The TEFL certificate is the most common entry level qualification for English teachers around the world. But there are many kinds of certificates to choose from, and they are NOT all equal. Either in cost, quality, or in recognition by employers.
Unfortunately the best are the most expensive. The big three, discussed below, are usually the ones to go for, but some of the other certificate courses, or online courses, are accepted for teaching in some parts of the world. For requirements in different parts of the world see this article on teaching English overseas Europe is the strictest regarding TEFL certification, and many employers won't accept online TEFL certificates [although this will likely change when the online version of the CELTA becomes available], or any certificate, other than the CELTA and CertTESOL.
Sometimes I hear people ask "What is the difference between a TEFL and a CELTA?". A CELTA is one type of TEFL certificate, just as a poodle is one type of dog. The expression 'a TEFL' has no clear meaning and is better avoided.
In two ways. It can help you become a better teacher, and it can help you get a better job. You will be able to apply to the better schools, and so have a better experience of life. If the course can make you a better teacher - as it should. Then your opportunities for making more money and increasing your job satisfaction increase.
The cheapest, easiest and most convenient way is to take an online TEFL certificate. Although they can be of use in Asia and South America; they are not usually recognized in Europe. They are not recognized because they lack external validation or quality control, and they because they lack any practical teaching component. All of this may change when the online version of the CELTA becomes available. It's best when choosing a TEFL certificate course, to find one with some real teaching practice.
The next easiest option is to take one of the many residential, or combined courses. The standards vary widely - some are reported to be good - some a waste of time and money. Research the course you are interested in, and try to contact some teachers who have taken the course. Use ESL forums such as Dave's ESL Cafe to ask questions.
These courses cost more than the online certificates, but less than the big three, which I discuss below. Most employers in Western Europe don't accept anything other than the CELTA and Cert TESOL, although in Asia and South America, some teachers report that other TEFL certificate courses have been of use in finding work, and in giving ideas on how to teach EFL.
For most people taking the CELTA or the CertTESOL will be the best choice. They are accepted by employers around the world, they have a practical teaching component, and better systems of external validation. They are also the most expensive. These courses are assessed by a combination of written and practical work, and they must consist of a minimum of 120 hours teaching - usually taking place over one month.
The CELTA is the biggest of the three - and the best known amongst employers. CELTA stands for certificate in English language teaching to adults. It is awarded by Cambridge ESOL, a part of Cambridge University. When I took this qualification, many years ago, it was known as the RSA/UCLES certificate in TEFLA.
The syllabus is divided into 5 areas. • The learner, teacher and teaching context. • Language analysis and awareness - grammar. • The 4 language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. • Lesson planning. • Teaching skills.
The assessment is based on planning and teaching - the practical component - and on four written assignments (750-1,000 words). There are a minimum of 120 contact hours, which include 6 hours of observed teaching practice, and 6+ hours of observations of experienced teachers. There is also a young learners extension course - 2.5 weeks - for those already possessing the CELTA.
Course fees vary a lot, depending on the centre and which country you choose. It is definitely worth shopping around. Check the Cambridge website for details of syllabus and centres near you.
This certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages is awarded by Trinity College London. It is widely recognized, but less common than the CELTA, although in many ways quite similar. One interesting difference is that you will study a certain number of hours of an unknown language, to experience being an adult beginner language learner again.
The CertTESOL requires a minimum of 130 hours teaching, with 6 hours of observed teaching practice, and 8 hours of observations of experienced teachers. All teachers must keep a personal journal during the course.
Five areas are covered: • Teaching skills. • Language awareness. • The learner. • A materials assignment. • The unknown language - trainees are taught a foreign language to experience the learner's perspective.
The costs of the CertTESOL are similar to the CELTA. Check the Trinity College website for detailed information on the syllabus, and for the location of schools teaching the course.
This course is awarded by the SIT Graduate Institute and is similar to the above two tefl certificate courses. It is 130 hours long and focusses on three areas: learning, teaching and classroom practices. The course contains practice teaching. It is less well known than the above two courses. There are far fewer centers offering this course, and most are in North and South America. It is less well known in Europe, and may not be seen as being equivalent to the CELTA or CertTESOL. For further information see their website
When choosing a tefl certificate course, apart from the content and price, the location is also important. If you live near one of centres, then the convenience and saving of accommodation costs can make this a good choice. If, however, you want to work in a new country, it is worth considering taking the course there. You will be able to make contacts while you are doing the course, and in some cases the cost of accommodation will be a lot lower.
After taking a TEFL certificate you may want to consider taking a TEFL Diploma