There is no doubt that getting a TEFL/TESOL certificate can help you tremendously when searching for an English teaching job. It can also help you tremendously once you actually get the job and find yourself in front of a room full of eager students, all looking to you for guidance and knowledge.
But if you’ve looked into the topic at all, you know that there are a plethora of TEFL/TESOL certificates to choose from. And so how do you choose?
The following questions and points should help.
(Quick note: TEFL and TESOL are essentially synonyms here. In this article, there are no practical differences between a TEFL certificate and a TESOL certificate. TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Langauages.)
WHO’S GIVING THE COURSE?
First determine who is giving the course. Who is the organization behind it?
There are lots and lots of courses out there, and the organizations providing them can range from top-flight universities to very shady “entrepreneurs ” (let’s call them) looking for a quick buck.
Your first job is to find out who, exactly, is behind the course. You might have to do a little digging to find that out. Do it. And if you can’t find out who’s really behind it, it’s probably best to go ahead and run at that point.
ARE THEY ACCREDITED?
If the course is accredited by some organization, they will surely mention this on their website.
The problem is there are all sorts or accreditation bodies in various countries throughout the world. So if you really want to do your due diligence, your next job is to find out who is doing the accrediting.
A quick search on the internet should help you easily determine whether this accreditation organization is reputable or simply the website of the owner’s nephew.
Your first clue as to whether it is legitimate or not is the number of others referencing it. When you type its name into a search engine like Google, do you see a lot of references to it, references that don’t include the word “scam,” that is?
Also, when you go to the website, do they make it clear who they are and who backs them up? (Such as government organizations, etc.) Do they provide a physical address and phone number you can call?
Note: It should be noted that accreditation is not always so easy to come by, especially for a newer TEFL course. While it’s always safer to go with an accredited course, that does not necessarily mean that a non-accredited course is some kind of scam or has no value.
You might compare this situation to a store having a seal of approval from the Better Business Bureau. It’s always a nice thing, and it’s the safer way to go, but the truth is, you probably do business all the time with stores that haven’t bothered to get that seal of approval.
WHO IS THE AWARDING BODY?
An “awarding body” is the organization that stands behind the certificate that you receive. They set the curriculum, issue the exams, and monitor the instructors, etc.
In many cases, the “awarding body” will simply be the organization where you take the course. In some cases, however, some local organizations will be set up to award certificates from more famous TEFL certification bodies. In this way, they act as a franchisee might. Think McDonalds. While McDonalds is essentially a hamburger joint, it’s not just any hamburger joint. The McDonalds corporation requires that franchisees follow certain rules and guidelines in order to call themselves “McDonalds.”
The thing to be careful about here is to make sure that if your TEFL course says they are awarding you a certificate from a well-known organization like Trinity (CertTESOL), Cambridge (CELTA), or SIT (SIT TESOL) that it’s really from Trinity or Cambridge or SIT.
“Mac and Donald’s Hamburgers” isn’t the same thing as McDonald’s. Don’t be fooled by cleverly worded promo copy.
DO YOU NEED ONE OF THE BIG GUYS?
Probably the three most famous certificates in TEFL at the moment are those mentioned above – Trinity’s CertTESOL from Trinity College London, Cambridge’s CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) from the University of Cambridge in England, and the SIT TESOL from the School for International Training in Vermont, USA.
All of these TEFL/TESOL certifications are recognized worldwide. And while it is possible to get a CertTESOL or a CELTA or a SIT TESOL from organizations outside of England and America, there may be other factors (such as time, cost, philosophy, or convenience) that would lead you to opt for one of the many other TEFL certificates on the market.
As mentioned, the Trinity, Cambridge, and SIT certificates are recognized most everywhere; however, you will also see many certificate courses claiming to be “internationally recognized.” What this means in real terms is not always clear.
Because there is no “worldwide governing body” for the ESL/EFL world, when a course claims to be “internationally recognized,” that does not mean they have been officially sanctioned by some be-all and end-all ESL/EFL organization. There is no be-all and end-all ESL/EFL organization.
That said, there are a number of certificate courses that have worked hard to provide their students with a valuable education, and they may, indeed, have a very good “international” reputation.
So, what can you do? Well, one thing you can do is ask them what makes them “internationally recognized.” Of course you will also want to search out their reputation on the web. As well, if you are really considering a certain course, you might write to some recruiters or schools who are currently looking for teachers and ask them if they would recognize a TEFL certificate from that particular company.
HOW MUCH WORK IS INVOLVED?
Is the course at least 100 hours with supervised classroom teaching time?
The standard “full” TEFL certificate is typically at least 100 contact hours (often 120-130 hours) with additional monitored classroom teaching time (usually at least 6 hours). The 100+ contact hours consist of lectures, group work, tutorials, etc. The classroom time is when you actually go into a class of ESL/EFL students and practice putting to work all that you’ve learned in your course.
A certificate like this typically takes about a month to complete going full time. There are also institutions that offer these courses over a longer period–going part-time, of course.
So, that minimum stated above is generally considered a “full” TEFL certificate. (“Full” is simply a word of convenience for this article. It is not any kind of official term.) If you say you have a TEFL certificate from an accredited institution, this is what most will assume you have done.
Now, there are a number of TEFL certificate courses out there that are much less intense than this. Some are 80 hours. Some are 60 hours. Some are only 40 hours. These courses may or may not even put you into a classroom to practice. And, of course, there are online TEFL courses too, which by their nature (unless they have an offline component, which some do these days) prohibit any observable classroom time.
There are many in the English teaching world who will immediately tell you that to do anything less than a “full” TEFL course is a waste of time and money. While it’s true that to get a better job you should do a “full” course, that does not mean you cannot learn anything from these courses or that they have no value. Many people who take them do so for their own education and not necessarily to add another credential to their resume (though you should certainly put it on your resume if you decide to do one, of course).
If you are unsure of whether you really want to get into teaching English, or you would just like to become a little more knowledgeable about the ESL/EFL classroom, one of these shorter courses may fit the bill for you.
This is Too Much Work Already!
Not really. If you want to be an effective teacher and get the best job possible, getting a TEFL certificate is important. It’s a small investment spending some time to check out different courses. With a little bit of research and thinking about what you really want, one or two good ones should come to the surface in relatively short order.