of the study abroad fee) in order to reserve your place in the program. The remainder of the program abroad fee will be billed in March and must be paid before students begin the summer session courses.


The 3 credits you complete in the spring semester will be calculated and included in your spring semester fees. The six credits that you complete during the summer will be charged to your student account in April. The Maymester course is optional, but you are also billed during the summer if you opt for this course.

Scholarship Funding is now Available!

Thanks to the generosity of the College of Education's alumni and friends, financial support is available for students with financial need who are accepted to participate in the Teaching ESL with Immersion in Ecuador . This scholarship is open to students who are majoring in a College of Education program only. For students who are not in the College of Education please check with your College financial aid person or the Office of Fellowships and Research.

To apply for scholarship assistance for participation in this program, please complete this online application form.

DEADLINE:  December 14 (recipients will be notified by December 20)

NOTE: This application is separate from the College of Education's general scholarship application. We encourage all students to complete the College's general scholarship application to be considered for additional scholarship support.

The initial deposit paid on acceptance is not refundable. In the event of withdrawal, your tuition will be refunded according to the Penn State tuition schedule, depending on the withdrawal date. After April 15, the entire program abroad fee is nonrefundable.


All requests for withdrawal must be submitted in writing to Penn State Outreach.

You will need a valid passport to travel to Ecuador. Please be aware of the expiration date of your existing passport or, if you do not yet have one, please apply. For U.S. citizens, no visa is required for tourist or study travel up to 90 days.


You will be notified of any cancellations or changes. If some unforeseen event forces Penn State to cancel or postpone the program, you will receive a full refund of your registration fee; however, the University cannot be held responsible for any related costs, including cancellation fees assessed by airlines or travel agencies.


Due to the international nature of this experience, Penn State must have a minimum number of participants for the program. If enrollment is not sufficient by mid-January, the program will be cancelled and participants will be notified and refunded accordingly.


Penn State encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of special accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact the program manager at 814-865-3443 before your participation.

Our program has been held in Ecuador for over 15 years and the program activities are approved by Penn State’s Risk Management office each year before departure.  Health and safety protocols have been developed in collaboration with the Ecuadorian university and Penn State's Office of Global Programs. We offer students orientation that includes safety protocols before departure as well as upon arrival by local university personnel.

Any student participating in university-affiliated travel, including study abroad, will be required to read and sign that they understand the risks associated with infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and that they have reviewed the Center for Disease Control recommendations for traveler health--including a strong recommendation that all travelers be up-to-date with vaccinations against infectious diseases. Students can visit the University’s COVID-19 information website to learn more about current recommendations related to COVID.  Specific immunizations to protect against other common diseases are recommended to travel to Ecuador.  The program coordinators will direct students to resources to learn what immunizations are recommended, with plenty of time before departure to obtain them. The Penn State Travel Health Center is beneficial to students who will travel and can administer immunizations.