What is CELTA?

A regular question from people thinking about getting into English teaching is ‘What is CELTA’?. It’s a common acronym that you see when reading about TEFL, but people aren’t clear on the difference between CELTA vs. TEFL, the CELTA application form or even what CELTA stands for. To help you out, CELTA expert, Jo Gakonga kindly agreed to write this blog to pass on her expertise.

What is CELTA

English language teaching is a great job – it’s kept me interested and happy for over 30 years, but it may not be that obvious how to get into it. If you’re thinking that the opportunities to travel and work with great people in a creative, communicative environment might make this a career for you, the first step is to get qualified, and the qualification that’s most widely recognised and respected globally is the CELTA from Cambridge Assessment. I’ve been a CELTA tutor for over 20 years and I’ve assessed in more than 50 centres, so I know a bit about the course – let me tell you a bit about it.

What is CELTA?

CELTA used to stand for ‘Certificate in Teaching English to Adults’ and that’s where the acronym comes from but the title now is the ‘Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages’. It’s a course of 120 hours (often taken full time over 4 weeks, but it could be part time and longer) with 6 hours of observed and assessed teaching practice.

You might have googled ‘What is CELTA?’ and found out that it’s not a cheap option and you’ll find that you can get work in some schools without a qualification or just with an online TEFL certificate but remember that teaching’s a practical skill. You don’t learn to swim by reading about breast stroke – you have to get in the water and teaching is the same – you have to get in the classroom, in front of learners. You might also want to think about how serious a school is if they’re hiring unqualified teachers.

For more on online TEFL courses, read out post on what you need to know about them.

Health warning

OK, you know what CELTA is and you’ve decided you want to one. I’ll start with a bit of a health warning. This kind of training course is short but it’s very intensive. People don’t do it lightly. It’s very usual to find it’s hard work and a bit stressful in places. You’re taking on a new profession in a short time, so you might expect this. Having said that, it’s a great learning experience and almost everybody comes out saying ‘I really enjoyed it …..now that it’s over!

Are you eligible to apply?

There are a few basic criteria that you have to meet to be considered for the course. You have to be aged over 18 (a lot of people are a bit older than that, but 18 is the minimum). There’s no upper limit and I’ve had many successful trainees in their 60s and 70s.

As far as qualifications are concerned, you have to have the equivalent of a university entrance level qualification; that means Level 4 -probably A levels -but it could also be a professional qualification.

You also have to have an English proficiency that’s at least C1+. So your English has to be very good, but English definitely doesn’t have to be your first language.

CELTA Application form

Do I need teaching experience before?

The CELTA course was designed for people with no teaching experience, but because it’s so well recognised internationally, a lot of people who are English teachers in their own countries want to do it. If you’re already comfortable in the classroom, it helps, of course, but you might find that the methodology is a bit different to what you’re used to.

Remember that on the course, you’ll be teaching relatively small groups of adult learners. If you’re used to teaching a large group of children, it’ll be quite a change. The focus is on a communicative approach where the learners have a lot of chance to speak and practice, often in pairs or groups, rather than the teacher just delivering content.

Is it easy to get onto a course?

The pass rate for CELTA is very high (usually over 95%), but that’s not because it’s easy, it’s because centres put a lot of effort into only taking on people who they think are likely to pass.

The first thing is to find a centre. You can Google this – centres have to be registered with Cambridge and assessors visit every course run to make sure that they’re standard, so it shouldn’t matter very much which centre you choose.

You can choose to do CELTA in three different formats. There’s fully face to face, where your input and teaching practice will be in a physical classroom or fully online, where you’ll teach your learners on a platform like Zoom or Teams and some or all of the input might be asynchronous, or there’s a blended version where you do half the course in a classroom and half online.

Which one you choose will depend a bit on the kind of teaching you want to do afterwards, but the skills you develop, whether you do the course face to face or online, will be very similar.

Read our post for more on the types of TEFL jobs there are.

The CELTA Application form

When you’ve decided where you want to apply, you’ll need to fill in a CELTA application form. Every centre’s got their own CELTA application form but they all have a similar pattern. This isn’t going to be easy and it’s probably going to take you a while. So take your time over it, do your research, don’t rush it.

You WILL need to have some idea of grammar – parts of speech, verb tenses – that kind of thing. If you don’t know what an intransitive verb is, or what the present perfect looks like, don’t worry too much – this is learnable. But you do need to have a reasonable grasp of it before you start. If you’re struggling, I’ve got a Grammar for Language Teachers course designed specifically to take you through it in an accessible way – check it out!

You’ll also be asked to do a writing task – what makes a good language learner or something of that nature. This is a written English test. The tutors want to see what your ideas about language learning are, of course, but they also want to see how good your written English is so proof read it carefully.

Assuming your CELTA application form is accepted, you’ll be invited for an interview. You might feel really nervous about this but don’t be, the centre just want to see who you are. They’ll be tasks to check that you know something about language terminology, a written task to check your written English and chance for you to ask questions about the course.

What does the CELTA course involve?

There are two parts to the course. Input and teaching practice or TP. It’s that second one, TP that’s the big one, the most important part. This is what makes CELTA trump TEFL courses. Most TEFL courses don’t have any teaching practice. You’ll be teaching adults who are genuinely learning English at two levels, possibly upper intermediate and pre intermediate.

What is CELTA
You’ll make friends for life on your CELTA course

You don’t need to worry that you won’t know what to teach – you’ll be given you a coursebook to base your lessons on and there’ll be guided lesson preparation beforehand where the tutor will help you to prepare your lesson. You have to write a lesson plan every time you teach, too – that’s one of the things that’s going to fill your evenings and weekends! As part of helping you develop, you’ll also watch experienced teachers teach – either on video or live or a combination of both.

When you’re teaching, you’ll be there with your learners, either in a physical or an online classroom, and then at the back of the room or online with their cameras off, will be your peers, probably about five of them, and your tutor…. and they’ll all be watching you.

After the lessons the feedback is in a group. So everybody gets to watch and talk about each other’s lessons. This might sound really daunting but it’s very helpful. Reflection is a really key part of the course – learning how to think about teaching and trying to analyse it.

You’ll teach eight or nine lessons during the course – a total of 6 hours, so most lessons will be 40 -45 minutes– and every lesson is assessed. You get oral and written feedback from your tutor with a grade and these are the most important part of your final result.

What else does the CELTA course involve?

As well as TP, there’s also input – times when your tutor will teach you how to teach skills, how to lesson plan, how to teach grammar, classroom management techniques, all of these kinds of things. And this will be taught in a way that they want you to teach, with pair and group work and an interactive environment.

There are four assignments on the course, too. They’re not particularly long or academic. They’re all under 1000 words but they do have to be done. They bring together what’s been taught in input and in teaching practice, very practical. The course is assessed on two things then, your teaching practice and the four assignments – but teaching is the most important.

What’s the end result?

At the end of the course, you’ll get a certificate from your centre, with a report about your strengths and action points, and an official certificate from Cambridge. The certificate from the centre will say whether the course was online or face to face (or blended) but the Cambridge certificate won’t.

The possible outcomes are Pass (about 70% of people worldwide get this and it’s nothing to be ashamed of!), a Pass B or a Pass A (or a Fail, of course). The grades are largely based on your teaching practice and you’ll have lots of feedback so you’ll know what you need to work on as you go along. As well as the oral and written feedback after every lesson, you’ll have two or three formal reports and a tutorial – you’ll be very well supported!

Once you have finished your CELTA, you can apply for jobs. Read our posts on where to apply and how to write a TEFL c.v. and covering letter.

So that’s it. I hope that this has answered some of your questions about CELTA and you understand what CELTA is. If you’re looking for help and support before, during or after the course, you can find lots of useful material on my site, at ELT-Training.com.

I hope that your English teaching journey brings you as much joy and interest as mine has. Good luck with it.

Jo Gakonga has been teaching since 1989 and training teachers on CELTA, MA TESOL and other courses for over 20 years. She has a website at ELT-Training.com that has video based support for trainee and novice teachers as well as some ideas for those a bit further down the teaching road.

For more on getting into TEFL, read our advice, country guides and interviews with TEFL teachers on our Teaching English page

What is CELTA

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