Warning: I am going tell you the truth, but some people won’t want to read it.
Here it is: There is not just one organization or one standard in the world for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) programs. Sorry! I know it would make everything easier if this weren’t true!
So, if what I’m telling you is right, then what does it really mean then when TEFL programs say they are “Internationally Recognized?” It usually means that their certificates have been accepted pretty much around the world. And that is true of probably 98% of all TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification programs. It would be quite rare – at least in my experience – if a particular program were to be rejected.
Anyway, don’t read too much into claims of “accreditation”. A few schools belong to organizations that will check the institute’s course content and might even come by to see if that content is presented well. But don’t read too much into that either. Large fees are paid and well . . . no one likes to bite the hand that feeds them. Some large programs even own the very company that evaluates them. How do you think that is going to work out? I bet they get a good rating EVERY time!
The Nitty Gritty
Skipping the boring bits, what new teachers really want to know is:
1. If I take that course, will it help me get a job?
2. Will it meet the standards of employers?
3. Will it meet the standards of the Ministries of Education in countries where a TEFL Certification of some sort is required?
Now, when TEFL certification is required, the employers and Departments of Education and/or working visa authorities may or may not have any real requirements. China – the world’s biggest TEFL jobs market, doesn’t have any set requirement about what they will accept. A country like Thailand (probably the world’s third largest employer is generally are looking for a minimum of 100 hours of training and at least six hours of observed teaching practice.
Who Decides All This?
So, you might be asking, what international agency sets the standard for ESL/EFL training?
Sorry, because again, there isn’t one. The benchmark stated above of 100 training hours and 6 hours of observed teaching practice is just generally what is considered the minimum acceptable training for developing good basic EFL teaching skills. Will you be the world’s best teacher by the time you finish such training? Probably not, but what you will have is the knowledge you need to further develop your skills as a teacher.
What Types of TEFL Certificates Are Out There?
Before you sign up for a TEFL course, compare a few different ones and see what the differences are. Look for a good basic one that meets the standards explained above, but also look for any extras. Some organizations will add on a module for Business English or will give you a concentration in Young Learners – nice if those are areas in which you wish to teach.
TEFL wannabees are often confused by two terms that emerge from the alphabet soup of English Teaching. These are the “TEFL Certification” and the “CELTA.” Both of these meet the standards mentioned earlier on this page.
A TEFL Certification (often shortened to “TEFL Cert”) is more of a generic term meaning “Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification”, while the other is the CELTA, the “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.” Some years back there was also the Trinity RSA. Generally all of these can be considered equivalent and will have roughly similar content.
One important note – if you intend to teach in Europe or the UK there is strong preference there for the CELTA name brand. Mostly, in the rest of the world, employers don’t have a preference. However, keep in mind that schools which sell CELTA or even their own name brand, will often prefer to hire as teachers students who have previously taken their branded course, of course!
TED’s Tips™ #1: If you spend the money and time to get a TEFL or TESOL Certification (or CELTA) be sure it is one that meets the generally accepted international standards reviewed on this page. Otherwise you may find someday that you will need to take another course to meet the requirements for a job you really want.
TED’s Tips™ #2: If you intend to work in Europe, the UK and/or for schools that sell the CELTA course, get a CELTA.
TED’s Tips™ #3: There are many reasons why it is best to take your TEFL course in the country in which you first wish to teach. Experience with country-specific learner problems will be helpful on your first job. I’ve taught in five countries and each one has their own unique problems. As you develop your skills you will get better at quickly finding solutions, but a newbie teacher fresh out of the box will often struggle with solving pronunciation issues and explaining common problems that their students have.