The TEFL industry has been a large and booming one over the last decade when tumultuous times in the US and other English-speaking countries have caused a lot of young people to consider a different path to success. Is it really all about TEFL, though? What are the best options? Figuring out how to get started can be a headache, but I hope to alleviate some of that pain by providing an idea of how you can more effectively distinguish four different types of certification for teaching English abroad and perhaps set your sights on something even better.
First, let’s figure out what these four fundamental types of certification mean and which ones are essential to know.
- TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is the biggest category, encompassing a range of different certifications. This is the most essential type of certification for people looking to teach in Asia or somewhere other than Europe.
- CELTA stands for Certification of English Language Teaching to Adults. It also falls under the umbrella category of TEFL, but it is more intensive and includes more hours of teaching. While it is not necessary to begin a career, it does offer some advantages, such as qualifying one to mark IELTS exams or allow one to access more opportunities in Europe where the standard for English is already a bit higher than most other parts of the world.
- TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. As you may be able to parse out from the nuances, the name is a bit broader than TEFL, and it includes things like teaching English to people who may already live in an English-speaking country but need to improve their English skills, hence the elimination of the word “foreign.”
- TESL (or ESL) “TESL” is basically ‘ESL’ with a ‘T’ for ‘Teaching’ attached to the front. ESL stands for “English as a Second Language and encompasses all activities that involve teaching or learning English as a non-native speaker.
What you need to know
The most important differences lie between TEFL and CELTA, but you’ll run into all of these acronyms, so let’s succinctly delineate the most relevant ways to distinguish them. TEFL and TESOL can be used interchangeably. The only real difference is the ability of TESOL certifications to allow you to teach English in your own country, whereas TEFL is specifically for traveling abroad to teach English to people who may have never even been exposed to it. You’ll hear ‘ESL’ a lot, but this has less to do with certification and more to do with the broader idea of learning a second language (so long as it’s English).
CELTA requires a bit more explanation and is different in that it actually has some qualitative distinctions from a normal TEFL certificate even though it falls under the broader category of TEFL. While they all cater to people wanting to teach English abroad, CELTA is meant to be specialized for the teaching of adults, and it can allow some additional opportunities as I’ve mentioned above, for those who may be interested in a more specific path or who may want to travel to Europe to teach.
Austin Guidry, an English teacher in China, explains more on the merits and details about the CELTA certification, which he mentions is heralded by many people as the most intensive education experience they’ve undergone. The video below will give you a good idea of just how intense it is and what you might expect if you were to take it.
My take on CELTA
While I don’t know about it being the “most intense” educational experience, I can certainly see its benefits. Austin likens it to being something of a monk for a month, studying day in and day out while showing up to the center for direct instruction 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. Sounds like a pretty standard full-time job, right?
Austin mentions lesson plans that are sometimes 4-5 pages in length, which I’ve never encountered in my entire professional teaching career; nor could I imagine such a lesson plan being of much use for a teacher aiming at efficiently reaching lesson objectives day-in, day out and week-in, week-out. While it may help initially in comprehending the purpose of a particular lesson, I wouldn’t want any potential career-path teacher to think that such lengthy lesson plans are the norm. To the contrary, a concise, specific and goal-oriented lesson plan is always better than a long and complicated one because it keeps things simple for both teacher and students and makes education more accessible and less stressful.
While I certainly can’t say just how intense it really is, Austin’s analysis has piqued my curiosity. The certification seems like no joke, but I wonder how it would compare to, say, a real teaching certification valid in the US. I can’t imagine CELTA, or anything that lasts only a month, being the most intense educational experience of my life.
My teaching certification for the US, for instance, lasted 9 months and was also meant to be intensive. While you don’t “show up” anywhere to be instructed, necessarily, it does require weekly meetings with your instructor and cohort members to collaborate on longer-term projects. The last 2 months is also meant for student-teaching experience, where you video record a total of 10 of your own lessons at a real school (either as a guest teacher or as your job) and receive feedback from a senior mentor who’s agreed to provide you with guidance. All this leads up to the PRAXIS tests and licensure.
While I’m sure CELTA is a very intense course for many who, perhaps, have no formal educational training, it probably doesn’t compare to a teacher preparation program that allows you to gain an actual teaching license in terms of content and teaching methodology as opposed to methodology reserved specifically for the teaching of ESL. There is a lot more to know, for instance, about the institution of teaching and the standard operating procedures for dealing with students with disabilities as well as how to structure lessons so that the students are reaching objectives that prepare them for higher education in the US, which will be on the minds of many parents and children in China and other countries.
In my experience, while CELTA can be a great addition to your teaching toolkit, it is not necessary to get on the fast-track to teaching. Many TEFL courses can get you started (as long as they’re internationally accredited) teaching abroad, after which you can pursue higher educational goals.
The Expat Worldwide formula for success abroad
Disclaimer: In the interest of keeping this post educational, I’ve removed affiliate links. I do not intend this as a sales pitch, but an idea to be forged by the test of time and trial. This is meant to be used as a general guideline for how one can achieve success as a teacher abroad, not an exact blueprint for your journey.
This leads me to my final point, in which the purpose is to implore the reader to think about their long-term objectives in gaining certification. Certainly a TEFL certification can get you started, but there is a lot more to it. Are you testing the waters for a potential long-term career in education or are you simply hoping to get a little sun and travel while interacting with some adorable children? Maybe it’s a little bit of both, or maybe you honestly don’t know why it appeals to you. For those of you looking for professional development in addition to the experience of living abroad, however, there is certainly a way to achieve success while getting all the novelty and excitement of living in another country. I introduce to you, the Expat Worldwide Formula for Success Abroad. While it is still in its incubatory stages, the idea goes something like this:
Get TEFL certified —> Get teaching job using Expat Worldwide services —> Gain experience —> Get professional teaching certification and licensure
“But Mr. Worldwide”, you may protest, “This formula is nothing new. It’s been around for ages.” That would be correct, but what makes the Expat Worldwide technique unique is how we facilitate and guide you through each one of these processes. Not only can you get a TEFL certification, but you can get guidance through the whole process, including connections with honest consultants who won’t rip you off and let you talk directly with the schools who wish to hire you. Furthermore, you can even get consulting and advice for dealing with your employer, on-the-job training and access to a network of potential friends and colleagues in the field of teaching.
After you’ve had some time to gain experience, you may choose to broaden your horizons by pursuing a full teaching certification, which is another way the Expat Worldwide method facilitates your professional development. This isn’t a scheme to get people to sign up; it’s just the best way to do things. I lay claim to it, however, because I believe it to be the first time there has been such a comprehensive way of facilitating your big move and further moves thereafter.
While there are all sorts of paths one may take while traveling abroad, let this serve as a reminder to expats that it is possible to advance your career from abroad. Some may feel it’s an escape from real life, but it certainly doesn’t have to be; in fact, it could be a challenge to live life to the fullest, a call to adventure or simply a way to take stock of your options. Whatever the case, it should never be done haphazardly. Thankfully, what used to be a journey fraught with danger and scammers can now be traveled confidently and used as a real stepping stone to professional development with this formula for success abroad.
Now that you are aware of the basic differences between the four fundamental types of certifications that can start you on that path, the ball is in your court. Do your homework and reach out to those who serve as sources of wisdom in your life, or seek the counsel of someone who’s done it before. Plans very rarely turn out as they were designed, but more time spent planning will lead to a better experience, overall.
Getting TEFL certified, while a major step in your journey abroad, should not constitute and end goal in and of itself. There are always higher places you can go, better things to be reached. Teaching at an international school is a good goal, but why stop there? You could be a principal, you could become a freelance instructor and be your own boss. There are a million different subsidiary paths that you could take. Before you, there is a clear path, but it doesn’t have to be just one. Every step reveals new possibilities, and whichever certification you choose to start with, you won’t be alone.