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.

Teaching Internships in China



Should you Get a TEFL, TESOL or TESL Certification? Which is Best?

This is almost an FAQ type question because people often ask as they are unsure about what each of the acronyms really mean.

Not just the words they represent, but what does each area actually deal with?

How might the teaching be different?

Let’s get these ideas sorted out today . . .

TEFL Certification vs. TESL Certification

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is probably the most accurate description of what teachers who teach English overseas actually do.

Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) is what teachers do when teaching English in their home country when teaching immigrants the language skills needed in their new land.

We’ll address TESOL later down the page.

Purpose Defines Function in TEFL and TESL

When teaching TEFL, your students are usually in their home country, may never even visit an English speaking country and they usually need to study English to progress in their education or for work/occupational reasons.

Some definitions of TEFL would include the idea that students will not often have opportunities to speak English outside the classroom.  These students will have distinctly different needs and motivations for their study than English as a Second Language students.

When teaching TESL, your students are typically living in an English speaking country and need to learn (quickly!) the language skills needed for their daily lives.

From grocery shopping to mailing a letter to finding a job or even renting an apartment.  Their needs are real and immediate when it comes to getting English skills.

You can see here that the motivation of ESL students will likely be much stronger that of EFL students.   They have immediate and real problems that need to be solved using English.  And the topics taught might be very different.

It would be unlikely that you would want or need to teach an EFL student the language needed to mail a letter in a post office where English is the language in use.

Yet, for an ESL student this will be an important skill, becoming less so in these days of the internet and iPhones though, but I think you get the idea.

For the ESL student, this particular need is greater than for the EFL student – who may never step foot in an English environment post office.

As there is such a huge amount of language that our students need, we obviously need to focus on the specific language most relevant for our students.  We don’t want to spend time teaching them language that they will likely never need and never use.

If you wanted a general observation, possibly you might think that EFL is typically more generic language and ESL might be more specific to a certain task – but that conclusion would not really be accurate.   A lot of EFL is specific occupational language or language needed to pass a certain test like TOEFL, IELTS or GMAT.

TESOL versus the others

Teaching English to Speakers of other languages ( TESOL) encompasses both TEFL and TESL, but the reality is that essentially the same methodology is used in all three of these variations.

So the way you learn to teach ESOL will be the same as you learn to teach EFL or ESL.

You’ll tend to find Americans using TEFL, Canadians using TESOL and Brits using all three acronymns.

Methodology and lesson planning are the core of most courses and once you get that down, you are good to go in any of the three areas – you need only to determine the specific needs of your students and get to work.

Language Teaching Methodologies used in TESOL – TEFL – TESL

The most common teaching methodologies – PPP and ESA – are really just good teaching strategies that you could – really – just as easily apply to a simple mathematics lesson.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   Simple enough.  Don’t make too much of the differences of a TESOL, TEFL or TESL course – or methodology.  There really isn’t much difference and the only real difference in these types of classes is in the specific language needs of your students.  A good needs analysis will tell you that and get you going.

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


TEFL Training Courses: Just How Difficult Are They?

There is a bit of a cult among some TEFL courses to make it sound as if TEFL courses are really super difficult and that you should worry a lot about getting it done.

Well . . . okay – yes and no.

My experience is that in-classroom TEFL courses are demanding of your time – yes. But you just spent US$1200-2500 on a four-to-six-week course. Wouldn’t you hope that it be comprehensive and at least a bit demanding? Wouldn’t you feel cheated if you spent so much money and it was really all just fluff and filler and you didn’t really need to do anything? I sure would.

Your Keys to Success

So . . . let’s assume the course has some substance to it and you will need to do a few things:

1. Prepare a bit before you attend the course. Refresh your knowledge of English grammar. Cruise grammar websites and possibly even pick up a copy of the ebook Fast Track Grammar Review for EFL Teachers – it was written specifically for people taking TEFL courses and it is a humor-filled run at grammar. And it’s only seven bucks. Be sure you know at least the parts of speech and the different aspects/tenses of verbs and how they are used. Why struggle with that when you will already be quite busy getting teaching method down.

2. Cruise the abundance of FREE TEFL Training over at TEFL Boot Camp. Buy a book like Jeremy Harmer’s How to Teach English and familiarize yourself especially with method (PPP or ESA) and lesson planning. My experience has been that TEFL trainees can consume an enormous amount of time getting their heads around those two ideas and integrating them on a practical level. When in training new teachers can spend six or even eight hours on a lesson plan that would take them less than twenty minutes to think through and plan after a few months on the job.

3. Stay sober and plan on studying at night. Okay, this part is the most difficult. Many people travel across the world to study in some of the world’s most exciting cities. Six weeks in Bangkok and not a night out on the town? Well, sure – get out there and have some fun, but do figure that most week nights you will be working on your lessons and preparing for the next day. Maybe even some weekends. You are, after all, preparing for a new occupation. Do your best to get it right.

4. Be aware that the original TEFL courses such as Trinity, RSA, CELTA and others were all developed at the level where high school graduates could take the courses and pass. And that level of demand is still there. That means if you have a lot of experience with study – like those of you who already have a degree, the course will not be super difficult. So have some confidence about your study and learning skills.

5. Understand that you will get feedback on how you teach. A few people want to teach “their way” and that isn’t how these classes work. The courses teach a specific method and a specific way of doing things. Desensitize yourself to feedback on how you are doing. You are learning some new skills -don’t expect to be perfect just out of the box and expect that someone will tell you that you are not perfect. No big deal. And that feedback is one of the most important parts of the course. And your ability to hear it and take it in will make a HUGE difference in your ability to learn the skills offered on the course and to continue to improve once on the job.

Got it? That was Easy!

TED’s Tips™ #1: TEFL Training is NOT rocket science. Go to your course prepared to wring out of it every dollar/pound you paid for it. It will be well worth your focus and discipline. I promise!

What TEFL Training Courses DON’T Teach You #1

Be Prepared for TEFL Freedom

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I am placing people in schools in China is this: Will the school have already prepared lessons and lesson plans for us?

Well, after I stop chuckling . . . my usual answer is, “No.”

But really the answer depends on where you are going to teach. In China with only a BA/BS and a TEFL certification you can land a university teaching position. With only a TEFL Certification OR only a degree language school positions are available.

Here is my real life response to someone who is taking a position at a university (more about language schools next time) who asked specifically:

I was wondering if I should bring teaching materials with me, and how much flexibility will I have to use my own materials?

My response:

I’ve taught in four countries and frankly ALWAYS preferred my own materials to the often irrelevant and unfocused materials that were usually offered (if any were offered at all!). Some schools do have some decent materials, but most don’t.

How much flexibility? Probably a LOT and hope for a LOT. Usually schools that have a well-defined and pre-designed program are rigidly holding on to what are often terrible materials and a curriculum that doesn’t work well for their students.

Colleges and universities, especially the ones with small EFL programs, usually just expect that you know what to do and give you the freedom to do it. I have rarely encountered even a decent syllabus after working at eight different colleges and universities in those four countries. Very large English departments though are more likely to be better structured and organized.

I don’t mean my criticism of schools to be negative – it is in fact very positive – as the freedom tends to allow you to build exactly what is needed for your students. Nothing is worse than being forced to teach a very structured program that doesn’t help your students at all.

Now, sometimes a school will give you a book, the book somebody used last year. Sometimes you will be expected to use it as the campus bookstore ordered it and sold it to all the students already. So you use it a bit and add in your own materials and gradually fade out of the book. You will need to use their book a bit, so the students don’t complain about being sold the book – practical considerations! Next semester you get to pick the book.

How the world really works

I had a teacher contact me once, looking for a job because he was about to quit the job he had just taken. His comments were: The school is very unprofessional – they told me to just develop my own program.


Yeah, in my mind the PERFECT teaching position! And he was going to quit!

Be happy for the freedom you will have in a position that offers it.

Certainly in most Asian countries and especially at smaller schools you will be offered a lot of freedom and the school will expect you to know what to do. Especially as they are often paying you more and sometimes much more than the non-native speaker local teachers.

TED’s Tips™ #1: LOVE the opportunity to release your creative skills in the classroom. So few teachers in the world have that opportunity.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Teaching is a profession. Treat it like one. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.