Search for TEFL courses and you’ll get a mind-boggling array of choices, making it difficult to know where to start. So, what’s the difference between all these courses, is there a “best” one to take, and do you really need a certificate at all?
Do I need to get qualified?
It is still possible in some countries to secure a job solely on the strength of being a native English speaker, particularly where supply of teachers has trouble keeping up with demand. However, these days are fading fast, as they should be. You deserve to be equipped and feel confident that you know what you’re doing when you step into the classroom for the first time, and your students deserve the same. So if you want to keep your employment options as open as possible, then getting qualified is an essential first step.
Which course should I take?
The most widely recognized and accepted entry-level TEFL certificates are the Cambridge CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL. These are classroom-based courses of around 120 hours*, and involve six or more hours of observed teaching practice. They are usually studied over a very intensive four week period and involve a lot of work outside the classroom, preparing classes and writing assignments. (Most CELTA and Trinity graduates will attest to sacrificing their social life and being totally consumed by TEFL for the duration.)
* Edit – The CELTA is now also offered online with face to face teaching practice.
The application process for these courses usually involves an application form, a language awareness task and an interview. Although requirements vary for each individual centre, in general you should be at least 18 years old and have sufficient educational qualifications to gain entry to higher education. If you are a non-native speaker of English you should be able to demonstrate a high level of English language skills.
On a CELTA or Trinity course you will learn a good deal about teaching theory and methodology, and have some chance to put it into practice. You will learn some grammar, but don’t expect to be an expert by the end of the course – this mostly comes in your first few years of teaching.
A large number of institutions offer courses of similar duration and content to the CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL, and many employers worldwide accept these as equivalent qualifications.
There are also many shorter classroom-based and online courses available, which may better suit your budget, and can give you greater flexibility. Some online courses include a teaching practice component favoured by many employers, by means of remote video lessons or by including a classroom-based weekend as part of the course.
There are many threads in the training and courses forum discussing the pros and cons of classroom-based versus online courses.
There are even courses specifically designed as introductory courses, to give you a “taster” of TEFL, to see if it’s for you before you take the plunge into a longer program.
A further option is an MA in TESOL, a route commonly followed in the US. As with most Masters degrees, these take one year or longer and consequently tend to cover theory and methodology in greater detail.
The most important thing to remember is that requirements vary from country to country and from employer to employer. Shorter and online courses, for example, do not enjoy such widespread recognition and acceptance by employers as 120 hour classroom-based courses. So you should research the requirements of employers where you want to teach before deciding on a course, to be sure that the one you choose will be accepted by employers in those countries.
Do I have to study full time?
Most classroom-based TEFL certificate programs are four to six weeks. These are intensive courses requiring a lot of energy and motivation. But many centres recognise that this full-time option does not suit everyone and offer part-time, distance or online courses which can be taken over several months or longer.
Where can I study?
Courses are offered in many different countries worldwide. Studying in Bangkok or Prague, for example, can give you the advantage of the centre’s connections with local schools when it comes to finding employment, and many course providers offer help with finding a job as part of the deal.
How can I find a course?
Have a look at the TEFL course directory to get started. You’ll find over 1500 courses in over 80 countries worldwide. Have a look too at some of the threads in the training and courses forum for teachers’ experiences of the different types of course.
Need more help?
Dig deeper into all the points mentioned in this article with 6 questions to ask when choosing a TEFL course.