Five Things to Know Before Choosing a TEFL/TESOL or CELTA Course

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When I started teaching English in Japan back in 2007, there weren’t many instructors that had either a TEFL, TESOL or a CELTA. In case you are wondering, TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, TESOL is Teaching English to Learners of a Second Language and CELTA is Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Back in 2007 and still today, there remains a lot of confusion about whether or not one needs to have one of these certificates and which one to get. Back in 2007, most positions didn’t require a certificate. In fact, I got a job in Japan based merely on the fact that I had a university degree and was a native English speaker. I had no experience teaching, certificate and certainly had no idea what I was doing or getting into.

Fast forward to 2011 and things have changed a bit. Is it still possible to get a job without a certificate? Absolutely, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult. In fact, with the exception of Japan and South Korea, over 90 percent of the positions out there require a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA. The reality is that the industry on a whole is becoming more regulated. Not only are many schools now requiring a certificate, but even some governments want to see some proof of one before they will issue a visa. Are there still jobs available that don’t require a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA? Yes, there definitely are and I wouldn’t try to convince anyone not to go that route. Just keep in mind that the amount of available jobs will be fewer and far between. Before making your decision as to whether or not to cough up the funds and complete a certificate course in either a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA, below are five things to consider below signing up for a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA course.

For more on teaching certificates, read Getting a TEFL is Totally Worth It. 

1. Make sure the TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate is 120 hours!!!

This is probably the most important factor to understand. Unfortunately, many teachers and would be teachers  have been duped into taking 40, 60, 80 or 100 hour courses, primarily because they cost less. In today’s market, however, you are better off just not getting a certificate if it’s anything less than 120 hours! Purchasing a 60-hour certificate at half the price of a 120 one is not saving money, but essentially throwing it away. There might be some entry-level positions out there that allow you to begin teaching while completing a less than 120-hour course. Such a scenario isn’t that big of deal if it lands you a position, but you will probably have to get a 120-hour one if you plan to teach in a different country or find a better position.

I will give you a good example of why you need to have a certificate that is at least 120 hours. I am currently recruiting individuals for a few different positions in Saudi Arabia, all of which require a minimum of a 120-hour certificate. I have received countless resumes from seemingly qualified people only to find out that couldn’t qualify because their TEFL or TESOL was only 100 hours. Even that extra 20 hours makes a difference. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the government simply will not issue a visa if one’s certificate is less than 120 hours. You and I both know that you are qualified to teach abroad, but there are quite a few governments and/or schools that insist each teacher meets the 120-hour standard. Again, it’s just not worth it to save $100 or $200 on a less expensive course that is only 80 to 100 hours.

2. Be wary of a TEFL or TESOL that cost less than $250

This isn’t an attempt on my part to sell you a certificate course. The reality is if you come across a $100-TEFL course on GROUPON, then it’s probably a scam. I would even be skeptical of a course that cost between $200 to $300. There are hundreds of questionable institutes and companies in the unregulated sphere of ESL that have cooked up some TEFL or TESOL class. A few  of these cheaper courses might land you a job, while some may turn out to be worthless in the long-run. Most if not all of these $150 or $200 courses are online, some of which are even self-paced with little guidance from the instructor.

Online courses can be a viable option, but I wouldn’t waste my money on the really cheap ones. If I were going to enroll in a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA course, I would think about spending at least $1000 and even more. I know this seems a bit expensive, but such certificates are also accredited and valid almost anywhere in the world.

3. A CELTA is more Useful in the Middle East

If you plan to teach anywhere outside of the Middle East, then this part will be of little interest. Except for a few schools, it won’t really matter whether you have a CELTA, TESOL or TEFL in Asia or Latin America. However, there are quite a number of institutes and universities in the Middle East that prefer a CELTA. That is not to say that one cannot land a position with a TEFL or TESOL there, but it might be more difficult. Not all, but some of the companies and schools I work with in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East are insistent that teachers have a CELTA. In some cases, a school may allow someone who already has a TESOL or TEFL to complete a CELTA while they are working. If you are planning to work in Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait or Bahrain, keep in mind that the job requirements to teach English in these countries are significantly more demanding compared to positions in Asia or Latin America.

4. TESOL, TEFL and CELTA certificates are not scams

There seems to be a perception out there that teaching certificates are unnecessary and nothing more than scams. That may have been the case to some extent 10 or 15 years ago, but that is no longer so. As mentioned in the introduction, teaching English as a foreign language as a whole has become significantly more regulated in recent years. Sure, you might be able to land a position without one, but you should also be skeptical of a school that wouldn’t require a certificate. If they don’t require a certificate, then how do they treat their employees? There might be an exception to this in South Korea and Japan, where the majority of schools still do not require one. However, Japan and South Korea no longer offer the same amount of jobs as they used to. As mentioned before, anything less than a 120-hour certificate is worthless. So if you shell out a couple of hundred dollars for a 60-hour certificate, you are in a sense being duped.

5. Getting a teaching certificate will prepare you to become a better teacher

So you’ve done everything possible not to get a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA, but you have realized that you will inevitably have to pay for one. You might be thinking that such as certificate course is a waste of time and you are only obtaining one as a way to satisfy visa requirements. Before you get too bent out of shape, keep in mind that most teaching certificate courses are well-taught, provide insight of the industry and really do help individuals get a firm grasp of a teaching methodology. In other words, such a certificate will help you become a better teacher before you even begin and endow one with additional knowledge of the industry and what to expect. I actually completed a TESOL certificate course two years after I had already begun teaching and I am glad that I did so. It helped me become a better instructor and gain a different perspective.

About JT 63 Articles
JT taught English for four years in Japan. He also has extensive experience teaching ESL in the United States. JT has also traveled throughout Asia and South America. He began JimmyESL in 2014 as a way to provide honest information for those interested in teaching English abroad. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.