The world of ESL can be confusing with all the acronyms that get tossed around. ESL, EFL, TEFL, TESOL, CELTA. What does it all mean?! Just doing a quick Google search for your answers can make you want to pull your hair out. Don’t worry! I’ve totally been in your position before and I feel your pain. After extensive research, I think I’ve got a grasp on it. I’m going to try and put your worried mind at ease with this post. It lists in detail the difference between a TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA to help you decide which teaching certification is best for you. Let’s dive in!
What You’ll Learn in a Teaching Certification Course
You’ll learn how to create better lessons, manage a class, get shy students to speak up, and entertain while teaching in an English teaching certification course. I wish I had had a certification when I arrived to teach English in China.
My first demo class was a total disaster. It was at a kindergarten in Beijing. Sasha had actually applied for the job but then got his old job back, so he passed this one along to me. I had not yet taught a class of 40+ kids. I was just a little nervous.
He gave me a few pointers on how to teach a demo class, but when it came time to do it I was literally shaking. Needless to say, it didn’t go so well. I spoke so fast, had no idea what I was doing, and the kids all looked super confused when it was finished. It was awful!
Afterwards, the principal told the recruiter that I was no good and that she needed to find another teacher. The recruiter responded by saying in more or less words, “Well this teacher is here now and you need a teacher now. I’m sure she can figure it out. Give her a chance!”
And that’s how I got my first job in China.
If I had gotten a teaching certification, this embarrassing demo class would have never happened. If you want to avoid a similar situation, you should definitely take a course.
TEFL vs. TESOL vs. CELTA
First, let’s start by deciphering all these acronyms.
What does TEFL stand for?
TEFL stands for:
Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
This is the acronym you’ll probably see the most in the ESL world. At its core, TEFL simply refers to the industry, not a specific certification. In theory, this is the certificate you want to get if you’re planning to teach English in a country where it is not the native language such as China, Cambodia, or Oman.
What does TESOL stand for?
TESOL stands for:
Teaching English to Students of Other Languages
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
As they would say in Southeast Asia, “Same same but different, ya?!“
TESOL, like TEFL, is simply an acronym that refers to the industry of teaching English to non-native English speakers. A TESOL certificate is primarily for teachers who teach English to non-native speaking students in English-speaking countries. For example, teaching a group of students from Saudi Arabia who immigrated to the USA (what Sasha did during our brief stint in Murfreesboro, TN). So if you were to get your certificate through a course at a local university in the US, Canada, the UK, or Australia, it would most likely be a TESOL certificate.
TEFL and TESOL are used interchangeably in the ESL world and have both come to mean the same thing to many people. For the purpose of this post, we’ll stick to TEFL as it’s the one meant for teaching English abroad, and that’s what we advocate.
What does CELTA stand for?
CELTA used to stand for:
Certificate in English Langauge Teaching to Adults
but they changed it to stand for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Perhaps they realized they were pigeonholing themselves by having “adults” in the name. The techniques you learn can definitely be applied to all ages of English learners.
Here’s one way to think about it; if TESOL is the product, then CELTA is a specific brand of that product. A CELTA certificate is awarded by the University of Cambridge.
How to Get a CELTA
To get a CELTA, you have to go to one of their approved teaching centers around the world. As I mentioned above, the certificate is awarded by Cambridge University.
The course is 4-5 weeks long and rather than learn the material and take a final exam, the trainees are continually assessed and then awarded a certificate qualification. The Cambridge English Language Assessment appoints assessors who are always present to moderate the course. Because of this, a CELTA is viewed as a prestigious certification as employers know that the course had to cover certain requirements.
A CELTA course usually costs anywhere from $1,500 – $4,000. If there’s not an approved center in your area, you’ll have to travel to the nearest one for your training. Keep in mind that you’ll have to cover your own housing and food expenses, which adds to the cost.
This could be a great opportunity to see how you like living abroad. I have friends who traveled to different parts of Europe to do their CELTA and have fond memories of their time. They made really great friends in their class that they still keep in touch with. When you’re spending 100+ hours with the same people, you’re bound to get to know them pretty well and make long-lasting friends.
If you’ve ever read somewhere online that you have to have a CELTA to teach ESL, that is simply not true. There are many TEFL courses that meet or even exceed the requirements of a CELTA.
CELTAs are ideal for people who want to make a career out of teaching abroad. Unless you’re planning on doing some serious long-term teaching, you probably don’t need to make the financial commitment a CELTA course demands. Instead, you should look into other TEFL courses.
What to Look for in a TEFL Course
These are the most important things you should look for in a TEFL course:
- Length of Study
- Job Search Guidance
- Lifelong Certification
Length of study is the essential element in choosing a course. Does the course offer at least 100 hours of coursework and training? Anything less than this does not meet international standards and may not be recognized by most language schools around the world.
There are many courses out there that are not accredited. The course should be accredited by an independent third party. This means that the course has undergone a rigorous process of review to ensure the materials adhere to international standards.
Will the program help place you in a job once you’ve completed the course or will you be on your own to find a job? This element is more important if you’ve never looked for an English teaching job. If you have some English teaching experience and are getting a TEFL certificate to get a better job or be more competitive, this may not be so important.
Finally, there are some TEFL certifications out there that expire. I know, right?! Why is that even a thing? Unfortunately, it is, so you’ll need to pay close attention to this and make sure the course you go with will provide a lifelong certification.
How to Get a TEFL Certification
The first way is to take an in-person course. These courses can range anywhere from an intensive full-time course or a slightly less intensive part-time course. Remember, you should choose a course that has at least 100 hours of training and coursework. In a full-time program, this would take about 4 weeks. A part-time course would take 2-3 months.
You will likely find a TEFL course being offered at your local university or community college if you’re an American. It’s also possible to take a course abroad in Thailand or Argentina. I’m sure it’s easy to find courses in other English speaking countries such as Canada, England, and Australia. The cost can range anywhere from $990 – $3,000 for an onsite course.
Be sure to do your homework about TEFL courses in other countries. Read reviews and ask any questions about what is offered in the course. Not all TEFL courses are created equal. In that same vein, don’t automatically assume that all TEFL courses are a scam. There are plenty of great courses out there, you just have to find them.
You can also do an online TEFL course. These are much more flexible and better suited for people who are currently working a full-time job or just don’t have the money to splurge on an onsite course. You could even do it while you’re finishing up your degree. That way you’ll be ready to apply for jobs upon graduation.
It’s by far the most affordable option. You can expect to pay around $300 – $500.
By getting a TEFL certificate online, you can take your time and really study the materials. Or you can finish it in a few days. Choose your own adventure! You could even do it while you’re teaching part-time on a tourist visa in order to give yourself the necessary qualifications to qualify for a proper working visa.
Just like with an onsite TEFL course, you have to be diligent in choosing the best online course. There are a lot of scams out there that will give you a certificate that won’t be recognized by schools or training centers.
Accredited TEFL Courses Online
The best decent online TEFL certification organization I’ve found in all my research is myTEFL.
If all that wasn’t enough, a portion of the payment of all courses purchased is donated to a charity. Getting your TEFL certification with myTEFL helps the world in more ways than one.
Their 120-hour course is $299 which is amazing considering how good it is. What’s more, we’ve partnered with them to provide a 35% discount for our readers on all their courses! That makes the 120-hour course only $194. Just enter the code gypsies35 at checkout.
Whether you want to teach in China, Thailand, Kazakhstan, or anywhere else, getting an English teaching certification will make you better prepared, more confident, and ready to take on anything the ESL classroom throws at you (figuratively, not literally).
A teaching certification is extremely beneficial. Getting a TEFL certificate helped Sasha and me get a teaching job at Wall Street English, the most well-known English training center in China. It will also make you more competitive when applying for online teaching jobs such as VIPKID. There’s certainly no downside to getting a teaching certification.
Hopefully, this post has put to rest some of the confusion and frustrations surrounding which certification is best for you. If I’ve helped you in some way, please leave a comment and let me know! Also, feel free to put any questions you may still have in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Which certification is the best for you? Tell me in the comments!
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