You wouldn’t know it from searching online, but there are just two main certifications available for TEFL teaching abroad: the CELTA qualification (accredited by the University of Cambridge) and the TESOL qualification (accredited by Trinity College London). Both certificates are extremely well-respected, and each gives you the skills you need to teach and provides you with the qualifications you need to get a TEFL job abroad.
Costing around £1,500 including VAT and administration charges, taking one of these courses is no small decision. There are intensive courses, such as the ones offered by my local centre Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE), and longer-term, usually part-time courses, such as those offered by Saxoncourt in London.
The courses are designed to prepare you for your very first ESL teaching job overseas, and you can also opt to study abroad for the qualification. Often, this works out cheaper and is a bit more of an adventure, but it depends whether you plan on finding work in the country you study in – after all, you have to justify that airfare, right?
The focus of this blogpost, however, is on the differences between a TESOL and a CELTA, and the differences between these certificates and others you might find available such as a weekend or online course. In addition, I’m also covering some things to think about before taking your first TEFL job. Getting qualified to teach abroad can be a very confusing area, so hopefully I’ll be able to help some readers navigate their way through the murky waters of education and educating!
TEFL: The Difference Between a TESOL and a CELTA
In practical terms, which are surely the most important, there is very little difference between a TESOL and a CELTA. Both are top-notch qualifications that will put you in good stead to work as an English teacher internationally almost anywhere on the globe. Although they’re expensive, teaching qualifications are an extremely worthy investment. Spend £1,500 now to make a living for the next five years, and suddenly the initial expense seems very reasonable and definitely worth it.
Alternative TEFL Qualifications
A number of companies such as TEFL England and i-to-i offer online and weekend teacher training courses, or often, a combination of both. You learn at home in your own time, and within some of the qualifications on offer, you then spend an intensive weekend at a venue near you (they operate regionally all over the UK) doing some practical learning with other aspiring teachers. Now, these qualifications are different to the CELTA and TESOL options mentioned above, but they still have enormous value.
The first argument in their favour is that they are considerably cheaper. On top of that, TEFL England offer generous discounts for students and those who are unemployed and seeking work. Secondly, they’re much more flexible options – most people would find it difficult to take a month off of studying or working to do an intensive month-long CELTA or TESOL, whereas something that can fit around your daily life is much more feasible. They also allow you to work at your own pace, and the teaching methods showcased are very good – modern approaches created by teachers for teachers, and all materials are constantly being adapted to ensure they’re still relevant.
My words of caution for this kind of course revolve around confidence and previous experience. If you’re a fast learner yourself, you’re already confident about the idea of teaching children or adults English from scratch, and/or you already have a lot of teaching experience, this might be the best choice for you. If it’s all very new to you, I would advise you to consider one of the longer courses, or at least gaining some practical experience before pursuing a short course.
One final thing to think about on this point: TEFL England and i-to-i both have very good links with language schools and other organisations looking for English teachers around the world, and doing a course with them gives you access to this network and notification of new vacancies as they become available. The qualifications needed on these ads are usually expressed in terms of which course and how many hours you’ve completed with the TEFL company, making it easy to see if you fit the requirements. If you choose to do a short course, either online or a combination of online/practical, make sure you pick a company that is there to support you once you’re qualified, and who will actually help you to find that all-important first job.
If you’d like to get a better idea of whether a TEFL course like this might be for you, i-to-i offer an excellent ‘taster’ tool for you to get an idea of the course content.
Other TEFL Points To Consider
1. Many countries across the world either prefer or flat out will only employ native speakers. It doesn’t matter if you’re English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Australian, Kiwi, American, Canadian or South African (…and breathe) – just that English is your first language and you speak it with some form of native-speaking accent. I always find it strange that language schools won’t employ Scandinavians who speak perfect English with an often unnoticeable accent, but they will employ somebody with a thick Yorkshire or Norfolk accent. Peculiar stuff, but that’s the way it works.
2. If you’re looking to build a career and make a decent living from being a TEFL teacher, a qualification – even a high quality one like a CELTA or a TESOL – may not be enough. Many language schools and certainly universities who offer work for English teachers require an undergraduate BA degree alongside a teaching qualification. And do bear in mind that TEFL teaching is a growing industry that lots of people want to get into – you’ll be up against people with great qualifications (teaching and otherwise) and lots of experience, so if you have the opportunity to go to university, it’s definitely something to try and do before launching into international life as a globetrotting English teacher.
3. If TEFL teaching is something you’d be interested in doing in the future, invest in yourself now and get your teaching qualification as early as possible. They don’t expire! If you’re a first-year university student or recent graduate dreaming of an expat life abroad, use part of that student loan or minimum-wage paycheck to enrol on a teaching course. It’ll come in so handy if you’d like to live and work abroad while you help EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language) learners in the future.
[Edit: Sorry - I just couldn't resist introducing some of the industry lingo up there.]
Please note that all links included are for reference only and I have not received payment from any of the organisations or websites mentioned for including them here.