Just starting to explore the idea of teaching English? Here are short answers to a few frequently asked questions about TEFL.

What is TEFL?

TEFL, which stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, refers to teaching people whose first language is not English. Teaching EFL or ESL usually involves helping students build skills in four areas: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Are TEAL, TEFL, TESL, and TESOL the same thing?

For most purposes, yes. TEAL, TEFL, TESL, and TESOL all refer to teaching English to people whose first language is not English. While the acronyms are often used interchangeably, they have a slightly different meanings.

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language – The term TEFL is used when referring to teaching English in a country where English is not an official language. This implies that the learners would not be using English on a day-to-day basis.

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language – TESL is more accurate when referring to teaching English in a country where English is an official language or when English is used as part of daily life, for example, when teaching English to a Korean person living in Australia.

TEAL: Teaching English as an Additional Language – When the English language learner already knows two or more languages or dialects, the term “TESL” is technically incorrect. The newer term TEAL takes away the presumption that English language learners knows only one other language.

TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – The term TESOL is more general and doesn’t specify the context in which English is spoken, whether in an English speaking country or not. TESOL can include the meanings of TEFL and TESL.

What is TEFL certification?

TEFL certification programs teach how to teach English to non-English speakers. The qualification awarded may be called a TEFL, TESL, or TESOL certificate. The standard format of a basic TEFL certification program is 120 hours of classroom learning over four weeks. However, online courses with or without teaching practice are also available. Advanced options for TEFL certification include 1-year graduate certificate programs or 2-year Master’s Degree programs, among other choices.

A TEFL certificate is not the same as a teaching licence, which usually requires an undergraduate degree in Education and certification by a local governing body such as a provincial or state College of Teachers.

Is CELTA the same as TEFL?

CELTA refers to the TEFL certification program accredited by a division of the University of Cambridge. Schools running CELTA programs are available worldwide.

A CELTA certificate is the same type of certificate as a TEFL certificate. That is, CELTA is a certificate awarded for training in how to teach English to speakers of other languages. However, to be accredited by Cambridge a CELTA program must meet a set of standards maintained by the university.

Other TEFL training programs may or may not have a clearly outlined set of quality standards.

Do you have to be a native speaker of English to teach ESL?

No, teaching ESL and taking a TEFL certification course do not require being a native English speaker. However, if you are not a native speaker of English some TEFL training programs make ask you to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in English in order to register for the course.

What are the requirements for taking a TEFL certification course?

The requirements for taking a TEFL course differ by school. Schools generally want to know two things: 1) that you can handle university level course work, and 2) that you have the ability to communicate adequately in English, both spoken and written. Teaching experience is beneficial, but usually not required before taking a training course.

Typical requirements for registering in a TEFL program include:

Age: Most require you to be 18 years old or over.

Education: Most require only a high school diploma, but some schools require a Bachelor’s degree.

English ability: Most schools require you be either a native speaker or have “native-like proficiency”. Some schools specify a minimum English exam score for non-native English speakers. To prove this, you may have to provide a writing sample, submit English exam scores, and/or complete a spoken interview.

Visa: If you are travelling abroad to take a TEFL course, you must also meet the requirements for obtaining a visa to enter the country.

How much does it cost to get TEFL certified?

Prices vary depending on course delivery method, location, and amenities. Here are some general figures (converted into US dollars) comparing the cost of 40 different standard-length courses based on prices posted on 20 school websites in September 2018:

Online courses: $350 – 1000 USD
Hybrid courses: $1100 – 1400 USD
Classroom courses: $1150 – 2700 USD

The price ranges above do not take into account discount rates. Discounts are sometimes available for booking early, registering with a friend, or taking a course during less popular times of the year (which varies by country).

Amenities which may or may not be included in the course fees range from tutor support (for online classes) and airport pickup, visa assistance, and/or accommodation (for classroom based courses).

Prices do not include travel or personal expenses.

Do you need a teaching licence to teach ESL/EFL?

Short answer: It depends on the type of school and the country where you want to teach. You don’t need a teaching licence for all types of teaching jobs, but you do for some.

Longer answer: There are many jobs teaching ESL where a teaching licence is not required. Private language schools and the language centres of universities, for example, do not generally require a teaching licence. Also, country specific programs such as EPIK in Korea and JET in Japan which place teachers in the public school system generally do not require a teaching licence, though a licensed co-teacher from that country may be placed in the classroom with you.

However, if you want to teach young learners in an elementary or high school in North America or at an international school, for example, you most likely will require a teaching licence regulated by the state, province, or country governing that school. Always check the requirements through the education department of the country, state, or province where you want to teach.

What is a practicum?

The practicum is the teaching practice component of a TEFL course. The practicum in a standard course will include at least 6 hours of teaching real, non-native speakers in a classroom setting while supervised by an experienced teacher trainer. Ideally, you will have the opportunity to teach more than one level and different class sizes. Other teaching practice formats include: teaching one-to-one lessons, teaching online, or teaching peers (other teacher trainees).

Who accredits TEFL courses?

There is no single accrediting body for TEFL courses. Instead, there are different types of organizations that attest to the quality of TEFL course providers and/or their course content through accreditation, external moderation, validation, or another similar function. These organizations include:

  • Government agencies
  • Universities
  • Professional organizations
  • Education organizations
  • Quality assurance organizations
  • Business organizations

You can read more about accreditation in other articles on this blog.

Written by Karen Bee

Karen taught ESL in South Korea for seven years before returning to Canada.

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