How to become TEFL Qualified

Many individuals choose to become TEFL certified for many reasons: as a gap year option before or after university, as a career break, as a complete career change along with a whole new lifestyle, or as part of a plan to stay gainfully occupied during retirement.

Group of TEFL Trained Teachers
Group of TEFL Trained Teachers

Whatever the reason, we think it is both unfair on yourself – and very scary – to go untrained into teaching, and even more unfair on your students to subject them to unprepared and uninformed teaching. A TEFL course of 100-plus contact hours with at least six hours of assessed teaching practice is usually sufficient to provide you with the toolkit you’ll need to start teaching students of all levels in the country you choose.

A TEFL course will give you the confidence to stand up in front of a class full of students, teach you how to plan lessons and help you to create and select activities and materials.

Taking an initial TEFL course is similar in many ways to learning to drive – once you’ve passed your test, you’re still very much a learner driver, but you do have the necessary foundation on which to build as you gain experience through practice.

There will still be a lot to work out for yourself once you get a teaching job, and you will find your first few months are full of planning lessons and getting to know students and course books. But you will still find you have enough free time to get to know new people and enjoy new surroundings.

There is a great deal of confusion caused by all the acronyms common to the field, such as TEFL, TESOL, ELT etc (click here for an explanation).

Confusion also reigns about the differences and similarities between different TEFL courses – such as CertTesol, Celta, introductory, foundation, online and weekend tefl courses – which is often a barrier to knowing what you should be looking for.

TEFL Course Types

Any course aimed at training you for teaching English as a foreign language can be referred to as a TEFL course. The two most internationally recognised qualifications are the Cambridge Celta and the Trinity CertTesol. These are the two courses most employers know and prefer. Other four-week “equivalent” courses, with similar course content, duration and hours of teaching practice are also viable options.

If you are unsure, it’s worth conducting some research, in terms of both the course content and the reputation a given course enjoys among the schools that might employ you.

The reason why so many people single out the Cambridge and Trinity qualifications is the worldwide reach of the examination boards which are the owners of these awards. The name Cambridge is particularly strong overseas as it makes people think automatically of the University of Cambridge.

The crucial factor for both exam boards is that every one of their courses, wherever in the world they are run, is visited by an external assessor (Cambridge) or moderator (Trinity). Their job is to check that tutors are following the required syllabus and that good training is being carried out, that trainees’ coursework and teaching is up to scratch and that the grades being awarded are appropriate.

Some of the providers of four-week equivalent courses also administer their own cross-checks, which help to ensure consistency. Others, however, in the attempt to come up with similar forms of approval and accreditation, make use of varyingly trustworthy yardsticks. Some of these will be genuinely reliable, others more spurious.

One example of something being misleadingly used as proof of quality is corporate membership of teaching and training associations, such as the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. While membership of these is beneficial, it’s a red herring in terms of any guarantee of quality.

Will TEFL help me to get a job

Beyond the direct benefits to a teacher for taking a quality course, most would-be teachers’ prime concern is the question: “Will my course land me a TEFL job in my chosen country?”

The criteria for teacher selection will range across a wide spectrum between insistence on a Celta or CertTesol course plus at least a year’s experience, to nothing more than simply being a native speaker. This big difference may be caused more by the popularity of that location as a destination leading to a teacher glut or a teacher shortage, with the consequent raising or lowering of selection criteria, than by the perceived intrinsic value of TEFL qualifications.

Employers will always look first for prior teaching experience. In the absence of this, the importance placed on a good TEFL course will depend on the employer’s general awareness of the courses available and his or her previous experience of teachers with such qualifications. Other factors besides qualifications and experience which are also taken into account in the selection process include personality, presentation, other work experience and academic qualifications.


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