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Getting a TESOL or TEFL Certificate

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Eastward left behind the confines of a Fortune 500 company office to explore and experience Asia. He hasn't looked back since.

What are TESOL and TEFL?

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and is a broad term for the field. Learning TESOL includes concepts of TEFL—Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TESL, which stands for Teaching Engish as Second Language, is another common certification for those planning to teach in countries where English is the first language. Because my focus was teaching abroad in countries where English is not the first language, I chose to take the TESOL certification.

Let's talk about how to make the best choice for you!

Choosing a Certification Course

The number of courses available can be overwhelming. However, there are some key points to look for to help you weed through the options. The first of the points you'll want to consider is accreditation.

There are various institutions that offer accreditation and these may vary by country. It is important to make sure that your certification course is accredited by a respected institution, especially in the country where you plan to teach. The accreditation information should be readily available from the TESOL organization you are looking at. If it's not on their website or brochure, don't hesitate to ask.

It behooves you to go with a well-known TESOL or similar certification provider. Popular and well-recognized programs include the Cambridge CELTA, Trinity College London certTESOL, School for International Training TESOL, and the LanguageCorps TESOL.

Always have your longer-term goals in mind. If you want to teach at a school with a British curriculum, for example, they will be most familiar with the Cambridge or Trinity programs.

Online or In the Classroom?

TESOL classes are widely available in online and in-classroom formats. You'll want to align your choice of a program with your teaching goals. If you are planning to teach courses online, which is an in-demand business, a TESOL course may be adequate. If you want to teach in a physical classroom the employer will have a strong preference—if not outright requirement—for a certification that was also conducted in person.

What Will I Learn?

In a TESOL program, you'll learn valuable skills that will help you make the jump from knowing English well to being able to teach English effectively. Believe me, even for native speakers, they are not the same things. Helping your students improve their English language skills is as much an art as it is a science, but the quality foundation a TESOL course can provide will set you on the right path.

Topics commonly covered in a TESOL course are teaching methodologies, English grammar, classroom management, learning activities, games, volunteering, applications, employment, cultural awareness, and a basic introduction to the destination language. I'd recommend taking good notes as I referred back to mine heavily in my first few years of teaching.

Time and Fees

A full TESOL course from a respected institution will take about one month and cost in the ballpark of $2,000 USD. My course included training in the classroom along with a 10-hour volunteer teaching requirement. The total hours at the end of the course added up to 144. In my experience, job ads often call for a minimum of a 120-hour TESOL certification. There are many courses out there that can be completed in fewer hours but keep in mind they will have a narrower range of acceptance.

Additional Benefits

Some courses will include accommodations, tours, and job placement while others may not. Talk with the representative of the program to get clear details on what is included with your course fee. If you have experience in the country you are studying in, you can likely reduce your costs by focusing on the certification itself. Accommodations, travel, and food are commonly marked-up and if you already know your way around, you might as keep that extra padding in your wallet.

Your level of experience and comfort also comes into play when considering job placement. If you are new to the country and to teaching abroad, job placement provided by a TESOL program can be very helpful. If it isn't your first rodeo, you're likely to find gainful employment opportunities that are better suited to your individual tastes on your own.

Can I Teach Without a TESOL Certificate?

Every year it seems the requirements for foreign teachers become stricter. That being said, with the demand for teachers being high, one can still find a school or company willing to waive the TESOL requirement.

If you are a gap year teacher without any long-term plans and are just looking for a way to make a little money, have some adventures, and buy your ticket back home, this may be a reasonable option. Although, you might find the classroom a struggle without such a foundation. For those good with the pre-K crowd or kindergarten crowd, opportunities are plentiful and are less TESOL skill-dependent.

If you plan on a teaching career that extends beyond 6-months or a year, I would strongly recommend a TESOL certification course. The systems and skills you learn will help you immensely as a new teacher and you're bound to make some great contacts—if not lifelong friends—in the process. It's only becoming more common for schools and other educational institutions to require a TESOL certificate, so having one will keep doors open for you.

Let's Recap!

To sum up, here are the most important points to consider:

  • Choose from accredited and well-recognized TESOL courses
  • Decide if an online or in-person course best fits your needs
  • Determine the number of classroom hours your TESOL program offers
  • Consider your comfort level with teaching and your destination country
  • Evaluate whether you want or need accommodation and job placement assistance
  • Make note of the fees you'll need to have prepared
  • Understand what is and what is not included in your course fee

With these points in mind, you should be well-primed to shop around for the most suitable TESOL course and to get started on your new adventure! I invite you to ask any questions you may have about TESOL certification or my personal experiences with TESOL in the comments section. I'd be happy to hear from you. You may also be interested in reading more about the TESOL topic at the TESOL International Association website here.

Questions & Answers

Question: How long does it take to earn a TESOL or TEFL certificate?

Answer: Courses vary, but it is best to get a course that is at least 120 hours (as many employers will request this). I finished my 144-hour course in one month and was presented a certificate at the end.

© 2018 Eastward


Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 10, 2018:

Thanks for commenting, Alexis. I hope you get the chance to teach abroad. It is a great experience. As you mentioned though, things get stricter every year. When I started teaching over seven years ago, you wouldn't have had any trouble finding a job without a degree. Now, it's a legal requirement in most places. When I worked in Japan, the requirements were among the most relaxed. I haven't worked in Korea but know that you will need your degree certificate and police clearance apostilled. In Europe, the majority of jobs are only available to those with EU citizenship, so it takes more careful planning to find one that is open to others.

Alexis on February 10, 2018:

This is great information. I've thought off and on about teaching abroad (Korea, Japan or in Europe), so I see the two terms used a lot. I have noticed that since I started teaching and looking at teaching abroad five years ago, things have gotten stricter.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 09, 2018:

Thank you, Eurofile. I'm glad you found the information helpful.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 09, 2018:

This is a really informative and well thought out article. I feel like I've learnt a lot from it.