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.



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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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


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.

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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