What TEFL course should you choose?

The range of TEFL certificates available is huge and new teachers are often left with the question of what TEFL course to do. It’s all CELTA vs. TEFL? Online TEFL courses vs. onsite TEFL courses. ESL certification vs. TEFL certification. People claim to have accredited TEFL courses, but what does that mean? How long does a TEFL course take? How much is a TEFL course?

We’ve been teaching English abroad for a long time now. so here’s our advice and our answers to these questions. So if you are thinking of becoming an English teacher either abroad or online and you are not sure where to start, let us help.

Trying to demystify some of the key questions in TEFL qualifications like CELTA vs. TEFL, what accredited TEFL courses are there, how much is a TEFL course and what is the best ESL certification? We have taught English abroad for 12 years and give our opinion #TEFL #Teachenglish #TESOL

Disclaimer: A couple of the links to the TEFL qualifications in this post are affiliate links and will pay us a small piece of commission if you book through them. There are lots of affiliate programs for online TEFL courses out there, and we chose these specifically. You’ll notice, however, that most of our recommendations aren’t to direct courses. The advice is because we truely believe it, not because they are paying us.

Choosing the right TEFL course

You’ve made a decision to spend some time teaching English abroad. I can see you now, surfing the net, excited but totally overwhelmed by the range of options out there. Courses online or onsite, in your home country or abroad, including a placement or internship……companies with serious names with Oxford or Cambridge in the title…..companies with much more fun-sounding names like Hot TEFL or TESOL Proscecco (disclaimer – I totally made them up. I’m not naming names here). Should you pay them or should they pay you?

Oh and then there are the acronyms…..CELTA vs. TEFL vs. TESOL, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC…..oh the English teaching world loves its acronyms! This isn’t the half of them. But what on earth do they mean and what is the difference? And more importantly, what is the best for you?

If you want to know what the acronyms above mean, we have a whole post on TEFL acronyms you should check out.

If you Google ‘TEFL courses’, you get pages and pages of companies offering you advice on this. Problem is, they are usually trying to sell you a course or a program. And of course, their course or program is the the only fully accredited TEFL course and is the most accepted worldwide. Why would they be selling it if it wasn’t? They are all telling you that there’s is the best. So which one is?

So you join a group for TEFL teachers on Facebook and innocently ask advice on what course to take. What follows is a long list of replies recommending this or that TEFL course, often with affiliate links, from people who have no idea who you are and what you want to do, so cannot say for sure if this is the correct course for you at all.

The bottom line is, the right TEFL course for you depending on several factors: your nationality, your other qualifications and, most importantly, where you want to teach. The TEFL certificate requirements for teaching online are different from those for teaching face to face. Requirements also differ from country to country. So there is a lot to consider when choosing a course.

Here is where we come in. We’ve been teaching English abroad since 2007 in six different countries, and meeting and working with loads of people, we’ve got a lot of advice to give. And unlike a lot of the websites out there, ours is completely independent. We don’t run a TEFL school or program. We don’t want you to take the ESL certification that we have created. This is just our opinion, from us to you.

You can read our story to decide if you want to trust us, or why not read the stories of our friends and colleagues who are already teaching abroad in our New Teacher Tales series?

Teachers at AIEN Shanghai, trust us with what TEFL qualifications you should take
With fellow teachers at AIEN in Shanghai, China

Do you need to take a TEFL certificate to teach English abroad?

There’s a difference between what you need and what you should do. To get a paid to teach English in a foreign country, you don’t have to take any kind of course. Plenty of people turn up, drop their c.v. off at some schools, or even meet the right person in a bar and start teaching right away.

And why not? How hard can it be? You speak English. You studied it at school and you probably have at least one GCSE in it, if not an A’level, or perhaps an SSCE or SATs. It must be easy to teach, right?

Ok, so how do you explain the difference between the present perfect and the past simple to someone with a pre-intermediate level of English?

  • What is a schwa and what is it for?
  • How do you keep a classroom of 8-year-olds engaged in learning their past tense irregular verbs?
  • How do you stage a lesson so it is effective?
  • What is involved in improving students’ listening and reading skills?

All of these things can be learned on a TEFL course. Wouldn’t you feel more confident if you knew, at least some of these things (because, of course, a lot of learning to be a teacher happens on the job) before you started teaching?

From the students’ point of view, in a private language school or private primary or secondary school, your students or their parents or perhaps even their companies have paid money for them to learn. If you were going to pay to learn a skill, wouldn’t you prefer a teacher who actually knew how to teach it?

I mean, I’m assuming if you pay to get your mobile phone fixed, that you expect the person fixing it to actually knows how to fix phones, rather than just having owned one for ten years. If you take your car to the garage, you expect the mechanic to know how to fix cars, not just know how to drive one. Wherever you are teaching, you are being paid to do a job. Your students deserve someone who has some idea of what they are doing. And this starts with some training.

What is the difference between TEFL and TESOL courses?

Basically, nothing. Both are just acronyms. They both refer to teaching English as a foreign language. Neither is better than the other and you do NOT need both. Beware of companies that say you do.

If you are worried about scams in the English teaching industry, and you should be, see our post on common TEFL scams.

How long does a TEFL course take?

The industry standard for a TEFL course is 120 hours, which can be delivered full or part-time. How long a TEFL course takes you to complete depends a lot on which you take. A full-time onsite TEFL course takes 4-5 weeks intensively to complete. If you choose to do a part-time course, this can take 11-14 weeks, designed for people who are working as well as studying, or who have other commitments. Some online courses give you several months to complete the course.

How much is a TEFL course?

The answer to the question ‘how much is a TEFL course?’ is like the answer to the question ‘how long is a piece of string?’. The price of a TEFL course ranges from $20 from Groupon, to $2000+ for a CELTA in some countries. What to remember is that you get what you pay for. The more expensive courses are more expensive because they pay for qualified trainers and materials writers, because they are highly controlled and thus more widely accepted.

How much your TEFL course needs to be depends on two factors: what you want to do with it and how much you can afford right now. If you can only afford a cheap TEFL course, then take one. If you can afford more, then invest in a course that will be more widely accepted. We’ll go into more details on this below.

What TEFL certificate do I need?

So, what TEFL course should you take? As we have said, there is a massive range of TEFL courses out there, and new ones spring up every day. To decide which one suits you, you have to investigate what you actually need.

So this is what we will do here. We will do a run-down of the different types of TEFL courses out there, and who each is suitable for, in our opinion. As always, this is our opinion, but we do come from a place of knowledge, so if you choose to take our opinion, great, if not, no worries.

The first things to know is that TEFL certificates are considered a Level 5 qualification by Ofqal. A Level 7 qualification in teaching English is a Diploma and these are designed for experienced teachers. This is important for later, but in general, if you are looking at a course for new teachers and it calls itself a ‘diploma’, be careful…

If you have a country in mind to teach in, you need to check the requirements for it. You can find out more in our country guides.

The most widely recognised TEFL certificates

Cambridge CELTA and Trinity certTESOL

The two most widely recognised courses in the world are the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity certTESOL. These courses include input – both self-guided materials and tutor-led training sessions and demo lessons where your tutors show you how to teach different lessons with you being the students. Sessions train you to teach grammar, vocabulary, speaking, writing, listening and reading and introduce you to how to do this in a communciative way.

You have to complete written assignments, as well as do teaching practice sessions during the course on real groups of students. For these, you need to design lesson plans for your students and teach lessons that are observed by your tutors, who give you feedback on how to develop and improve.

The reasons that these two are so widely recognised are:

  • The tutors have Diploma and/or Masters’ level qualifications in teaching English and extensive experience in both teaching and teacher training. They have to be selected and trained by the centres they work in
  • The courses are accredited by Cambridge Assessment (CELTA) or Trinity College London (certTESOL). Courses are moderated by them. These bodies are in turn, moderated by Ofqual and the QCA – the organisations who regulate all qualifications in England, including GCSEs, A’ levels and NVQs.

Both courses can be taken full-time intensively, part-time, online and face to face. With the online courses, teaching practice is done on Zoom, still with real students taking part in your online lessons and still assessed by your tutors. You can also do a blended option where some self-guided input is done online prior to going to a centre to do the teaching practice.

Should I take a CELTA/certTESOL?

  • You are hoping for a long-term career in teaching English
  • You want a wide variety of options for courses all over the world: As I said above, some schools worldwide, and the majority of the professional companies, ask for these. We had personal experience of this. We did an alternative TEFL course – still full-time with teaching practice but without the above requirements for tutors, and were rejected for jobs we wanted because of this.
  • You are a non-native speaking hoping to teach English abroad: professional schools who value skills over passport will ask for a high-quality teaching qualification

Cambridge CELTA

The CELTA is provided and moderated by Cambridge English Language Assessment. Cambridge own both the main certificate in teaching English abroad, and the next stage diploma, the Delta, as well as the major exams for learners: the IELTS test, and the Cambridge main suite exams (FCE, CAE, CPE – more acronyms, don’t worry about them now) and are one of the main publishers of English language teaching materials. The CELTA was started by International House in the 1960s, when the need was seen for a course to train people going to teach English abroad.

For a detailed explanation of what CELTA is and why it’s suitable for you, see our post ‘What is CELTA?’ written by CELTA trainer and expert Jo Gakonga.

certificate for CELTA

Trinity certTESOL

The Trinity certTESOL is a certificate that is seen as the equivalent to the CELTA. It is awarded by Trinity College, London, who, if you studied music in the UK, also award the Grades 1-8 music exams. They also have a Level 7 qualification – the Trinity DipTESOL, which Kate took, and run English language exams for young learners.

Trinity certTESOL, one ESL certification you can take

Real ‘CELTA’ equivalent TEFL courses

Now we get into a grey area. In advertising for TEFL courses, you will see the phrase ‘CELTA equivalent’ everywhere. Some of these are actually equivalents, but many are not.

How do you know? Well, look at the reasons why CELTA and Trinity are so widely recognised above: the qualifications of their trainers, the assessed teaching practice of real students with feedback from said trainers, and the moderation. If a course meets these criteria, then employers may well see it as an equivalent. Here are some we know of:

International TEFL Academy

One of these is International TEFL Academy (ITA – not to be confused with The TEFL Academy). This is an organisation originating in the USA who have well-qualified trainers and good face-to-face courses. Their courses seem to be more popular and well-known by Americans than Brits, and you’ll see many Americans who are teaching in Europe hold this certificate.

They also have an excellent alumni network, with groups on Facebook and Instagram so you continuously have contacts with teachers all over the world. What impresses us about ITA is the job assistance. Not only do they have a comprehensive directory of schools worldwide, they also have full-time advisors who work with you to find paid work. This doesn’t stop after your first teaching job. You have this assistance for life, or at least for as long as you remain an English teacher. If this sort of support is important to you, have a look at their courses. Find out more by clicking on their poster below.

If you still aren’t sure, read our post on the International TEFL Academy course with reviews from real graduates.


Another is SIT from World Learning. This is also from the USA, and there aren’t so many courses around, but if there’s one near you, it’s a good option.

Fancy teaching in Vietnam? Read our bumper guide to teaching English in Vietnam.

Courses claiming to be ‘CELTA equivalent’ who aren’t

Many courses that say that they are ‘CELTA equivalent’ are not seen as such by employers. They use the term ‘level 5 qualification’ to support this. And yes, the courses are all Level 5. But a course that doesn’t meet the criteria above in terms of tutors, content and teaching practice, isn’t actually equivalent to CELTA at all.

Does this matter? Well, like we said, that depends on what you want to do. The British Council, who accredit centres for teaching English in the UK and have language centres worldwide, only accept the CELTA or Trinity or an actual equivalent for teachers. This means you can’t work for them, or for any of the centres in the UK the accredit. Many other schools including International House, who also have language schools worldwide trust the British Council’s view and have the same requirements. There are so many other TEFL qualifications on the market now that many schools look for those on prospective teachers’ CVs.

I’m not saying this is right, or wrong, but this is the way it is. So if you do an alternative course, be aware that you may get rejected from jobs because those recruiting feel it is not what they are looking for/they haven’t heard of it before.

If you are a non-native English speaker wanting to teach English abroad, we have a whole post with advice for you with countries you can work in and how to get jobs.

If you are looking to teach online, or in parts of Asia like China, South Korea, Thailand and Japan, then it isn’t necessary to take one of these courses. So read on….

On the billboard for London School of English, Odessa, one school that accepts CELTA vs. TEFL
On the billboard for London School of English, Odessa

Online TEFL/TESOL courses

Of course, some of you can’t afford a CELTA/Trinity and/or don’t have time to take one. Many people don’t know if they want to teach English abroad long-term. You may just want to try it and see if you like it. It’s can also be a popular gap-year activity – to take a year out between university and work to go abroad to teach. In that case, you may not want to invest in such an expensive course.

As we said above, if you want to start out teaching English in Asia (and who wouldn’t? It’s awesome!) then you can get work in Thailand, Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan with an online TEFL certificate. Teaching online also doesn’t require any teaching practice.

There are still many different types of online TEFL course though, so let’s look at the differences:

Why not read our other advice for new TEFL teachers.

Online courses with ‘practicums’

To satisfy employers requirements for teachers with experience, some online TEFL companies offer an additional practicum part. To get this, you generally have to teach students who they either find for you, or you find yourself, for about 20 hours. You write up the experience, with lesson plans and reflections and your tutor marks it.

Online courses with weekend peer teaching

Another option for getting some classroom experience before starting teaching is to take a course with a peer teaching component. These are often advertised as ‘weekend practicums’ – you go for a couple of days, see your tutors do some demo lessons and then experiment on your fellow traineers.

Neither of the two above ways of getting teaching practice will satisfy requirements for schools who do ask for teaching practice of real students. However, if you are looking to just feel more confident in teaching once you start, then these are good options. Just check and compare the prices though, as some of these are as expensive, if not more so, than some CELTA/certTESOL courses.

Read about what you need to know before taking an online TEFL course, and which ones we recommend.

Online courses with tutor support and post-course job assistance

If an online course is what you need, then there are some very comprehensive courses out there run by experienced and well-qualified teacher trainers. Many of these offer input in the form of video demo lessons to watch, high-quality reading materials and assignments that you need to complete, such as analysing student errors and preparing lesson plans. You have an assigned tutor to help you and give you feedback.

Many of these also offer training in how to right c.vs and make application videos to get jobs, have contacts with companies to find you work and contacts with their alumni.

International TEFL Academy, who we mention above, has a good quality course and you get the same lifetime job assistance as the onsite courses.

If you want to teach online, read our interviews with online English teachers to see the pros and cons of different companies.

Fully self-guided online TEFL courses

Other TEFL courses are fully self-guided, so you pay for access to their training program, which you work through completing quizzes along the way. If you are independent and don’t feel you need to have someone to ask for help and support, these could be ok for you.

Cheap and ‘free’ TEFL courses

At the other end of the spectrum are the cheap courses offered on websites such as Groupon, which constantly have sales where you get a massive discount. Don’t be mislead, the ‘discounted’ price is always the same! These are materials you work through and take quizzes. Some of these courses claim to be ‘free’, but in general, you actually need to pay for the certificate.

If you want to to take a TEFL course to get additional knowledge for your current job, then some of these courses have useful content and can help you. If you just need a certificate to get accepted for a job, they generally work for that.

Read our post for more on cheap and free TEFL course options and whether you should take one.

Has this helped? Basically, at the end of the day, the questions are:

  • Where do you want to teach?
  • How long do you want to do this for?
  • Is it a career change or a gap year?
  • How much can you afford?
  • What other qualifications do you have?
  • Where are you from? Unfortunately, native speakers have it easier than non-native speakers when it comes to finding work abroad, and the employers that respect skills over passport will ask for a course with teaching practice.

What we advise hugely is that you do your research before paying money. The internet is full of would-be teachers who have invested in a course, only to find that it won’t get them the job they want. There are also many teachers out there who pay huge amounts of money for a course that they could get far cheaper, just because they fall for the marketing.

If you found this useful and want more advice on how to get started, we have many other posts with advice on teaching English abroad.

Disclaimer: This is all our personal opinion, based on our and others’ experiences. Many of you may disagree. That’s fine. Horses for courses and all that.

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Trying to demystify some of the key questions in TEFL qualifications like CELTA vs. TEFL, what accredited TEFL courses are there and what is the best ESL certification? We have taught English abroad for 12 years and give our opinion #TEFL #Teachenglish #TESOL

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18 Responses

  1. Ian says:

    I taught in China, Korea and Taiwan. Online TEFL courses are accepted in most of Asia. For the schools (more often in Europe/Middle East) that don’t accept them those schools are usually higher-end and have other preferences. So if you don’t have experience and you took an in-class course it’s probably not going to matter.

    I am not sure where you applied to, but your experience of being rejected probably had nothing to do with your certificate. It probably had to do with your “lack of experience”.

    Also most schools in Asia don’t know the difference between a CELTA, TESOL, TEFL, in-class or online certificate.

    CELTA is good for teaching adults and those in it for the long run. But if you don’t fall into that category then I don’t think it’s worth it. CELTA is intensive and expensive. If you fail you lose money and you don’t get a certificate.

    • KateandKris says:

      Thanks for your comment. As we said, this article is written from our, and friends’ experience. Other people have other experience and other opinions.

      We actually have emails from schools stating the reason for rejection, after extensive experience in several countries. As you said, those were the schools that have higher preferences, which in these cases, was a CELTA or Trinity cert.

      You are totally right, and we hope we also agreed in our article, you can get a job teaching English without a CELTA or equivalent. There are lots of options out there for anyone interested.

  2. Ellie says:

    A very useful article, thanks so much for sharing.

    I’m currently doing an MA in TESOL and starting to regret it as I’m sure I’ll probably have to tack on the CELTA or the Trinity after I’ve finished the course in September anyway.

    Do you have any anecdotes on how an MA is looked upon? I know it isn’t a teaching qualification in itself but I’d like to think I’m not completely wasting my time!

    Of course, it’s only the first step in my journey. I am trying not to get too disheartened amongst all the acronyms and initialisms.

    • KateandKris says:

      Does your MA have teaching practice included? If so, you should be ok without a CELTA or Trinity. If not, you might need to do one as an add-on at some point, to prove that you can put your knowledge into practice in the classroom. However, in some places, an MA is more desirable than a CELTA/Trinity. If you look at jobs in the Middle East, South Korea or Japan, you’ll probably be ok. Where do you want to work?

  3. Tracy says:

    I did a TEFL course at International House in Newcastle about 25 years ago – cost me £1000 and was the hardest course I have ever done! I qualified as a teacher a few years later (PGCE) but found the TEFL course good (taught English in Botswana for a while)

    • KateandKris says:

      Botswana? That sounds amazing. Do you have blogs on it? Will have to check it out. I’ve heard good things about IH Newcastle too. It’s a lot of money to do the CELTA, but can give you a higher salary.

  4. Some really sound advice. You often forget when it’s your first language how much of gift it actually is.

  5. Adam says:

    Hi – very interesting. I have a full PGCE (Primary) but have taught right from the ages of 7 up to adults including SEN/BESD/SEMH at quite extreme levels over the last 12 years. I am looking to move to Spain (maybe…) in the next few years but want to position myself so that I am employable. I have been told not to do the CELTA/Trinity as I have the teaching experience, but to do “something else” instead. I know I’m not alone in this, but nobody seems to really be able to put their finger on what my best course of action should be!

    • KateandKris says:

      Hi, with a PGCE etc. you can look at International Schools in Spain as they will give you the best packages. If you don’t want to do that, then honestly, I’m also not sure what this ‘something else’ is! Teaching English to children and adults who don’t understand you is a different thing to teaching English speakers, so I would do some sort of course to help you adapt though.

    • Martha Ogunremi says:

      Adam, I’ve been working in TEFL for years and have also worked for several years in mainstream. You cannot compare the two. They are very different experiences which require very different skills.

  6. Ryan Phelan says:

    Hi, guys!

    Interesting article. So, here in Australia, it may be a little different. I did a bachelor’s degree at my University here. After this, I had the decision of continuing with the University to do a TESOL Cert IV or leave the University and do a CELTA. Both courses cost the same amount, with the same type of syllabus and contact/praticum hours. As I like my University (it is within the top 50 rankings in the world…if this matters) I decided to do the Cert IV. This was in 2014. I’ve been teaching for 4 years (2 years as a head teacher). As it’s a CELTA equivalent here in Aus, I didn’t have a problem finding a job. I love my job, and have recently returned to my University to do a Masters in App. Linguistics. Now, due to family circumstances I will be moving to Europe (I have a EU passport). Do you think my credentials will be dismissed at institutions such as British Council etc? For the first time in my career I’ve been filled with anxiety.

    • KateandKris says:

      I honestly couldn’t say. The British Council rate the courses based on several factors: are the tutors Diploma or Masters’ level qualified in TEFL or linguistics, does the course have assessed teaching practice of real students and is it independently accredited. I’m assuming since it’s from a university that you are ok on the last point. You could try contacting the BC or International House and asking. That’s how we found out that they didn’t accept the initial teaching qualification that we did.

  7. Dwyn says:

    Are you able to tell me what school in Prague would teach TESL?
    Thank you

    • KateandKris says:

      Hi, As you can see from my post, TESL isn’t really a thing. You need to decide what kind of course you want to do. For Prague, I would recommend doing the CELTA. Try International House. There is also Language House Prague and TEFL Worldwide who run good courses.

  8. Kim Dammers says:

    Your post is very UK-oriented. Your discounting non-CELTA/Trinity programs reflects that. Based on the experience of colleagues who have taken and taught CELTA and Trinity, I don’t think it is the best program option for many people. CELTA is rigid, employs locals whose English is questionable, and is picayune. The program is stressful for almost all who take it, and apparently a not tiny percent do not pass. I would definitely look more favorably on a person who has passed the SIT-TESOL than someone who has passed CELTA. Both are adult-oriented, and both are many decades old and widely recognized by schools that are knowledgeable in TEFL. SIT bases its program on John Dewey’s philosophy of education and seems to have more practice-teaching observation. The price is higher for SIT than for most CELTA courses: SIT costs $2,200 plus an application fee of ?$100. (I have no affiliation with SIT.)

    When I interview applicants for teaching EFL, I do ask about their certification. But rather than dwelling on which program they took, I ask content questions that are designed to tell whether they have gotten anything out of the program. I will accept people without any kind of certification or TEFL degree if I am especially impressed, but then I want them to take a TEFL course while working.

    My bottom line is that for most people, taking a basic or beginners’ TEFL course is the best best bet. There are decent ones that are free, included in a work program, or not very expensive (i.e., under $300). These do not take too much time and will provide basics in terms of tools and something of an idea of what to expect in the class-room. Then, either after some class-room experience and/or soul-searching on whether you really want to be an EFL/ESL teacher, go ahead and take a full-fledged course like Trinity (for teaching young learners), SIT, or a less-expensive but fairly comprehensive course such as ICAL online. After that, don’t quit learning. Read books, read online fora on teaching, and take refresher courses. Also, encourage your school to provide continuing education for teachers.

  9. Kim Dammers says:

    Addendum: I forgot to mention how important observation of your teaching is. This is missing from most online courses. Some inline courses critique video-tapes of your teaching to try to overcome this lacunae. There are also combination courses that are mostly online but then have an onsite part that focuses on practice teaching.

    • KateandKris says:

      Thanks for your input. I have only heard of SIT programs recently and I intend to add it to the post when I update it next.

  10. BeccaB says:

    Interesting article. I moved to Belgium and got a job teaching English to children at a local language school. I came from a corporate office environment, working in London. I had no experience in teaching, just a passion for it. They gave me the job purely because I am a native speaker, had 2 children of my own and had experience of working with kids in the past.
    They trained me in their methodology and I did very well.
    I do think though, to teach teens and adults, you’d definitely need some formal training or teaching the grammar aspect.

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