TEFL Choices

What if you can’t afford an in-classroom TEFL school in your home country?

People who dream of going abroad to teach English may come across one of the world’s oldest stumbling blocks when they start looking at Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) schools—money.

Of course, it costs money to attend one of these programs, and it also costs precious time. An in-classroom TEFL certification course will take at least four weeks of your time—and not everyone has both the ready cash and that many weeks of free time available to them.

If you have got that, then great – but those who are worried about finances should look at going abroad to take the course.  It is really the best of all options. I always advocate taking the TEFL course in the same country that you want to start teaching in anyway. Plus, if you look at TEFL programs in your home country, they will typically be more expensive and won’t give you the same kind of real-world experience that you’d get if you took it abroad.

Why Go Abroad for your in-classroom TEFL School?

When you prepare for your TEFL certification overseas you will get classroom practice with students who will have similar language learning traits to the students that you will actually work with when you get a job. Also, in your downtime from classes you’ll be able to network, settle in to the culture and get an idea of which would be the best schools or institutes to work for.

In addition, your TEFL instructors will be able to give you lots of country-specific advice, because their experience in the region will be directly relevant to you. This can be a great help for the newbie TEFL teacher, and you don’t want to miss out on help, do you?

Not sure yet?

There are other options if you are truly hesitant about taking an in-classroom TEFL course abroad or domestically or just can’t afford it. Programs like the Literacy Volunteers of America can also train you up and get you experience as a volunteer tutor that will give you some insight into the world of TEFL. And you’d be helping  a group of people who need you!

The umbrella organization is ProLiteracy:  to contact them for their options outside of the United States – Google for similar programs.

For a self-study approach, I recommend TEFL Boot Camp.  It’s inexpensive and includes most of the content you’d get at a full-length in-classroom TEFL certification program. You’ll get tutoring, assistance and a certificate at the end and it has great information to get you started down the right path.

Or, another even less expensive option is to download the TEFL Training for New Teachers eBook . This includes most of the same information as the TEFL Boot Camp website, but with added bonuses: Two Peace Corps TEFL Training Manuals – designed for new EFL teachers— and Fast Track Grammar Review for EFL Teachers. This will probably cost less than US$15—what a good way to get your feet wet!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Train your brain.  Good teachers get training—and in TEFL, any training you get will be better than no training at all. You need to learn what to do, how to do it and when to do it in an EFL classroom.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Practice. If you can, get some real teaching experience—volunteering is fine—before you go overseas. It will boost your confidence and make your first class that much better.

Teaching Internships in China


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 Training Options:

If the Traditional TEFL Training Model doesn’t Work for You

Okay, TEFL schools cost a bit of money and at least four weeks of your time – and time is money.

While it is nice to “Do it right”, not everyone has the money in savings or the ability to beg or borrow the money needed — or even the four-weeks vacation time that is required.

If you really think you can’t afford it, look into taking the course in countries where the course is cheaper. Don’t price it in your home country. It will be much more expensive there and ideally, you should take your training in the country where you intend to teach.


Because you will do your practice teaching with students similar to your real students when you go to work. It will also give you time to network a bit and find the best places to work.

Usually your TEFL instructors will have lots of experience in that country and region and can help set you off on the right path. Don’t miss all of that valuable experience and help.

Still not sold?

Okay, look into programs like Literacy Volunteers of America, who will provide you with some training before you start volunteering.

Here is a link to their mother organization called ProLiteracy: Literacy Volunteers in the USA and here is a link for volunteering with them outside the USA: Literacy Volunteers.

Also—take a look at some free online TEFL training at TEFL Boot Camp. It really is free [no catch, no fine print!] and has almost all the content of a full-blown TEFL course – but no tutoring or assistance is provided, nor is a certification provided.

Another option, try the TEFL Training for New Teachers eBook – which has essentially the same content as the TEFL Boot Camp website but comes with some great free bonuses: Two Peace Corps TEFL Training Manuals – designed for EFL teachers with no experience and the well known Fast Track Grammar Review for EFL Teachers. Usually the whole package is less than US$10. This is probably your best option if a real full-blown TEFL course is just not possible for you.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Any kind of training is always better than no training. Walking away from a lousy first class is not a good way to start your journey abroad. Give yourself a leg up by learning what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you can, do some real teaching, even if only on a volunteer level before you head overseas. It will make a big difference in your confidence level when standing in front of your first large class.