International Standards for TEFL Certification

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.


TEFL Myth #324: If You Speak English, You Can Teach English

I actually saw this headline on the website of a TEFL Training course:

If You Speak English,
You Can Teach English

I guess – at one time – maybe many years ago – this might have been true.  But it is no longer true.

But these days competition in the EFL/ESL school business (your employers) means that the school is going to want someone who can deliver what their students (their customers) want.

As we’ve mentioned before, students/customers make or break a business.  They can walk down the street to a competitor or they can tell their friends what a good school they are going to and bring them on in to join up.  Even many colleges and universities are businesses these days and they have to pay attention to what their customers want.

What Does an EFL Student Want?

They want what all customers want: value for their money.  In many cases you will be teaching people in developing countries for whom the cost of the course is a lot of money.  Money they are investing for their future.   A better job, higher pay, a promotion – good English skills can bring all those things to your students.

Is it really fair to think that because you can speak English that you also have the skill required to help students improve  their English quickly and effectively?  Most new teachers don’t.  Most untrained teachers don’t.  Only some experienced, but untrained, teachers do, but many don’t.

What does an EFL Employer Want?

Happy customers.  Happy students.  How does she get that?  By delivering what the customers paid for.  Skills in English.

Schools get those skills delivered by skilled and trained teachers.   Teachers who take the time to improve their skills – not who assume they have those skills just because they can speak English.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  If you pay attention to the employer/school side of the equation in TEFL, you are much more likely to land a good job.  And one way to improve that possibility is to get some training, even if it is not a “requirement” of the position. 

Teaching Internships in China


Where to take your TEFL Training

Where is the best TEFL Certification program for you?

People frequently ask me where they should take their TEFL Training. They also ask if it is best to take their EFL teacher training in their home country or in the country in which they intend to teach.

First issue: I usually recommend a TEFL Certification school that I know well and I know the teacher-trainer(s) well. I know the primary trainer is very well educated and has extensive experience in two countries, teaching EFL abroad since 1992 to a wide variety of students.

When I was a teacher trainer I was awakened to just how little experience, training and education many trainers have. One teacher trainer was hired directly from my class to set up and teach a TEFL Cert course for another company.

He had ZERO experience teaching. Wow. I won’t go into any further details, but it wasn’t a pretty picture and that was not a purely unique situation.

Second issue: It is almost always better to take your TEFL Training in or near the country in which you wish to teach. There are many good reasons why.

First, taking your training in your new country gives you some time on the ground to adapt to the culture and get to know your way around, instead of just arriving cold and heading out to look for work.

Also helpful is that TEFL Certification schools usually know the best and biggest employers, who to try first and who to avoid (just as important!).

One of the most helpful aspects of taking your TEFL Training in your new setting is that your observed teaching practice will likely be with students that have similar grammar and pronunciation problems as those you will face on the job. This is important for several reasons.

Every country’s students have different issues with grammar and pronunciation and while this is not a big problem, even well-experienced teachers take some time to get a good grasp of exactly how to solve these problems when they arrive in a new country.

A new EFL teacher, of course, will take much longer. Getting that experience during your training, with an instructor who knows exactly what to do, will make you a much more effective teacher, right out of the box.

It is common in some countries to request a “demonstration lesson” as part of the interviewing process. Don’t you think that lesson will go much better if you already know what kinds of issues are common in the classrooms of that country? Of course!

In countries where demonstration lessons are common, you should have the opportunity to build that lesson and practice it as part of your TEFL Certification training course. You will have plenty of opportunity to build, practice and polish that lesson under the guidance of an experienced teacher-trainer.

How do you think that lesson might go if you are just off the plane and have no idea what the common issues are with local students?

Last but not least, you can job hunt while you are taking your TEFL Certification course and hopefully have something lined up about the time you complete your training.

If you are taking your training in the developing world, TEFL Certification courses are often much cheaper than in developed Western countries are as your accommodation and food costs.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take your TEFL Certification course in the country where you first intend to teach.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Practice and polish your demonstration lesson during your training.