What TEFL qualification should you choose?
The range of TEFL qualifications available is huge and new teachers are often left with the question of what TEFL qualification 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
We’ve been teaching English abroad for a long time now. so here’s our advice and our answers to these questions.
Disclaimer: A couple of the links to the online 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 two specifically. You’ll notice, however, that most of our recommendations aren’t to direct courses. The advice is because we
Choosing the right TEFL qualification
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 Prosecco (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 really 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 Google TEFL qualifications, 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 programme. And of course, their course or program is the one that is one of the only fully accredited TEFL courses and is the most accepted worldwide. Why would they be selling it if it wasn’t?
Thing is, a quick Google of those companies also include horror stories from people who have taken these courses and gone on these programmes and had terrible times. So what should you do?
Here is where we come in. After nearly twelve years of teaching English abroad 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 programme. 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?
Do you need to take a TEFL qualification 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?
- What do you do if they start misbehaving? 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?
I mean, I’m assuming if you pay to get your mobile phone fixed, that you expect the person fixing it to actually know how to fix phones, rather than just have 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. Even if you are teaching in a government school, 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.
How long does a TEFL course take?
Full-time onsite TEFL courses
An initial TEFL qualification is a 120-hour course. If you study onsite, this is taken over an intensive 4 week period. You attend a
These types of courses are perfect for people who want to qualify as a teacher quickly and there is an advantage that you can do it in the city you want to teach in. This will give you connections for finding work and you can experience living there before you start teaching.
Part-time onsite courses
Onsite TEFL courses can also be taken part-time over 12 weeks, attending a
The 120 hour TEFL qualifications can also be taken online. You can take it over several weeks or even months, working on it when you have time. Obviously, if you are busy with your job and can’t find the time to attend a
Read about what you need to know before taking an online TEFL course, and which ones we recommend.
As I will discuss below, one disadvantage of this type of study is that there is no teaching practice. You don’t get any practical experience in the classroom, which is going to make starting in the classroom more daunting. If noone watches you teach while you are learning, you won’t have anyone to give you feedback on whether you are being effective or not.
Another issue will be with its acceptance. Many schools want teachers to have had teaching practice before they start working for them, so they may not accept an online only certificate.
Combined onsite/online courses
Blended learning is a big thing nowadays in education, and TEFL certification is no different. You can take part
There are courses that offer an online component that you can take in your own time, and then a weekend onsite part. Unfortunately, these onsite parts are rarely assessed teaching practice of real students. There may be peer teaching, which will give you the opportunity to put some of the skills you have learned into practice, which can be helpful. Just be aware that this won’t make you any more employable than only having an online TEFL certification.
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 is, 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.
If you want to teach online, read our interviews with online English teachers to see the pros and cons of different companies.
What ESL certification should I do?
In our opinion, (and not everyone will agree) there are five real options for you:
- A CELTA or Trinity certificate – the only qualifications that are actually accepted worldwide.
- A job with included, company-run training, but no certificate.
- An online TEFL course.
- A programme with a certificate and then a teaching placement that is much cheaper than a CELTA or Trinity.
- A certificate that is not a CELTA or Trinity but is the same price
CELTA vs. TEFL
The big argument you will see banded around is CELTA vs. TEFL. Which one is the best? We’d argue the CELTA. This and its equivalent, the Trinity certTESOL.
Both the CELTA and the Trinity certTESOL include at least 120 hours of taught course, with teaching practice on real students. You will learn about classroom management, how to teach grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, writing, speaking and pronunciation, how to plan and execute lessons and much more.
The CELTA is provided and moderated by Cambridge English Language Assessment – yes, that Cambridge. The British university with all the colleges that look a bit like Hogwarts. Cambridge English Language Assessment is linked to them.
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.
The CELTA is usually taken either full-time or part-time onsite. There are
The Trinity certTESOL is the other 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.
There isn’t a blended option for the Trinity certTESOL. You can take it onsite, both full-time and part-time, in centres all over the world. The Trinity website lists their courses.
So why are these the accredited TEFL courses we recommend?
They are accreditated TEFL courses
These two awarding bodies monitor the schools offering the qualifications, and these bodies, in turn, are monitored by Ofqual and the QCA – the organisations who regulate all qualifications in England, including GCSEs, A’ levels and NVQs.
Other courses state that they are accredited TEFL courses, but often the bodies who accredit them have been set up by the company offering the course, and/or have no external regulation. Sometimes they even state the names (and acronyms again) for their accreditation, but if you look into it, it’s bodies like IATEFL – who
Qualified TEFL Trainers
Your trainers have to have a higher level qualification in teaching English, e.g. a Diploma, PGCE in TEFL, or Masters’ in TEFL with teaching practice. This means they have had much more training than the four-week certificate they are giving you. We’ve seen adverts for trainers for other TEFL courses which only ask for a certificate and one semester of teaching experience. That means they only have five months of experience in the classroom.
Lots of courses say that they are accredited TEFL courses and accepted worldwide, and this is true. You can get a job teaching English abroad with any qualification. You can get a job teaching English abroad without a TEFL qualification at all. So schools will accept your certificate.
The question is, how many schools and what quality will they be? The British Council, who accredit centres for teaching English in the UK and have language centres worldwide, only accept the CELTA or Trinity 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.
On the job training
Ok, we get it. You don’t have enough money to do a course. You don’t know if you want to be a teacher for a long time. You just want to take a year out and see the world. In that case, why not get a job that will train you? Schools in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan have in-house training programs that train teachers in their method and have all the materials ready to use. You’ll get lessons in classroom management, and the ready-made materials will mean you won’t need to design your own lessons. Lots of teachers start like this, and if they like it, go on and do a TEFL qualification later.
However, the rise of online TEFL courses (see below) means that fewer schools want unqualified teachers. It’s cheap and quick to take an ESL certification so schools want teachers to have one.
Why not read our other advice for new TEFL teachers.
Online TEFL courses
You don’t have much money, but you don’t want to go into the classroom completely blind and you are not interested in one of the countries mentioned above. Lots of organisations run TEFL qualifications online, ranging in length from 50 hours to 160 hours and more. You’ll get information and training in teaching, language and classroom management. What you won’t get is any practical practice in teaching and feedback on that.
Online TEFLs are not as widely accepted, whatever the organisation offering them says, but as I said above, you can still get a job with one, just like you can if you don’t have a certificate at all.
If you don’t know if you want to teach abroad long-term, or you want to start working to save money to do a CELTA in future, then an online certificate would be great. Many people start with an online TEFL, and then upgrade to a better certificate later.
If this is your situation, then we have a couple of offers for you. First, you can get 15% off your online TEFL qualification with International TEFL and TESOL training using our link.
Another option is to try an online TEFL course for free, before you make a decision. TEFL Pros offer that option.
Programmes that train you and then allocate you a teaching placement
Our experience with TEFL qualifications
I’ll be honest with you. We didn’t start with a CELTA or Trinity certificate. We did one of the first of these programs, run by TEFL International, where we did their four-week course and then they placed us in a school to work for a semester. You can read more about this experience in our other blog Rat on the Road. Four weeks training in Ban Phe in Thailand, doing teaching practice with kids on a rubber plantation and novice Buddhist monks, and then we were sent to a trilingual primary school in Samut Prakarn, right on the outskirts of Bangkok, to teach for a semester.
The course was fine and we felt prepared to teach. We had some good trainers, one we are still friends with now, and we met some awesome people, again who we are still friends with now. The teaching was an experience and an incredibly steep learning curve.
All was good until we started applying for jobs at other schools in other countries, and for positions as examiners. We got a lot of blind rejections just based on the certificate, regardless of our experience and references. For this reason, we took Cambridge and Trinity Diplomas – higher level teaching qualifications which are fully accepted by the likes of the British Council and International House.
The Good and the Bad
The way these programs work is that you pay a fee, ours cost about $500, which included the course and four weeks’ accommodation. With ours, you got placed in a school by an agency connected to the organisation, and paid 30,000 baht a month with free accommodation. With all of them, you get paid a monthly wage. To get your certificate, you have to complete your semester in the school. If you leave before the end, for whatever reason, you don’t get the TEFL qualification. So if your placement is good, it’s all fine.
However, there are reasons why the agencies are using these programs to staff these schools. These are usually schools that can’t get teachers the normal way. This may be the location, or the school, or something else. Some programs send teachers to the troubled areas of Thailand in the South, some to really rural areas. Some teachers are lucky and in an area, they like such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket and have a fantastic time. The issue is, you don’t get a choice where you go. You are placed, and you do the semester, and you get the certificate. It can be a good place to start in a country like Thailand or Vietnam.
Fancy teaching in Vietnam? Read our bumper guide to teaching English in Vietnam.
Alternative TESOL and TEFL qualifications
The last option is to take a TEFL certificate run by another organisation, for the same price as the CELTA or Trinity certificate. This is last because we don’t recommend this at all. If it will cost you the same money for a less widely recognised and accredited certificate, then why do that one? These organisations can have dubious accreditation, and whatever they say, they are not accepted by schools that follow the British Council guidelines.
You can do a CELTA in Kiev or Odessa in Ukraine, Wroclaw, Poland for around $1200, or $1,600 in Thailand or $1750 in Vietnam.
Read more about teaching English in Ukraine.
You can do the Trinity TESOL in Barcelona, Prague, London or even Kerela, India for $1400.
There are similar prices all over the world.
It’s the same price to do a certificate with many of the other companies out there. Sometimes these courses are more expensive. It’s a no-brainer to us.
Hopefully, this has been useful, and hasn’t left you more confused than you started out. Whatever you decide, have a great time!
Find out more about 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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