Choosing a TEFL course can be daunting. There are hundreds of entry level, or “pre-service” TEFL courses to choose from, all promising to give you exactly what you need to start teaching. Here are 6 questions to help you evaluate different courses and choose the right one for you.
Is it better to do an on-site or online TEFL course?
Why is this question important? There are several reasons:
- What you’ll get out of the course
- Getting to know other trainees
TEFL course cost
The first reason is cost. On-site TEFL courses can cost upwards of £1000, whereas online certification can be gained for as little as £100. This can be significant, especially if you’re not quite sure if TEFL is for you, or if you’re planning on using the qualification for only a short period of time. An investment of more than £1000 for what might turn out to be only a year or two of working in the industry can seem disproportionate. And there’s always the option of taking an on-site course later on.
The second reason is flexibility. Online TEFL courses can give you the flexibility to study when and where you like, maybe even fit the course around a job. Full-time on-site courses don’t have this option.
But it’s not quite as simple as that. Cost and flexibility, while important (and of course these will be more important to some people than others) are not the only factors.
What will you get out of the TEFL course?
There’s also the question of what you’ll get out of the TEFL course and how prepared for teaching you’ll feel at the end of it. It’s hard to argue, for example, that you can learn the same amount in 20 hours online as you will in 4 weeks in a classroom. Crucially, too, most on-site courses give you experience of standing up in front of real live students and actually teaching. That is, after all, what you’ll be doing when you start work, which is why many employers place such great value on the teaching practicum element of a TEFL course (more on that later).
Having said that, there is the argument that even a 4 week on-site course can only really scratch the surface, and that the “real” learning starts in your first job. I have seen several teachers with a good quality online qualification better prepared to teach than some who have taken an on-site course. So it isn’t necessarily the case that on-site TEFL course equals better prepared TEFL teacher. It depends on the individual, his or her learning preferences and adaptability to different methods of learning.
Getting to know other trainees
Another thing to consider is the sense of camaraderie with fellow trainees that an on-site course can give you. These courses usually take place over a very intensive 4 weeks, and the sense of “all being in the same boat” in a pressurised situation can lead to close friendships and bonds with fellow trainees which many people value highly in a training environment.
But all this aside, probably the biggest factor, and the biggest reason why the online/on-site question is important is recognition. Is the TEFL certificate recognised and accepted where you want to teach? And that brings us to question number 2.
Is the TEFL certificate recognised where I want to teach?
The second part of this question, “where I want to teach”, is the most important. All TEFL certificates are recognised somewhere, but different employers in different countries have different requirements. In some countries an online TEFL certification will be enough for most employers (and if this is the case then they don’t tend to distinguish between different online certificates – any will usually do the trick). In others, only an on-site certificate will do. If you want to work in a particular country, then you need to make sure that you take a TEFL course that most employers there will accept. If most job adverts for a country say “On-site TEFL”, or “4 week TEFL” or something similar, then an online certificate isn’t going to cut it, regardless of the quality, content or duration of the course.
Online TEFL course accreditation
I said in the last question that if an employer accepts an online TEFL qualification, it doesn’t usually matter which one. Having said that, if you do take an online course, it’s still worth taking one which has a reputable accrediting body behind it. It may not make any difference most of the time, but on the odd occasion that it does, it could pay off.
The biggest problem with the TEFL industry is that there isn’t any one international accrediting or regulatory body. Anyone can create a TEFL course, market it and sell it. They can even make up their own accrediting body, call it something like “The World Federation of TEFL providers” and say that their TEFL course is accredited. And, strictly speaking, it is. But there wouldn’t be any substance behind that particular accreditation.
But there are a number of genuine, reputable organisations out there who accredit TEFL certification programs. Some, like IATQUO, are specific to the TEFL industry; others, like the ODLQC, accredit all types of online and distance learning, TEFL or otherwise. Others still accredit both online and on-site learning. Look for any mention of accreditation on the course provider’s website and then go and research that organisation. First of all check to see that the course provider is listed on their site as one of the courses they have accredited (yes, some TEFL certification providers claim an accreditation that doesn’t exist). Then check if the accrediting body has any substance. Does it look reputable? Has it accredited other reputable-looking TEFL courses? Does the website look professional? And so on.
On-site TEFL course accreditation
What about on-site courses? Well, the same thing applies as for online courses and you should check their accreditation in exactly the same way. There are two TEFL certificates that are internationally recognised and accepted and so don’t require any further checking – CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL. For many years these were the “gold standard” TEFL courses, and many would argue they still are. They take 120 hours (or slightly longer), usually over 4 intensive weeks. If you take a CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL in Barcelona, the content will be, give or take, exactly the same as if you take a CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL in Istanbul or London. And it will be recognised and accepted by almost every employer worldwide (apart from those who require a higher level qualification for a particular job).
Over the last ten years or so though, a large number of equivalent 4 week, 120 hour TEFL courses have sprung up all over the world. Many of these are of a similar quality to CELTA and Trinity, and have similar content. Whether one or another is “better” may come down simply to personal opinion, whether a trainee liked the trainer’s teaching style, and so on.
These courses are gaining in international recognition and acceptance, and you may see job adverts that say something like “CELTA, Trinity Cert TESOL or equivalent”. The “or equivalent” bit means a 4 week, 120 hour course (or longer) that, crucially, includes at least 6 hours of observed, assessed teaching practice, teaching real live students. This is what many employers are looking for and is the main reason why they won’t accept an online qualification. For an employer who wants this, even a “combined” course, where you study online and then do, say, a weekend teaching practicum, probably won’t work. That’s because on the weekend practicum you’ll usually teach your fellow trainees rather than real live students.
How long is the TEFL course?
We’ve pretty much covered this question already. Most employers who are looking for an on-site qualification will expect 120 hours or longer. Shorter TEFL courses do exist, and you then need to go back to the question of “Is it recognised and accepted where I want to teach?”. For online courses, generally speaking the longer the course, the more in-depth your study will be. In terms of employment, as I said this may not make much of a difference. But in terms of how well prepared you feel for the classroom, it might. It’s worth putting yourself in the shoes of your students. Would you prefer to be taught by someone with 20 hours TEFL training or 100?
Where is the TEFL course?
For on-site courses, location can be important. If you’re thinking of teaching in Spain, for example, then taking a certification course there can give you access to local contacts and advice from the course provider when it comes to finding a job. They might even dedicate a session or two of the course specifically to working in TEFL in that country. Being in place on the ground can have its advantages too – you can visit employers directly with your CV and get a feel for the place where you might work.
There are also many reasons to take the TEFL course in your home country. You might not be sure yet where (or when) you want to start teaching. The training centre might be convenient to where you live, saving on accommodation costs. There might be a part-time course near to where you live, meaning you can work at the same time.
If you do take a course in the country where you think you may want to teach, be careful about golden guarantees of jobs after the course. If a TEFL course provider says they will guarantee you a job, I would question the employers they’re guaranteeing you the job with. If you were an employer, would you want to make an unconditional offer to course graduate before even meeting them? This is what is implied with “job guarantees”. Offering “job guidance” or “help finding a job” is more realistic.
Is it a reputable TEFL course?
The last question is about the reputation and quality of the course, whether online or on-site. Because of the lack of regulation of the TEFL industry, there is a wide range of courses of varying quality and reputation. Unless you go with CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL, there’s no easy answer when it comes to deciding if a course is reputable or not.
Having a reputable accreditation behind the certification (as we saw in question 3) is one indicator, but it’s not enough. To find out if a TEFL certificate provider is reputable, you also need to:
- Research the course provider extensively online. Look for good reviews and bad reviews. Remember that one bad review may be an anomaly (I doubt any course provider can please all the people all the time) but many bad reviews may be a sign to avoid them.
- Have a look at their website. Does it look professional or does it look like it was put together in 5 minutes, with bad English, wild promises and no proper accreditation?
- Check out the content of the course and compare it to the content of, say, a CELTA course.
- Check out the trainers. Are they qualified to a higher level (look for Delta or Trinity Diploma in TESOL, or MA in TESOL) or if not, do they at least have significant experience?
- Above all, trust your instinct. If you don’t like the look or feel of a course provider, choose another.
As I said before, it’s not always all about the training – some people with little or no TEFL training can be more natural and effective teachers than others who have done a 4 week course. But if you’re just starting out and don’t have any experience to back you up, then in the vast majority of cases you’ll need a TEFL qualification on your CV. When choosing which course provider to get that qualification from, it’s worth keeping these six questions in mind!