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Getting a TEFL Certification: Everything You Need to Know

Posted 12/10/2020
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Teaching English abroad is more popular than ever. Demand for teachers abroad is rising too. Whether it’s to earn money while travelling, or to start a whole new life in a different country, there’s never been a better time to become an English teacher.

If you’re considering teaching English, you’ll inevitably encounter a simple question. Is it worth getting a TEFL certification?

After all, we’ve all heard stories of English speakers rocking up to a foreign country with nothing but the shirt on their back, and landing their dream job. However, these people are the minority. Most people aren’t so lucky.

Today we’re going to take a reality check. Specifically, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about getting a qualification for teaching English as a foreign language.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a TEFL Certification?

This might sound like a silly question, but things can easily get confusing here. There are a number of different kinds of English teaching qualifications, so it’s worth nailing down exactly what we mean by a TEFL certification.

Essentially, there are three terms widely used when speaking about English language teaching qualifications:

  • TEFL – This stands for Teaching English as Foreign Language
  • TESL – This stands for Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TESOL – This stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Things really get confusing when these terms get used interchangeably. 

Getting a TEFL certification through face-to-face teaching is the best option.

TEFL certifications qualify you to teach English abroad.

Do You Really Need a TEFL Qualification?

This is a very common question. It’s understandable that you’d be tempted to simply pack your bags, and take your chances finding a job without a proper qualification. After all, plenty of places do offer jobs to unqualified teachers, as long as they’re native speakers.

However, this causes a number of problems.

For one thing, having a certification will make it much easier to find a well-paid job in a school which treats its staff properly. Without a qualification, you could easily end up with poor pay or long working hours. Or you might struggle to find a job at all and blow all your savings.

By contrast, most reputable schools require a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate.

Besides, there’s one more pretty obvious reason why you’d want to take a TEFL course. That is, you probably don’t actually know how to teach English. On top of settling in to a new country, do you really want to figure out how to do a job you have no training for?

TEFL certifications give you the tools you need to actually succeed as an English teacher. This includes specific teaching methodologies, as well as soft-skills like how to manage a classroom.

How do You Choose a TEFL Course?

The next thing to consider is which TEFL course is right for you. As we said, demand for English teachers is higher than ever. This is great, but it also means that there are a greater number of different certifications and courses to choose from.

And not all of them are legit.

The trouble is, there isn’t one universal standard for teaching qualifications. This makes it easy to charge money for courses which don’t really provide much value. In extreme cases, these can even be complete scams.

Here are some of the main things you should consider when choosing a TEFL course.

Price

Prices for TEFL courses vary massively. Unsurprisingly there’s a wide range of quality and legitimacy in these courses too. Some discount websites even advertise TEFL certification courses for as little as £50.

Most reputable courses include at least 120 hours of training. This simply can’t be provided for such low costs. In reality, with one of these cheap online courses, either there are hidden fees, or you’re simply paying for access to pre-recorded video lessons.

At best, these should be used to get a flavour of teaching English, so you can decide whether to invest in a proper course.

If you’re serious about teaching English as a foreign language, you should expect to pay a minimum of £1,000 for your certification. This might seem expensive, especially if you’re already saving to travel.

However, this is simply what high-quality training costs to deliver. Luckily, with a recognised TEFL certificate, your earning potential as an English teacher will be considerably higher. In fact, you can easily recoup your course costs in your first few months of working.

TEFL certifications make teaching while travelling much easier.

A reputable TEFL qualification makes it faster and easier to land high paying jobs while travelling.

Accreditation

We mentioned already that there isn’t a single recognised accrediting body for TEFL. In fact, there are a number of reputable bodies which offer professional accreditation for English teachers.

There are two criteria you should look for when choosing a TEFL course:

  • British Council Standards – The British Council is a UK government organisation, which provides help and support for people who want to work and live abroad. As part of this, they provide a set of minimum standards for reputable TEFL certifications.
  • CELTA – This is the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults from Cambridge University. CELTA is the most widely known TEFL exam in the world. Most reputable TEFL courses are specifically focused on helping students receive their CELTA.

Beyond this, there are a number of other signs you should look out for when choosing a TEFL course. Links to high quality educational institutions, such as universities, are often a sign of quality.

Independent reviews from former students are also invaluable.

Content and Duration

As noted, the standard TEFL programme lasts 120 hours. This normally comes along with a further 6 hours of teaching practice. When delivered full-time, this adds up to 4 weeks in total.

Some course providers might also provide more flexibility. For example, by providing teaching over 8-12 weekends instead. The same number of teaching hours are provided, but some students find this mode of delivery easier to fit into their lives.

Always avoid courses which claim to offer TEFL qualifications over a single weekend.

Courses which follow the CELTA syllabus offer a range of teaching and professional skills development. These include:

  • Specific teaching methods and methodologies,
  • Cultural awareness,
  • Planning and resource management,
  • Professional development.

Requirements to Get a TEFL Certification

There are a number of myths about requirements for teaching English as a foreign language. For instance, it’s often claimed that you need to have a degree, or be under a certain age to teach English.

It’s true that some language schools or government-run programmes have criteria like this.

However, these are in the minority. The reality is that the vast majority of schools don’t mind how old you are, or if you have a degree. They care about your qualifications and experience.

This is why CELTA is ideal if you’re serious about a career teaching English abroad. It’s specifically aimed at aspiring teachers with little or no formal qualifications in the field. Because of this, it’s often seen as the gateway to a TEFL career.

What can You do with a TEFL Certification?

Teaching English is the obvious answer. There are almost 2 billion English learners in the world, and they all need teachers.

However, there are really two kinds of aspiring TEFL professionals. There are people who want to teach English for a couple of years while they travel, and then there are those who are in it for the long haul.

But TEFL experience allows you to learn so much more than just how to stand in front of a classroom. Even a year or two of teaching English will teach you amazing new professional skills, like better communication, cultural awareness and how to thrive under pressure.