Whether we want to buy socks, a new laptop or TEFL courses, we always look for customer reviews online before.
For choosing a quality TEFL course, you rely on sources like:
- “Trusted” review sites
- Review sections on the providers’ website
- Blogs (like this one) with review articles, obviously ;)
Reviews can be a reliable source for making purchasing decisions, but you must also keep in mind that not all reviews can be trusted, and you should be equipped to distinguish between legitimate and fake reviews.
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In this post, we walk you through the various sources to identify and choose a great TEFL course and tell you what to consider.
TEFL Course Accreditation
Accreditation is a form of review, whereby an independent accrediting body has audited the TEFL certification course and awarded an accreditation based on satisfying specific criteria.
However, as mentioned earlier, there is no industry-wide accrediting body, and thus, a TEFL course does not need to be accredited to be offered. At the same time, any TEFL provider can gain accreditation via an agency that is willing to award one. This muddies the water supremely, making it difficult to choose a TEFL course to enroll in.
You’ll notice that many TEFL providers are or claim to be accredited. However, having an accreditation alone is not a guarantee of the quality and legitimacy of a TEFL course. It’s essential to consider who is providing the accreditation, what credibility the accrediting body has, and if the accrediting body is, in fact, independent.
Unfortunately, some TEFL providers have questionable accreditations. Some of these accrediting bodies have little to no history, nor are they government-recognized or regulated. Some are even owned by the same company that offers the TEFL certification, meaning they are hardly independent.
Some TEFL providers apply the term accredited to their courses using very loose definitions. They state an affiliation or membership in an organization, and claim to adhere to that organization’s standards. However, membership in an organization does not necessarily mean the course is formally accredited.
One of the first steps you should take when deciding on a TEFL certification is to determine the reputation and credibility of the accrediting body itself.
In the absence of an industry-wide accreditation body, government recognition and regulation becomes an important factor. Having a government-regulated accreditation means the TEFL certification meets acceptable criteria for an academic qualification according to a government framework for qualifications.
In the UK, The Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is an independent government agency that is responsible for regulating qualifications.
CELTA is a UK Level 5 qualification and its accreditation is regulated by Ofqual. What this means is that CELTA must undergo continuous, rigorous audits to demonstrate that the qualification accurately reflects the knowledge and skills acquired by who have completed and earned the CELTA certification, according to the UK government’s qualifications framework.
Presently, only a handful of TEFL providers offer Ofqual Level 5 certifications, which are equivalent to the CELTA, but offered at a much lower cost:
Regardless of participant reviews about the quality of these TEFL certification courses, you can be certain each is accredited by an independent body that is regulated by the UK government, and meets the requirements for a Level 5 qualification.
In the U.S., accredit bodies such as The Accrediting Council of Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) and the Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA) are officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as reliable authorities. In other words, TEFL certifications that are ACCET or CEA accredited satisfy the requirements of a qualification as defined by the U.S. Department of Education.
The following U.S. based TEFL certifications are ACCET accredited:
- BridgeTEFL (whose courses are also recommended for undergraduate and graduate college credits)
When selecting a TEFL certification, look beyond the accreditation. Investigate who is the accrediting body, and what makes this body a reliable and recognized authority. We only recommend UK Level 5 TEFL certifications and U.S. Department of Education recognized accreditations.
Any of the above recommended TEFL course providers will provide you with a TEFL certification that is legitimized through a government-recognized and regulated accrediting body, and each of them will be able to offer proof of their accreditation. Don’t succumb to companies which plaster logos all over their websites. Ask for evidence of the accreditation.
Consumer Review Sites
The fundamental challenge with consumer review sites such as TrustPilot is that they are not as independent as they may appear to be Here’s why:
- They offer paid services to businesses to gain reviews and charge anywhere between $80 – $800 per month, or more.
- Because they rely on paid subscriptions from businesses, their services are designed to favor the success of their clients, rather than providing an objective platform for consumers to review a business.
- There is no clear and stated vetting process to ensure that publish reviews are indeed from real customers. Indeed, many review sites are plagued with fake consumer reviews.
Can you see the problem here? If the business is not benefiting from the service, they will stop paying for the subscription. Additionally, it is not uncommon for businesses to pay for reviews (including TEFL reviews), or to incentivize their customers to leave positive reviews.
Some companies also engage in campaigns to leave negative reviews for their competitors, making the entire consumer review site business a questionable one.
That doesn’t mean consumer reviews are totally devoid of value. However, if you are using review sites to make a decision about a TEFL certification course (or any product or service for that matter), you need to strengthen your BS meter and separate the wheat from the chaff.
Let’s look at two examples of actual reviews published for two different TEFL providers (names removed) on review sites, and decide which one you think is a meaningful review and which one isn’t:
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5/5) – [TEFL Provider] is great and offers quality qualifications. The experience was really great and I encourage anyone who’s looking for a good company to join and experience it for themselves.Happy Customer 1 (Unverified)
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4/5) – I really enjoyed the [TEFL Provider] 168 hour course. The content was thorough, well organised and included a multitude of interesting and suitably challenging assignments. [TEFL Provider] provided me with a depth of resources which I will use throughout the beginning stages (and maybe later) of my teaching career. I am thankful to the creators of the course and those individuals who provided extensive feedback on my assignments. *** were a joy to be taught by.Happy Customer (Verified)
Which of these two reviews is actually meaningful to helping you decide if the TEFL certification course is worthwhile enrolling in? We think it’s pretty obvious.
Unfortunately, many people overlook the sheer amount of meaningless (and potentially fake) reviews and just focus on the overall rating. In our experience, while a high rating is important, there’s more to the rating than meets the eye.
Here’s what we recommend:
- Look at both positive and negative reviews and determine if the review is actually meaningful, or if the reviewer is simply dropping pleasantries along with a five-star rating. Same thing with overly negative ratings – check to see if the negative feedback is actually relevant to the course. Some negative ratings have nothing to do with the course itself, and more to do with gripes or misunderstandings the enrollee had.
- Pay attention to how the TEFL provider responds to negative reviews. Is the provider offering constructive explanations and solutions to address the reviewer’s concerns, or is it on the defensive?
- People are more likely to leave reviews when they are not happy, than when they are. So, scrutinize positive reviews more than you would negative reviews.
Many accredited TEFL courses appear on coupon/deal sites, and are offered at rock-bottom prices, sometimes as low as $20. Now, think about this carefully for a moment. Do you honestly believe that for $20 – $50, you could learn the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective English teacher?
Proper accreditation costs significant investment of time and money, so if the course is being offered at an unbelievably low price, then it’s probably too good to be true. Would you pay someone to teach you a language for $20? Probably not.
Aside from lack of proper accreditation, TEFL courses offered on coupon/deal sites almost always won’t have a qualified and experienced ESL professional on-hand to evaluate assignments (and probably won’t have assignments to begin with). Why is this important?
The whole point of even taking a course is to learn a skill. Because teaching English to ESL learners is a hands-on skill, you want someone with experience to provide you feedback that can help you start your career on the right track, to let you know what aspects of your teaching skills are strong and which ones you need to improve.
In our experience, we’ve found the low-end TEFL courses you see on coupon/deal sites to be disingenuous about their pricing. Many of them sell their courses at $20 – $50, with a 60-day window to complete the course. Then they attempt to upsell you with offers to extend your time to complete the course for $99. If you go down this route, you will have paid up to $150 for a TEFL certification. Ultimately, this is not the $20 deal you thought you got.
Can you get a job with a low end TEFL certification? Sure. Can you get one anywhere, particularly with high-paying employers? Unlikely.
Affiliate Sites and Blog Reviews
Many sites and blogs exist to earn commissions for products and services they promote, and one of the ways a site or blog can promote a product or service is by publishing a review. (We’re no exception here.)
So the question begs: how can someone who earns a referral commission from a product or service write an unbiased review? To answer that question, let’s make two assumptions:
- There is no such thing as an unbiased review.
- The only reviews actually worth trusting are ones in which the blogger has actually trialed the product or service.
Unfortunately, not everyone who publishes reviews online has tested the product or service they are reviewing. So, the real consideration you should be making is not whether the reviewer earns a commission for referring you to a product or service through a review; instead, whether the reviewer has actually used the product or service, and is recommending it because after trialing it, the blogger believes in it.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with recommending something you get paid to recommend. If you worked in an Apple Store and earn money recommending Apple products, that makes you biased towards Apple products, of course. But if you also use and like Apple products, is there something wrong with also recommending them and earning an income as well? We don’t think so.
What we do think is wrong is people publishing bogus reviews for the sake of earning an income from a product or service they have never used, and will never purchase.
Here at JimmyESL, we audited every TEFL certification ourselves before we recommend it. We are TEFL certified and experienced ESL teachers, so we feel we are more than adequately qualified to assess the quality of a TEFL course.
More importantly, our emphasis is and will always be on reviewing and recommending TEFL courses that have earned legitimacy through a government-regulated accreditation. As long as there is no industry-wide accrediting body for TEFL qualifications, we are only interested in reviewing and recommending accredited TEFL providers with government-regulated accreditations.
So if you are searching for and checking TEFL course reviews on blogs, you should be skeptical of TEFL reviews (including ones we publish). Check that the reviewer has personally audited the TEFL course.
Because you can’t be 100% sure someone who claims to have audited a course has actually done so, you can also request TEFL providers you are considering to give you restricted access to the course, or to speak to graduates about their experience.
Wrapping Up: Beware Fake TEFL Reviews
The world of e-commerce and online marketing is highly competitive, and online reviews are one of several ways companies try to gain an edge to earn credibility with consumers.
This is true for TEFL certification courses, too. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of fake TEFL reviews online, so it is important to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Fortunately, we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you. We only recommend TEFL certification providers with UK and US government-regulated accreditations whose courses we’ve actually reviewed and tested ourselves.