How to Make the Most of Your TEFL Course

You’re taking a TEFL certification course because you want to be in front of a group of students, leading them to better English, right? So, it may seem strange, especially for those of us who have been out of school a long time, when we assume the role of the student, and not the teacher.

If you hang out in online forums about teaching English abroad (like I do) you’ll have encountered plenty of TEFL Certification nay-sayers who claim that your certification course is only worth the paper the certificate is printed on. Or, worse, people who claim you should go abroad and start teaching without any preparation.

Pay Attention, You’ll Be Surprised What You Learn

But, if you’re smart (and I know you are), instead of listening to these unhappy online pundits and dismissing your course as a mere formality, look at what you can do to make the most out of your TEFL certification course.  For one thing, if you’ve already paid the money for the course, why wouldn’t you take full advantage of what you’ve purchased? Also, think of this time in the classroom as a way to build empathy for your future students. You’ll soon be in front of the classroom, but don’t forget what it’s like to sit at the pupils’ desks too. Even if you’re taking an online course like our TEFLBootcamp, you’ll learn a lot from being a virtual student if you pay attention. And, not least, by absorbing all the information from your TEFL course, you’ll learn tips and tricks that will save you time and earn you more money later in your career.

Still not convinced? Consider the following:

1. You need to learn from experience. If you haven’t got any experience (that would be why you’re taking the TEFL course, right?), then the next best thing is to surround yourself with experienced people. TEFL trainers and other certification course staff are a goldmine of information. Spend the time you have on your TEFL course mining that knowledge and forging some battle armor for your later work as a teacher.  Even if you’re taking an online TEFL course, you should have lots of opportunities to contact your trainer and ask all the teaching-related questions you can think of.

2. Even if you think you’ve got this—maybe you don’t. Plenty of English teachers start out thinking they’ll be able to whiz into classrooms and knock out lessons with the ease of a professional, right off the bat. Sure, English teaching isn’t usually rocket science (though you may end up teaching some rocket scientists!) but there’s a reason that educators worldwide have put time and effort into developing certain methodologies and techniques to help second-language acquisition. Keep your ears open and your eyes focused on all the information you learn. You may be surprised how much you’ll take away from your course and put to use in your own classroom.

3. Most reputable TEFL certification programs offer some kind of job assistance for their graduates. For example, over at, we offer the Secrets of Success ebook along with every course as well as two other ebooks, How to Land a Job Teaching English Abroad and How to Teach English Overseas- a ten-week plan to a new life abroad.  You can sign up for those ebooks FREE here:  —  see, you are already ahead of the game!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pay attention in class. You’ve paid for it, so get your money’s worth. Plus, it’s good karma—maybe later, your students will pay attention to you too.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Go through your TEFL Certification course with an eye on how you can parlay your experience and connections into a job later.



The Teacher Trainer – the Key to your Skill Development

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Where, What and How of picking your in-classroom Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training course.  Another important question is Who – who is going to to be your primary instructor during the program?

At some schools, there will be only one main teacher for each batch of trainees and other experienced teachers may help with the Observed Teaching Practice (OTP). At other schools, trainees will rotate through several teachers who will each guide you through different components of the program.

Both of these methods work well, however before you give your hard-earned cash to an in-classroom TEFL Certification program, you would do well to find out the answers to the helpful questions below.

Before we get to the questions though, I can guess some of my readers are asking “Why bother to interrogate the instructor(s)?”

Well, once upon a time, one of my freshly graduated teacher-trainee students was hired to provide teacher training at a competing school. Even though this person had never really been a teacher, he was now lecturing and guiding certification candidates.

So, to make sure that your instructor is the real deal, email, IM or call your teacher trainer with these questions:

1. What are your qualifications [higher education, types and levels of certification, etc]?

Even though TEFL Certification and CELTA courses are suitable for high school graduates with no tertiary education, if you can study under a trainer who has a relevant degree, you can guess that he or she will be much more likely to truly understand and be passionate about how teaching and learning work.

In my book, it’s best if a teacher trainer has a MATESOL (yep, that’s a master’s degree in TEFL) or at least a master’s in education plus higher TEFL certification like the PGCE, DELTA, etc.

2. How many years of teaching experience do you have? How many countries have you taught in? Do you have other related experience?

An ideal trainer will have more than 5-6 years’ experience living abroad (if in more than one country, so much the better). It’s preferable if they have experience with more than one age group (kids and adults) and with more than one kind of institution.

The reason this is important is because if they have the right breadth of experience they’ll be able to understand the problems you might encounter in your own career and be able to guide you more efficiently as you embark on your TEFL career.

3. What kinds of students have you taught, and in what kinds of schools or institutions? What about tutoring?

This question is important because you’ll benefit if you can find a trainer who has worked in the same setting that you’re interested in—want to work in a Kindergarten in Asia? Well, if your trainer only taught university students in Europe, they may not be able to guide you as much as you hope. (college or university vs. public school and/or language school vs. corporate classroom training)

4. Do you enjoy teaching? Why or why not?

This might seem like a throw-away question, but unfortunately there exist teacher-trainers who only use their job as an excuse to live abroad. If you take a course from someone who doesn’t have a passion for teaching, you’re risking taking on their own bad attitude when you begin working. Instead, find someone who can inspire you and teach you how to teach with enjoyment. Starting your TEFL career should be a positive life change, not another excuse to complain.

5. What do you enjoy about teaching?

Don’t just take their first answer at face value. With this follow-up question, you’ll be able to listen carefully and divine whether they truly enjoy teaching or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1: I feel strongly that your teacher-trainer should 1) have at least 5-6 years’ experience 2) have that experience divided over two or more countries 3) have it in two or three different settings (language school, public school,corporate, university, tutoring, etc.) 4) have experience with both adults and children 5) have advanced formal education—ideally a master’s degree.

Of course, you want the best, but in my experience such trainers are not common and you need to look a bit to find them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be a comparison shopper. Look past slick marketing, whiz-bang websites and mumbo-jumbo curriculum to find the absolute BEST teacher-trainer you can get. At the end of the day, that teacher-trainer is your best tool for making yourself into a great teacher.  You are going to spend a lot of money for that course, be sure you get the maximum value for it.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  Perhaps only my bias, but the teacher trainer is the most important consideration of all the factors.   A good teacher can overcome bad curriculum and bad materials, but good materials can not overcome a lousy teacher trainer.  Get a good teacher, get a good start.

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Where Should you Take your TEFL Training?

Take your teacher training in the country where you plan to teach

I’m often asked where is best to take a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training in-classroom course. A variation on this question is, ‘Is it better to take teaching training in your home country or in the country in which you plan to teach?’

Look for An Experienced Trainer

My recommendation would usually be for a TEFL school where your primary trainer is well-educated and has broad experience in more than one country and more than one or two school settings, and has been teaching EFL abroad for about 10-12 years.   But that is not always possible, but try to get near to it.

I think the level of experience of your trainer(s) is very important. When I was a teacher trainer (some years back) someone was hired right out of my class to organize and execute a TEFL Certification course for another company.  Lucky her, except…she had NO teaching experience AT ALL. Yikes! I won’t tell any more of this story, but it didn’t work out well, and it was not a unique situation.

Train Where You Want to Teach

My answer to the second question is to, yes, go abroad to the country where you want to work. Take your training there, or as close to that country as you can. Here’s why:

1. When you move to the new country to do the TEFL course you will also be adapting to the culture and learning how to get around. Then, when you start hunting for jobs, you’ll have an easier time than if you had just showed up cold.

2. Local TEFL Certification schools will be able to tell you who are the best and biggest employers, which schools to contact first for a job, and–just as importantly–which schools you should avoid.

3. When you do your teacher training, you’ll do some Observed Teaching Practice with real students. If you study for your certification in the same country where you will work, then these students will have the same grammar and pronunciation problems as the students you will be teaching at your first TEFL job.

Pronunciation Problems Differ from Place to Place

There are a few reasons why this is important.  Depending on their mother tongues, each country’s students will have different difficulties when they learn English grammar and pronunciation.  This isn’t a big deal, but even teachers with a lot of experience will need to spend some of their first classroom hours figuring out how to solve these problems when they begin working in a new country.

For a new EFL teacher, this will certainly take more time and effort. If you can get a handle on local grammar and pronunciation issues during your training, and if you have a good trainer, you’ll be a strikingly more effective teacher from the get-go.

Additionally, in some countries schools will want you to do a “demonstration lesson” as part of the hiring process. Of course this sample lesson will go much more smoothly for you if you have a leg up on what sorts of classroom problems you might face in that country and you’ve already taught (during your teaching practice) those types of students.

And, in countries where demonstration lessons are the norm, your TEFL Certification training course will give you the chance to design and polish that demo lesson, under the supervision of an experienced teacher-trainer.

Think about it, if you just walk off the plane and into a job interview that includes a demonstration lesson, how will you plan it if you don’t know what local students’ common problems are?

As if those weren’t enough reasons, if you do your course abroad, then during your TEFL Certification course you’ll be able to scour the job market and line up that perfect job for after you finish your training.

Lastly, if you go to the developing world to take your TEFL Certification course, you’ll save money. In many countries, TEFL Certification courses are much cheaper than in the West. Your room and board will cost less too.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Figure out what country you’d like to teach in and do your TEFL Certification course there.

TED’s Tips™ #2: During your TEFL course, prepare and polish a demonstration lesson so you have it ready when you start looking for jobs.  Just in case . . .

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Your Teacher Trainer is Critical to your Success

Everyone agrees that an in-classroom TEFL Training course is the best training to get if you can afford it.

People spend a lot of time asking about validity of courses, content and more, but the one thing they never ask about, might just be the most important factor in their success:  The Teacher Trainer.

It is important to know some information about your primary instructor.

Some schools will have only one primary teacher for your specific course and the rest of the teachers will help with the observed teaching practice. In other schools you may get different teachers to cover different areas of the course.

Both are fine, but it is still important to know a few things about your primary instructor.

You may ask why it is so important.

More than a few years back, one of my teacher-trainee students had just finished our TEFL certification course when he was hired by a competing school to do teacher training. He had no teacher training experience and he had never really taught any classes on his own…would you want such a teacher-trainer for your first course?  Could or world this person inspire you in your new career?  Ummm . . . probably not.

Before you sign up for an in-classroom course, ask your teacher trainer these questions via email or telephone:

1)     What are your qualifications (education, certification, etc)?

In a perfect world it would be great if your instructor has a relevant degree and really understands how teaching and learning works.

TEFL Cert and CELTA are courses designed to be given to high school graduates. It would be better to look out for a teacher-trainer with something like a MATESOL or at least an M.Ed with some sort of TEFL, PGCE or DELTA certification.

2)     What is your experience?

You want to look for a teacher-trainer that can provide you with insight in every area of teaching. This person will understand the TEFL-world and all the problems teachers are facing.

Someone with a minimum of six to eight years teaching experience (to both adults and children) and experience in at least two countries, in different settings, will be able to give you that insight. The number of years and the number of countries is a question you should definitely ask.

3)     Have you taught different students in different settings? What about tutoring?

If your teacher-trainer has taught in more or less the same setting and circumstances you expect to teach in, they will be able to provide you with spot-on information.

If they don’t tell you about this, ask them!

4)     Do you enjoy teaching? Why? Why not?

Even though it’s a hard thought to grasp, there are some teacher-trainers out there who DON’T enjoy teaching. For them teaching is merely an excuse to travel, see the world and live overseas.  They may actually hate teaching.

If you have one of these people as your teacher-trainer, their attitude will reflect in your classroom and you may not enjoy it at all.   It is all a choice – if you  learn to enjoy your work, it will be a positive change in your life.

5)     What’s great for you about teaching?

Listen to their voice, heart and attitude to know if they really like teaching or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1: I strongly advise you to study under a teacher-trainer with at least six to eight year’s experience, in at least two countries, in at least two or three different settings (public school, university, language school, tutoring) and with children and adults. Your teacher-trainer should have some kind of qualification – ideally a master’s degree, but something in Education or DELTA will do as well.

Teacher-trainers with these credentials are rare, look for them.  If you want to be the best you should get the best!  You are spending a LOT of money on an in-classroom course.  Be sure you get what you pay for.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t fall into the trap of marketing schemes, beautiful websites, cloying testimonials,  impressive looking and sounding curriculum. Rather go for the best teacher-trainer that you can find, this person will be the one who will make you a good teacher.  Will inspire you.  Or will turn you off to teaching.   Up to you.

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TEFL Teacher Training Alternatives

A whole lot of dreams, not enough pay.  Sound like you?

As we mentioned in a previous post, not everyone can afford to take four to six weeks away from work on top of paying for the costs for a full-blown Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification or Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course.

Not sure what path is best for you? Take a look at the options below:

Volunteer and Learn

First, any kind of training is better than no training. Help someone out while you help yourself—get free training to be a volunteer with organizations like Literacy Volunteers of America (now known as ProLiteracy and working internationally).

Study On-line

Inexpensive web-based courses will provide you with the beginnings of the knowledge and skill you need to do a decent job in a TEFL classroom. Will you become a seasoned professional with such a class? Probably not, but you will have a grasp of the theory behind TEFL and learn how to keep improving as a teacher.

Does ‘free’ sound better than ‘inexpensive?’ Of course it does!  I’ve written a free on-line TEFL course: TEFL Boot Camp. The course is self study and gives you the basics to help you get started as a good TEFL teacher. Of course, no certificate is on offer for the free version. You can try this course to see if teaching English abroad is for you. Even if you later choose to do an in-person TEFL, this course will give you a leg up.

How much training are bosses looking for?

Sadly, some people in some countries who are looking to hire teachers don’t care about training at all. On the other hand, other recruiters will have specific training requirements you will have to meet before they hire you. You won’t be able to please everyone in every country, but with a good TEFL training course you will satisfy about 95 percent of all employers. Plus, you’ll have enough training to feel like you are doing a good job. Satisfaction about the work you are doing—what a great feeling!

On-Line versus Face-to-Face Training

As with love and money, any training is better than no training. If you simply don’t have the time or money to do a full face-to-face course, or if you just want to experiment and see if it might interest you, consider an on-line course.  It can be a good introduction to teaching and can tide you over until you get into a full-blown program with observed teaching practice.

Get What You Pay For—”Free” In-Person TEFL Certification Training?

There are some TEFL certification schools around the world that will offer you “free” certification training if agree to work for them after your course for a specified period of time. Approach these programs with caution as things that look too good to be true often are.  You’ll sometimes be working at greatly reduced wages and the “free” cost of the program – well . . . is much more than if you just paid for it up front.

Beware of Swimming with (TEFL) Sharks

It’s also important for TEFL newbies to remember that not every school treats their foreign hires fairly. Certainly not all schools would do something dishonest, but there are some unscrupulous places out there and you should check out any school carefully before giving them money.

For example, some TEFL certification schools happily enroll you into their program and then happily place you in a job in which you are usually paid less than the going rate. The difference between the wages other people on the job are getting and your wage will go to lining the TEFL school’s pockets.  You will feel a bit cheated.

They, unfortunately, rarely tell you about this little arrangement, and month after month, for as long as you work there, you are literally paying for your TEFL course. So . . . remember that “free” things are rarely free.

Their little payback might seem small at first, but if you stay at that job for a couple of years the money will add up and you may end up paying for that “free” certification a couple times over or more.

No free time and no money?

I’m prejudiced of course, but my TEFL Boot Camp is as good as it gets on-line. You’ll learn the basics of TEFL teaching methods, lesson planning and even how do do classroom board work for a guaranteed lowest price anywhere.

Have a little money and still prefer to study on your own? Check out TEFL eBooks for some options.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get the full four- to six-week TEFL Training in residence if you have the time and money to do so.
The full course is worth your time, money and effort. It will provide you with the confidence, knowledge and skills to get a good TEFL job right out of the gate.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Get some training. Any kind of training to help you along.
Any training is better than no training—you will enjoy yourself more and do a better job. Study a book, take an on-line course, or sit in on classes somewhere.

Take an interest in becoming a quality teacher.

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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.


Do I Need TEFL Training to Teach English Abroad?

English teaching wannabes and newbies ask me these questions frequently:

1. Is TEFL training required to get the job I want?

2. Do I have to have it?

3. Would it make a difference to employers if I had it?

If you’ve been waiting impatiently for the answer to just those questions, here they are: 1. sometimes, 2. sometimes and 3. yes.

Some countries require a Teaching English as a Foreign Language(TEFL) certification before they can approve your papers to work legally. Thus – before you can work in Thailand, Indonesia and a few other places, you must have completed a TEFL course.

That said, most countries don’t require any TEFL training at all. However, even in those places the best employers will prefer their new hires to have had training before they start work. So, in fact, getting TEFL training may your first hop in leap-frogging up the food chain, work-wise.

New TEFL teachers shouldn’t forget that, even if many countries and jobs don’t require training at all, teaching abroad shouldn’t be about getting by with the minimum effort and just doing a lackluster job. Doing a good job is good for you, too.

Will TEFL Training Really Make a Difference?

There are several ways in which you may benefit from TEFL training. The first is that many employers will pay higher salaries to teachers who have had good training. While this might not be much on a monthly basis, over a year or a semester it will add up. TEFL certification courses tend to easily pay for themselves in only one or two years. Add to that the idea that you’ll land a better job with a TEFL certificate than without training and you might be seeing an even better return on your investment.

Doing it Right is the Right Thing to Do

Those are the good practical reasons for getting yourself some training. There are also some ethical, moral and emotional issues to consider.

The first is that you owe it to your students. In most foreign countries, your students are paying a lot of money to sit in your class. Wouldn’t it be fair to them if you knew what you were doing? Getting a TEFL certification is the first step to being a better teacher.

Lest you think I exaggerate, I do realize teaching English overseas isn’t brain surgery or even rocket science, but it does require skill to do it well. As long as you are changing your life by heading overseas – why not do it right and feel good or even GREAT about the service you provide to your students?

The days of just showing up at a TEFL, “chatting with the students for an hour,” and collecting your money are long gone. Language schools these days would like you to provide some real teaching in their classrooms. And students can intuit when a teacher knows what they are doing – and when they don’t.

It Just Feels Better

One of the best reasons for getting yourself some training is that you will find preparing your classes much easier and you will enjoy your work more knowing that you are providing a quality service and not just grabbing someone else’s money. Best of all, you will sleep better at night.

It’s about doing it right – and feeling good about it.

Now . . . not everyone can afford the tuition for a full-blown TEFL certification program, not to mention taking four to six weeks off work to complete it. So, in the following post we will talk about some good alternatives to the commercially available courses.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training. You will enjoy yourself more and do a better job.  Remember how lousy teachers really turned you off when you were still in school? Yeah, don’t be one of those.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you can’t afford the “Full Monty” of a four-to-six-week course, check out alternatives in the next post.

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Should you Take your Training in the Country Where you Wish to Teach?

A reader wrote:

I are interested in completing a CELTA course in order to teach English in the UAE.  Would it be better to study the CELTA in the UAE or in London where I currently live?

I know you’ve previously recommended to study in the country in which one wishes to teach, but would studying in the UAE limit our prospects in other countries?

Will completing the course in London look more attractive to employers globally?  Considering the cost implications London would be the preferred choice.

It is almost always better to take an in-classroom course in the country in which you first intend to teach.

While it may seem more cost effective to take it where you are currently located, taking your course there does little or nothing toward your end goal of landing a job in the UAE.

Taking your course in the UAE immediately gets you into the environment and on the trail of good jobs.

Better TEFL schools will have employers coming by the school looking for you.  That won’t happen in London.  It will quite likely happen in Dubai.

For most people a TEFL cert or a CELTA, etc is a tool to get the job they want, not the end goal.  So purchase the tool that gets you closest to your goal, a course in Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE.

No one will really care if you took the course in London, Dubai, Saigon or even Yangoon.  In fact, when they see that you took it outside your home country, they will see that you can survive and thrive in a culture different than that of your home country.  To me that is a bonus.

Employers, not infrequently, have difficulty with people who have not yet lived and worked outside their home country.  It is a very real risk factor in hiring.  Some people get homesick, others just can’t adapt.  It is an unknown factor that adds risk to a hire.

If you are already living in the culture where you want to be hired, it greatly reduces that perceived risk by the employer.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   Taking a certificate is usually tied to an employment goal.  If you are taking an in-classroom course, take it in the country where you wish to teach.  You’ll be closer to your goal the moment you step off the airplane.

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Trained Teachers Maximize Student Talking Time

Teacher Talk Time vs Student Talk Time:  Teacher vs Student Centered Time in the Classroom

Trained teachers realize that the classroom is often the ONLY place their EFL students have an opportunity to speak in English and thus make provision for as much student talk time as possible.

Untrained teachers still often believe they are the center for the classroom and should bring photos of their family and home town and talk about that.  They assume that students will find them fascinating as the center of conversation.

Students will be polite and listen, but they aren’t learning much and they aren’t getting much speaking practice.

I read a LOT of lesson plans and one of the first mistakes newbie and untrained teachers make is believing that each student must talk directly with the teacher.   But in a sixty-minute class with twenty students that means, at a maximum, each student will be able to converse for only three minutes.

If you put them in pairs the maximum jumps to the full sixty minutes.  Both examples are extremes, but if we accept that they don’t get much opportunity to practice speaking and listening, we can see that pair work offers a huge advantage.

Of course students need to hear your natural speech, but that can happen in the presentation/engagement portion of the lesson, during the warm-up, wrap up and also incidentally at other times.

Try to organize your lessons to maximize the amount of actual speaking practice for your students.  Keep your lesson targeted on the students and what they need to learn.  A student centered classroom is a much more effective learning environment.  And take those pictures of your family back to your apartment!  Unless, of course, you are talking about families and the students will soon be talking about theirs.

TED’s Tips™ #1:    Keep your class focused on the target language and get your students talking.  Learning speaking skills is a lot like riding a bicycle.  You have to actually do it to get good at it.  The best way to maximize student talk time is with pair work – early and often in the lesson.

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TEFL Training for a Career Change

A reader recently asked:

I would like to become a TEFL or ESL certified teacher. Is this certificate necessary to teach abroad for an educated American?

If so, where is the best place online to study and affordable?

I was laid off so I don’t have extra income, but this is my dream to stop working for corporations and do something I’ve always wanted to do.  I enjoy helping people.

A TEFL certification is not a requirement to teach English in many countries, but knowing HOW to teach well is a nice idea.   It is only fair to your students who are spending money to sit in a classrrom with you.

You asked about an online course and you’ll find that China, Korea and Japan – three of the world’s four largest EFL employers accept them – so you will be in good shape.   I am a fan of the TEFL Boot Camp course, but that’s my bias.  I wrote it.  Fair warning!

There is a good amount of free information about teaching and how to teach on that website.  Give it a read even if you don’t wish to sign up.

I quite understand that the price of in-classroom courses can be prohibitive when you are first starting out and some colleges and universities do offer such courses, but they are often as costly as the commercially priced TEFL training schools that can run about US$1500-2500.  Add in the cost of not working for four to six weeks and room and board and it can begin to get expensive.

That is not always true though – so keep your eyes open!

Taking a course just for the certificate is not a bad thing. It does helps fluff up the resume and says you are at least interested enough to learn more and spend a  bit of money to do so.

Why not consider teaching in Korea, where you can save some serious money or even China where you will work a bit less, can have a university position and see a bit more of  the world?

Saying that, I am assuming you have a BA/BS degree? Lots of options are out there for you, take a look at:  TEFL Jobs in Korea and: TEFL jobs in China.

If you want a certification with a guaranteed placement offer – try TEFL Internships for a placement in China.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   It can be a lot easier than you think to actually get started teaching English abroad.  The most difficult part is making the decision to do it.

Teaching Internships in China


How to Choose a TEFL Training School: What’s Best for You?

There are lots of generic statements out there on the web about a TEFL school must be this or must have that and on and on, but in fact, your personal factors are more important in the decision process.

There isn’t one correct answer.  The right answer is as individual as you and the reason  you are taking the training.  And you are, in fact, spoiled for choice.  That’s a good thing – as Martha Stewart would say . . .

A bit like real estate sales people “qualify” buyers, you need to qualify a school to see if it meets your needs.  Most school advertising talks about they are this or that, but they don’t tend to ask you what you think you might need or want.

The Best TEFL Training School for You is the one that best meets your needs.

Factors to consider before making a decision:

COST:   Can you afford what a particular school demands?  Price ranges can vary widely.   In-classroom courses can go from US$1200-1500 all the way up to $2800 or sometimes even more.  Even online courses have a wide range of prices from US$140 on up to US$1000 and sometimes even a bit more.

TIME:  How much time do you have to set aside for taking a course?  If it is an in-classroom course, remember to add in the cost of not having an income for four to six weeks while you are in training plus accommodation and other living expenses.  It is not realistic, unless you are already a somewhat experienced teacher, to work while taking a full-time in-classroom course.  If you can’t afford the time, an online course is a good option as you can study at your own pace while you remain on the job.

WHERE do you want to take your course?  Do you want to take the course near where you live now or in the city or country where you expect to begin teaching?

Where to you intend to teach?  This is important as certain countries may have requirements you will need to meet.  While most countries don’t require any TEFL training at all, if you want to teach in Europe, you can expect they will want a 100-120 hour program with at least six hours of observed teaching practice.  Some countries – like Thailand, will be less strict but still want 100+ hours of training.  China – requires a certificate, but will accept anything.  There is no minimum hours or any other requirement.  Just a certificate.

Since most countries do not require TEFL training, any training course you take is going to help you move to the front of the hiring line.

If you intend to teach in Europe, there is a name brand preference for CELTA and Trinity.  Most of the rest of the world is not name-brand conscious or will not even have heard of those two brands at all.

WHO do you want to teach?  Children, adults, business people?  Do you want to teach any specialties like TOEFL or IELTS?  Does the school you are considering offer options to help you with them?

 Which TEFL Training will Maximize your Employment Potential?

This is the concern that is really behind most people’s questions and it is important!  How do you maximize your employment possibilities while still paying attention to costs and time?


If you intend to make a long-term career of TEFL then teach for a year or two (make sure you like it!) and then go get a master’s degree in TESOL.  If time and money don’t matter, that is by far your best option.

Other options:  If you intend to teach for more than a couple years and time and money don’t matter – then take a good in-classroom course in the country where you intend to teach.  There you can do your teaching practice with EFL students who have similar grammar and pronunciation problems as the students you will be working with.  Learning how to deal with those issues will be a part of your training rather than a surprise the first day on the job.

If you intend to spend only a year or two teaching overseas and just want the experience – then an online course might be just fine for where you want to go.

If time and money are major considerations, consider a good online course to help you get the basics.  Do get some training though as students will be paying a lot of money to sit in a classroom with you.  It is only fair that you know how to deliver what they have paid for.

Is the School Responsive to you?

One last thing.  TEFL schools should have YOU first in mind.  Send them an email and ask about the program.  See if they respond.  Many programs won’t! What does that tell you about them?  About their interest in you?  What if an employer contacted them to determine if your certification was valid?!  But more likely you will have some questions and it is a good way to find out if a school has any real interest in their customers/students.  Give them an “F” for no response, a “D” for a generic cut-and-paste response and an “A” for having a real human get back in touch with you.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Advocate for yourself and make sure that you take a course that will meet your needs and qualify you for the job you want.  Even if a training certification is not required, get some training anyway so you can provide a good service to your students.

Teaching Internships in China


TEFL Training: Is it really necessary?

English teaching wannabes and newbies often ask several questions here:

Is TEFL training required to get the job I want? Do I have to have it?

Would it make a difference if I had it?

. . . and the answers are: sometimes, sometimes and yes.

Some countries require a TEFL certification before they will approve your legal working papers. Thus – before you can work in Thailand, Indonesia and a few other places, you need to complete a good TEFL course.

Most countries don’t require any TEFL training at all, but the better employers will prefer their new hires to have had some training. So, in fact, TEFL training may be required for a move up the food chain or even give you the ability to start out in a preferred position.

And while many countries and some jobs that don’t require any training at all, it shouldn’t be about just getting by with the minimum and, if you are lucky, just doing a mediocre job.

Will TEFL training really make a difference?

You bet! There are several ways in which you may benefit from TEFL training. First is that many employers will pay a small premium to teachers that have some good training. While often not much on a monthly basis, it adds up across a year and tends to easily pay for itself.

Add that to the idea that you can probably land a better job than the one you would get without training and you might be seeing an even better return on your investment.

Those are the good practical reasons for getting yourself some training. There are also some ethical, moral and emotional issues to consider.

The first is that you owe it to your students to get yourself some training. Students, in most foreign countries, pay a lot of money to sit in your class. Wouldn’t it just be fair to know what you are doing?

While teaching English overseas is not “brain surgery” or “rocket science”, it does require some skill to do it well. And as long as you are changing your life and heading overseas – why not do it right and feel good or even GREAT about the service you provide to your students?

The days of just showing up at a TEFL job and “chatting with the students for an hour” are long gone. Language schools these days would like you to provide some real teaching in their classrooms. And students almost intuitively know when a teacher knows what they are doing – or not.

One of the best reasons for getting yourself some training is that you will find preparing your classes much easier and you will enjoy your work more knowing that you are providing a quality service and not just skating by on someone else’s money. Best of all, you will sleep better at night.

It’s about doing it right – and feeling good about it.

Now . . . not everyone can afford four to six weeks of not working and the costs of a full blown TEFL certification program.  Online courses are accepted in three of the world’s largest TEFL jobs markets: China, Korea and Japan.  That means there are some lower price alternatives available to you.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training. You will enjoy yourself more and do a better job.  Remember how lousy teachers really turned you off when you were still in school? Yeah, don’t be one of those.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you can’t afford the “Full Monty” of a four-to-six-week course, check out a good online course.

Teaching Internships in China


Why TEFL is Different from Teaching English

While it might not seem obvious and up front that teaching English as a FOREIGN language is different than just the regular teaching of English that occurs in your home country, it really is and today’s post is about the how and why.

Recently a reader over at our sister ship TEFL Newbie asked the following question (slightly modified to protect the innocent!):

I will graduate with a BA in English and Secondary Education.  Do I need to get TEFL certified, even though I am certified to teach English and am a native speaker?

What an excellent question! My answer was, Yes, it would be worth your while to take some basic TEFL training. If for no other reason but to get the methodology that is used, which is different than that used teaching English to native speakers.

Why is TEFL Methodology Different?

Mostly because your students are very different.

Remember in first or second grade when the teacher had to keep telling us to stop talking in class?  Because she was trying to teach something to us?  Well . . . in TEFL we are always trying to get our students to talk in class.

Why?  Because EFL students rarely get a chance to talk in English – except in their classroom.   In fact, it might be fair to say that for a good majority of EFL students around the world the ONLY place they ever speak English is in their EFL classroom.

Many Other Reasons Too . . .

EFL students are very different from English native speaker students.  Even just a first grade native speaker probably has a vocabulary that exceeds that of most intermediate EFL students who have been intensively studying the language for years.

An EFL student might get to listen to and speak English only a few hours per week.  And not at all when school is out of session or they are not taking special classes.  Native speakers . . . well – we speak English and hear it constantly – it never stops.

English is Relevant for Native Speakers

We use English to communicate and live our lives.

For many EFL students English often is irrelevant.  They take it only because it is required or because their parents put them in the class.

They often can’t see any reason to get going with English as they never use it.  And any real need is abstract, such as needing English “to get ahead in life” or “to get a good job” or “to get in a good university”.  Usually things later on in life that don’t seem too urgent at the moment.

To start getting a handle on EFL student motivation review the previous post:  How to Have Enthusiastic EFL Students

EFL Teaching Method

There you have it.  Our students don’t have much opportunity to speak, listen or use English, so we have to create a situation in the classroom to get them talking – and talking – and talking some more.

And, English is often not relevant for our students, so we have to work hard to create a link between the language that needs to be learned and a real reason for learning it.  One that has a sense of relevance to NOW and not just to a distant future.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Because you are a native speaker and/or even a teacher of English, don’t assume you will know how to teach EFL students.  Their needs, abilities and motivations are dramatically different than those of native speaker students of English.

Teaching Internships in China


Will a Robot Replace you in the Classroom?

Still think you don’t need any training?

English teaching robots, operated remotely from the Philippines by Filipinos are now being used in Korea.  Read the story here.

While Korea – currently – does not require any training at all for the teachers they place in their schools, they have for many years had difficulty getting enough good teachers.  You can guess that as this technology improves the use will become more widespread.

I noticed during my last tenure at a university in Korea (’02-’04 academic years) that there were advertisements all over campus for people to study English in the Philippines.  During my previous visit (’92-94) everyone was going to the USA, UK, Canada and the trend was toward Australia.  But – now it is the Philippines and Singapore also.

This is not a happy trend for the industry – make sure you are BETTER than a robot from the Philippines!  Get some training.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Countries and even individual schools are growing fatigued with teachers that don’t know how to teach.  Get at least some basic training to help you know what to do in the classroom.

TEFL Career Path Questions #5

As often happens, questions from you – the readers – are better than any ideas I have for blog topics, so here is another thoughtful question:

I have my BA and have been looking into TESOL certifications. I’m trying to find the most appropriate track to teach English (most likely overseas or possibly in my local community classes, but I am not interested in public schools in my country.)

I am not sure I have ever said a degree is not necessary though I would say or agree that a degree is not always required. However, simply having a degree does not qualify you to teach English as a foreign language.  In your questions, you have asked about a couple different career tracks.  Teaching EFL abroad is a bit different that teaching ESL or even just straight English in a country where English is the first language.

He also asked:

From your experience would you say that it would benefit me to get a post-bachelors TESOL certification or some other type of similar certification, or even a master’s degree? There are so many different types of courses I’m confused as to what certification would be the most advantageous to look into since I currently have a BA.

First: If you want to teach in the USA/UK/Australia/etc in a community college setting or just community-type classes, you probably should consider getting an MATESOL.  Otherwise you will have difficulty competing for and landing such jobs as almost everyone applying will likely already have experience abroad and an MATESOL or similar qualification.

For teaching abroad, your options depend a lot more on what you intend to do, where you intend to do it and for how long you intend to do it.

If you are not sure about TEFL as a career path and are thinking of just heading out for a year or two to see if you like it – then one of the online programs will be just fine.  No need to spend a huge amount of money. They will give you some good simple basics that will significantly improve your teaching skills. Usually many things you would never have thought of if you had no training.

Get out in the world, get your feet wet, see if you like the occupation and if you do and if you decide to stay abroad for many years then you should take a good in-classroom TEFL certification course. Name brand does not matter much (in my opinion).  CELTA is often seen as the gold standard, but you will pay a lot of extra money for that course, sometimes twice as much.  Most generic TEFL courses are just fine. Most employers don’t care about one brand or another (unless they are selling it!).

IF you intend to stay abroad for a long time and wish to approach the field as a professional, get the best jobs, teach at universities and colleges, save some real money and get lots of paid time off – then RUN, don’t walk – to get an MATESOL (or an M.Ed. in TEFL is okay too – or an M.Ed. with a PGCE in TEFL or anything roughly similar).

Teaching at the college/university level is quite a different occupation from teaching at language schools. Language schools tend to offer only limited time off and the career path leads to supervisory or DOS type roles.

University positions can offer a much lighter work load, a more prestigious position that will allow you time to pursue other interests – professional or otherwise – and offers you a longer occupational lifespan.  I’ve spent many of the last 16 years with anywhere from ten to twenty weeks PAID vacation per year and much of that time was with four-day work weeks. It can be quite a decent career if done right.  It allowed me to explore websites, pursue further professional training and – at times – just take a well deserved rest.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training no matter what you intend to do in TEFL. If you goal is short-term then an online course is fine. If it is longer term, get a good four-week in-classroom course. If you wish to teach at the college/university level, a graduate degree is a must.  This is true for the great majority of countries though not true for China, but you may wish to be able to work in a variety of countries in a similar capacity.