TEFL Qualifications: The Lowdown – TESOL vs CELTA

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.

How To Get The Work Hard and Play Hard Balance

Over the past few years, the summertime has become my favourite time of year. Why, you might ask? Because it’s the time of year I find myself flying away to a small town in a different country to teach English to schoolchildren.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Italy has become a mainstay destination for my teaching work – and why wouldn’t it? Glorious sunshine, delicious food, a welcoming culture and incredibly cute kids. However much I love it though, that doesn’t mean the work is easy fare.

Every school, not to mention every child, is different. On short-term teaching contracts, difference provides a really challenging fact. It would be very easy to spend 24/7 on the job while I’m out on a teaching contact, but every time I jet off to teach, the balance becomes just a little bit easier.

If you’re teaching English and struggling with the work-play balance, here’s some advice that might help you in your life abroad.

Lesson 1: Think about your job like a businessperson

If you’re employed for 35 hours per week, that’s the number of hours you should be working. Why are you trying to work more than that? If you’re being presented with challenges that require more attention than the hours you’re contracted for, your institution should be employing you for more hours.

Obviously you want to do a great job, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the cultural experience living and working abroad offers. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the opportunity to have a personal life. The experience of teaching abroad is all about balance.

Try to be as productive as possible during your contracted hours, and ask yourself if you’re going above and beyond your call of duty. If you’re trying to spread yourself too thin, you’ll find that the work you’re doing isn’t as effective as it could be.

So put your business hat on and remember that you’re being paid to do a specific job. Don’t decrease your salary by putting in an extra 35 hours at home each week!

Lesson 2: Reuse materials and keep every resource you find

A skill TEFL teachers should develop from day one is the ability to make their own lives easier. I certainly didn’t do this when I first started teaching, but I learnt quickly from other more experienced teachers.

A lot of teachers I know have a special folder of resources, exercises, activities, lessons plans, ideas and more – all gathered from their teaching colleagues, their own thoughts and experiences, websites, books and anywhere else.

That folder will make planning every lesson for your class significantly easier, meaning you don’t have to take your work home with you and can plan effectively and quickly. There’s nothing wrong with cutting corners in this way – it’ll benefit you and your students.

And, best of all, it means you have more time to play, socialise and explore outside of your teaching job.

Lesson 3: You’re not the only one living for the evening or the weekend after a hard day

There’s inner guilt attached to being genuinely excited about the moments you don’t have to spend teaching. Don’t fret though – you’re not alone!

Every time I go out to Italy teaching, I get to the middle of the first week and begin living for the Spritz Aperol I’ll be drinking after school, and the travel plans I’ve made for that weekend. I really enjoy the work and I become attached to the kids really quickly, but the work can, quite plainly, be hard work sometimes.

Bearing in mind any cultural differences that might make their perspective different, it’s a good thing to speak to your colleagues or friends about all the things you’re excited about doing that aren’t your job. It’ll make you feel better to know that many of the people around you are having exactly the same thoughts.

Dispel the guilt, find ways to enjoy the work, and don’t be afraid to vent (to the right people) after a particularly challenging day.

How To Teach English and Learn Another Language

Credit: Rohit Rath / Flickr

Credit: Rohit Rath / Flickr

One of the most amazing things about working in another country is having the opportunity to learn a different language in a very natural way. Forget memorising grammar tables and writing letters to your fictional penpal: you’ll quickly learn the words you can – and need – to use every day in your life abroad. Teaching abroad offers ample opportunity to master a language, at least conversationally.

All that said, I’m sure you know just as many folks as I do who return from working abroad with little more than ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thanks’ in their vocabulary. If you want to avoid becoming one of them, here’s what to do.

Lesson 1: Lose all your inhibitions

The best way to start this experience is to wave goodbye to your comfort zone. In both living abroad and trying to learn another language, operating within your comfort zone can quickly become the only thing holding you back.

One of the reasons that children are so effective at learning languages is because they have no inhibitions about doing so. For an adult, going back to the drawing board in terms of communication can feel extremely embarrassing. To overcome this, you have to make a concerted effort not to be embarrassed every single day, no matter how much of you is visibly cringing.

Language learning at any age is all about communicating, and this should be your primary motivation. In your adult life, language learning isn’t about meeting the requirements of an educational exam board (or at least, it shouldn’t be) so mentally defining a new language as a means of communication is absolutely key to success.

Lesson 2: Make yourself learn and practise

After a hard day’s work, it’s understandable that you’re exhausted. All you really want is to chat away in your native language – slang, swear words and all. Don’t do it! The decisions you make in moments of weakness are the ones that define you and define your experience. If you don’t push yourself and really make the most of the opportunities each day present while you’re living abroad, you might as well still be at home in your native country.

When you’re learning a language, push yourself to speak to locals at the end of a long day. The best way to learn new words and remember corrections to your use of a language is in context. You may well remember a new phrase or sentence because you can associate it with a particular event on a hard day, so don’t shy away from conversation just because you’re in a bad mood!

What makes this experience so amazing is that you’re living your life in a different way and developing as a person. You might long for an English pub and everybody around you speaking the language you’re used to, but if you actually seek this out – and in many countries, it’s possible to do so – you may as well be in a 9 to 5 office job in your home country, talking about how boring your day has been. Live well, live differently, and be excited about every day.

Lesson 3: Use your own experience to be a better teacher

The more you can relate to your students, the more effective you’ll be as a teacher. Learning a language yourself puts you in the same position as the people you’re teaching – but you have the added bonus of being around the language you’re learning at every turn. So when you’re struggling with something in your learning, take note of what you’re experiencing and how you solve it, then remember it later on for your students.

Throwing yourself in at the deep end to learn the local language will give you amazing insight into what your students are going through in their own learning process. In language learning, there’s rarely much of a hierarchy in the student-teacher relationship, so you can also learn a lot from your students to assist you with your own linguistic journey.

You’ll find new ways to help and understand your learners, and many of my students have had really effective ways of learning and remembering things that have helped me in the past. Teachers are students too – it’s all about the context!

Why You Should Teach Even If You Don’t Like Children

There’s a common and widely-circulated myth in the world that all teachers love children almost unconditionally. That goes for primary and secondary school teachers, those who run extra-curricular classes of any sort, as well as those teaching English as a foreign language at home or abroad.

This radical myth holds many people back from packing in their day jobs and jetting off to an exciting new life to teach abroad. And understandably so – I never would have taken the leap into TEFL work if unconditional love for children as a species was a requirement.

Perhaps you travelled a little and did some voluntary work with children during your gap year. After that, you went to university, landed some kind of entry-level graduate job, and have found yourself sitting in an office ever since.

Chances are that your practical experience teaching kids stretches as far as having once been one, and occasionally being forced to hold or entertain the child of a friend or colleague for around the 30 minute mark. Being faced with a classroom full of them unable to communicate in the English language may be a scary concept, to put it lightly.

But none of this should stop you pursuing a TEFL job in another country. Here’s my advice on why you should teach – children or adults, or a mix of both – even if you don’t like kids.

Lesson 1: You don’t have to love children to teach them well

It’s a complete myth that all teachers love children, but put that aside and think about this: regardless, you don’t have to love children to teach them well. Your skills as a teacher, educator and role model really are far more important than whether you think you’re a ‘child person’ or doubt that you ever want to have children yourself.

Some of the best teachers I’ve ever met as colleagues and some of the best teachers who have ever taught me have not been especially enthusiastic about children. But it doesn’t matter – because they’re talented teachers with knowledge and dedication. That’s what counts far more than whether they’re looking to pursue a career in childcare or nannying.

Lesson 2: Teaching abroad doesn’t have to mean teaching kids

Personally, I find young children with very little language ability the best students and the most fun to teach. They’re vibrant, excitable and they pick things up very quickly. They’re an easy audience for a laugh, and it’s easy to do silly things to help them remember words and phrases. It’s rewarding and it really is good fun.

But if you really don’t want to work with children, this shouldn’t hold you back from living and working abroad as a language teacher. There are loads of opportunities to teach abroad that don’t involve kids at all. Start by looking at university positions, adults wanting to learn English for business purposes, adult education classes, and one-to-one tuition for all ages. Teaching young people in a school really is just one option amongst many.

Lesson 3: Different cultures create different kinds of children

The country I’ve taught in the most is Italy. From my very first class in this tantalising country, I realised something: Italian children are nothing like British children. Having worked as a teacher in various other countries now too, I’ve realised that children from different countries are completely different from each other.

If you don’t have a lot of time for the youth of today in your own country, you might well find that Thai, Chinese, Indian, Moroccan, French or Lithuanian children are everything you could ever want in a student. Every culture raises their kids according to its own customs and traditions, and every culture has different expectations for its youth.

So just because you don’t like children in your country of residence doesn’t mean that a contract of six months in a foreign nation won’t totally change your perspective on the little darlings. So what are you waiting for?