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 TEFL certificate at all? Here are 10 things you need to know about getting your TEFL certification:
What is a certificate in TEFL?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and a certificate in TEFL is, simply put, a qualification that enables you to do just this – Teach English as a Foreign Language. In other words, it enables you to teach English to people whose first language is not English.
People learn English for all sorts of different reasons, and a TEFL certificate, in theory, allows you to teach all of them – children, adults, those just starting out, those at advanced level, business professionals… Individual employers, though, may have different requirements in terms of experience.
Note: Not sure what some of these acronyms mean? Read our guide to TEFL acronyms and terms.
Do you have to have a TEFL certificate to teach abroad?
Most people take a TEFL certification so that they can teach English abroad. It is still possible in some countries to secure a job solely on the strength of being a native speaker of English (having English as your first language), particularly where the supply of teachers has trouble keeping up with demand. But these days are fading fast. Without a TEFL certificate, your employment options these days are severely limited.
What’s more, 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. I like to use the analogy of a hairdresser for this. Imagine one who says to you “Well, I’ve used scissors all my life, I should be okay”. Would you, as a customer, feel happy putting yourself in this person’s hands? And would the hairdresser feel confident that they could give you a good haircut?
So if you want to keep your employment options as open as possible, then getting TEFL qualified is an essential first step to teaching English abroad.
How do you get a TEFL certificate?
A TEFL certificate is what comes at the end of a TEFL course, so to get one, you first need to find, take and pass a TEFL course. And that’s where, for the uninitiated, things start to get murky, because as I mentioned above, there are hundreds to choose from. You’ll need to decide between:
- an online TEFL course, an on-site one, or one that combines the two
- a 4 week intensive course or a weekend or week long course
- a course at home or in the country where you want to teach
- a full time or part time TEFL course
The most important thing when looking for a course to get that all-important TEFL certificate is to do your research and make an informed choice.
What is the best way to get TEFL certified?
Should you take an online TEFL course or an on-site one to get your TEFL certification? Generally speaking, there is a hierarchy of recognition and acceptance by employers when it comes to these different types of certificate.
CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL
The most widely recognized and accepted entry-level TEFL certificates are the Cambridge CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL. These are on-site courses of around 120 hours. 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. Employers who only accept CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL certification may state this in job adverts.
Other 120 hour on-site TEFL courses
A large number of TEFL course providers offer courses of similar quality, duration and content to the CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL, and these are almost as widely accepted by employers, who may state that they require “CELTA, Trinity Cert TESOL or equivalent” or something similar. Any reluctance from employers about accepting “equivalents” probably comes from not being sure exactly what is included in each individual course.
Online TEFL courses
Online courses, especially shorter ones, are less widely recognised and accepted by employers, and this is mainly because they don’t provide the opportunity to put theory into practice. On-site courses almost always come with at least 6 hours actually teaching real live students.
But there are some very good quality online courses available. Some online courses include a teaching practice component favoured by employers, by means of remote video lessons or by including an on-site weekend component as part of the TEFL course.
There are many threads in our training and courses Q&A discussing the pros and cons of on-site versus online courses.
What do you need to do a TEFL course?
This depends on the individual TEFL certification provider. 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.
For a lot of on-site courses (and some online courses) you’ll need to fill out an application form for the TEFL course. You may need to complete a language awareness task to demonstrate that you have the ability to understand different aspects of the English language. TEFL certification providers aren’t looking for mastery of language use here, just awareness!) You may also have an interview.
Do you have to have a degree to do a TEFL course?
Again, whether or not you need a degree depends on the individual centre offering the TEFL certification course. Normally it’s not a requirement, although you should be aware that a degree is a requirement to teach English in quite a few countries. So the restriction of not having a degree normally comes at the job search stage, not at the certification stage.
How much does it cost to do a TEFL certification course?
To get TEFL certified can cost anywhere from £50 to £1500 or more. Online courses are cheaper because they don’t require the physical presence of tutors for a 4 week period or the hiring of premises, and other associated costs. I have seen short courses with a special offer running for £50, although the usual cost for online TEFL certification courses is between £150 and £400.
4 week on-site courses usually cost between about £1000 and £1500.
A higher cost TEFL course doesn’t automatically mean higher quality. Cost of on-site courses usually depends on the location (the cost of premises hire and tutor salaries are very different in Poland, Thailand and the UK).
How long does a TEFL course last?
On-site TEFL courses usually last 4 weeks. On a standard 4 week course you can expect the days to be very intensive, with a lot of work to be done in the evenings and at weekends too, preparing classes and writing assignments. Some courses are offered over 2, 3 or 5 weeks instead. With 2 or 3 week courses you should check carefully to be sure that this will be accepted by employers in countries where you want to teach. CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL courses always last 4 (or 5) weeks when taken full time.
There are also weekend or 3-day courses, sometimes designed as introductory courses, to give you a taste of TEFL to see if it’s for you before you take the plunge into a longer TEFL certification 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.
Most online courses are sold as a number of hours of study. So one provider may offer 40, 80 and 120 hour online courses, for example. The time you take to do this of course depends on how fast and how often you work!
Online TEFL courses, by their nature, can be taken part-time, and some on-site TEFL certification programs can be studied part-time as well. So the question “How long does it take to get a TEFL certificate” depends entirely on the type of course.
What is a TEFL qualification equivalent to?
The CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL have both been regulated in the UK by Ofqual at Level 5 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). This is equivalent to an HND, Foundation degree, Diploma of Higher Education or level 5 NVQ.
Some other courses are accredited by bodies with Ofqual ratings too. For example, Training Qualifications UK (TQUK) accredits some TEFL certification courses by some providers, also to level 5 on the RQF.
What is the best TEFL certification course to do?
So the best TEFL course for you depends on your individual circumstances. It should be one that is suitably accredited and has a good reputation, and will secure you a job in the place where you want to teach. Beyond that, though, your choice of TEFL course will depend on some or all of these things:
- Your budget
- Whether or not you need to work at the same time
- Where you’re based (and whether there are courses nearby)
- Whether you want to take the course in your home country or in the country where you want to teach
Get started by taking a look at the different TEFL courses available around the world.