Getting Started In TEFL: Choosing A TEFL Course

How do you get started in EFL? What sort of training do you need and how do you go about getting your first job? In this article and the next Keith Taylor has some advice. In this article he looks at TEFL training.

The demand for English teachers around the world today is very high, as English continues to be the preferred language in many areas of life, from study and work to entertainment and travel. For the foreseeable future at least, you will never be short of a job if you choose English teaching as a career.

So, if you've heard tales from a returning teacher of the wonders of living and working in Thailand, Brazil or Morocco and you think it might just be the career for you, how, exactly, do you get started?

Well, the first thing to confront you may well be the minefield of acronyms, so let's work through that first of all.

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. Add a T, giving TESL, and you have Teaching English as a Second Language.

EFL is English as a Foreign Language. Again, add a T, and you have TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

Traditionally, TEFL refers to teaching in non-English speaking countries, whereas TESL refers to teaching in English speaking countries, to non-native speakers living or working there. In practice, though, the two terms are often used interchangeably, and both are covered by the all-encompassing TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

During your training or job search, you might come across a host of other acronyms, asking you if you have experience teaching ESP or EAP, FCE or IELTS! Don't be daunted by these - there is a link to the most common acronyms at the bottom of this article.

Now that you know a little about some of the jargon you'll be facing, the next step is usually a qualification of some kind. The days of being able to secure an English teaching job solely on the strength of being a native speaker, although not entirely gone, are fading fast. A quick search on the internet for "TEFL courses" (we'll stick with this acronym for now) will return a mind-boggling selection, of varying content, duration, and quality, and it can be difficult to know what to go for.

It might surprise you to discover that most TEFL courses are short. The most internationally recognised and accepted are the "CELTA" (there's yet another acronym for you), run by the University of Cambridge, and the "Trinity Cert TESOL", run by Trinity College, London. Both of these are 120 hour, classroom-based courses, and include several hours of observed teaching practice. In other words, they get you in front of students during the course so that you can put into practice what you learn. These courses are usually studied over a very intensive four week period, and involve a lot of work outside the classroom, preparing classes and writing assignments.

You'll learn a good deal about teaching theory and methodology, and have some chance to put it into practice. You will learn some English grammar, but don't expect to be an expert by the end of the course - this mostly comes in your first few years of teaching.

An increasing number of institutions offer courses of similar length and content to the CELTA and Trinity courses, and you will find that many employers will accept these.

Very generally speaking, the shorter and less classroom-based the course, the less accepted it will be by employers around the world. There are some high quality online courses available, for example, but by definition these do not allow for any actual teaching practice, and so are often viewed in a less favourable light by potential employers. Some courses compensate by teaching theory and methodology online, and including a short classroom-based component to put it into practice.

You can take a TEFL course in many different countries. Studying in Bangkok or Prague, for example, can give you the advantage of the centre's connections with local schools when it comes to finding employment, and some course providers offer help with finding a job as part of the deal.

Another option is an MA in TESOL. As with most Masters degrees, these take one year or longer, and consequently tend to cover theory and methodology in greater detail.

So, to keep your options as open as possible when it comes to finding employment, the CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL and equivalent courses, or longer MA courses, are perhaps the best options. But there are, of course, other considerations. CELTA and Trinity courses can cost upwards of US$2000. This may seem a big investment if you are not sure yet if TEFL is the career for you.

So a good first step is to have a look at some of the jobs available in countries where you are interested in teaching, to get an idea of the typical requirements. You could choose a shorter, cheaper course, if these are generally accepted where you want to teach, and then study for a CELTA or equivalent after a year or two, if you decide to pursue the profession further.

The availability of short, quick courses often raises the question of unqualified or underqualified teachers let loose on unsuspecting students! Here, the argument runs both ways:

Some maintain that a qualified teacher doesn't necessarily mean a good teacher, and that communicative skills and enthusiasm are just as important in motivating students. Even the CELTA and Trinity courses are, after all, entry level courses, designed to start you off, with the idea that much of your learning will come from experience during your first couple of years of teaching.

Others argue that just as an unqualified teacher wouldn't be allowed to teach at a secondary school in the UK or the US, why should it be any different in the TEFL field – students are paying to be taught by someone with solid training in teaching theory and methodology. And after all, as a teacher, you'll feel better equipped and more confident when you step into the classroom in your new job.

It's up to you which side of the fence you choose to stand on this one! But whether you study for a week or a year, it will in some measure prepare you for the next step in your TEFL career, when you walk in to the classroom for the first time in your new TEFL job.


Keith Taylor is the founder of, providing free resources, information and advice for TEFL teachers, as well as a directory of TEFL courses worldwide and the latest TESOL jobs. Read the eslbase guide to TEFL acronyms.

Article Source: Ezine Articles
Photo provided under Creative Commons Licences by Michoslaw via flickr

Further Reading ...


EFL Geek said...

A good article to start a basic understanding of the field. I would highly recommend that every new teacher get some sort of training before starting out. The CELTA is expensive on the surface but will help you get through the first few weeks/months.

I started off with no training and was completely lost. I bought books and read on my own and picked the brains of teachers I considered successful. This helped me get by (not succeed) until I was able to finally get some training under my belt.

honestly 2,000 is a small investment even if you only teach for 1-2 years. it'll make your life easier and provide you with a number of contacts so that you can hopefully avoid the crappy jobs run by the devil.

Anonymous said...

What do you suggest for teachers in other disciplines? I am a high school/college English teacher wondering about getting into the TEFL field. Having been in the classroom for many years and with a strong command of grammar etc., would you still recommend a TEFL course as the way to go or is there likely to be considerable focus on what I've already been doing for a long time? Any thoughts are welcome.

Sue Swift said...

Hi - Keith has suggested that I might reply to this, so …

You don't say what subject you've been teaching. Whatever it is, there will certainly be some very valuable spillover - classroom management for example. And if you've been teaching a language, there'll be even more overlap : you'll know for example how to set objectives for and stage a listening comprehension lesson, how to use minimal pairs in pronunciation teaching, how to formulate concept questions to check understanding of a new structure. You'll also understand the specific language learning problems that beginners (or intermediate, or advanced) face when learning a language, and the course and lesson needs to be structured to take these into consideration. Or what the pros and cons of different methods of correcting errors are.

But even if you have been teaching another language, there may be things about the English language which you have thought of : What's the difference in intonation between a Wh- and a Yes/No question? What's the difference between would and used to with the meaning of habitual events in past time? What's the difference between the adjectives historic and historical? What are the specific phonological, grammatical and lexical problems which Korean or Spanish learners (or whatever nationality you're teaching) have with the phonological, grammatical, lexical and pragmatic systems of English and how do you adapt the coursebook to take these into consideration?

A four-week course won't give you all the answers of course - it's only intended to be a basic introduction. But it will ensure you know about the most important things, will present them in a logical structured manner, and - even more importantly - will give you the chance to try out the things which are new to you in teaching practice, and get feedback and advice from the tutors.

Especially if you've not been teaching a language but another subject like physics or history, ask yourself this : could I, as an experienced teacher, take over your classes and teach them ? Certainly, I'd probably do a better job than someone who had never taught anything at all, there'd be spillover for me too. But although I might understand the subject myself, I certainly wouldn’t know how to structure the course, how to develop in the learners the specific skills needed to learn that subject etc. Yes, I could find out by reading and/or trial and error, but a) why reinvent the wheel when there are experts who could tell me, and b) why do it at the expense of my first students when I could find out before?

In fact, I’d suggest you would probably be able to get more out of the course than a “beginner” trainee. Trainees starting from scratch often find a four week course a bit overwhelming – there’s so much new stuff to assimilate and so many new skills to develop. That’s why I say the CELTA (or whatever) is only an introduction. A lot of stuff really only “settles” during post-course experience. You’d be in the enviable position, however, of being able to concentrate much more on the section of the course which was new to you, and work on it in depth. You might eventually get more out of the course than the others.

And on a purely practical note – I don’t know what your plans for employment are, but if you want to work for a really good organisation in the private sector, specific TEFL training will be essential. You’d probably get a job without it – some places will take native speakers with no teaching experience or qualifications at all - but you need to ask yourself if that’s the type of organisation you want to work for.

But whatever you decide – good luck!