I get asked all the time to recommend the best TEFL courses for teaching abroad. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as that, as not all TEFL courses are created equal, and there are many factors to take into consideration. This post will be my attempt to break down exactly what type of TEFL course you should take, and how to find what you’re looking for.
First things first, are you sure you want to teach English as a foreign language? Before you commit to becoming a TEFL teacher, read these reasons why you shouldn’t. And if I still haven’t convinced you not to, then we can carry on to how to do it properly.
TEFL, TESL, TOEFL, WTF?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and it refers to being an English teacher for people who don’t have English as a primary language in their country. TEFL is the type of teaching that I do as an English teacher in Korea.
TESL is Teaching English as a Second Language, which means that your students don’t have English as their native language, but they may live in an English speaking country. An example could be teaching English to Spanish speaking students in the USA.
TESOL is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and encompasses both TEFL and TESL. If you’re not sure which kind of teaching you want to get into, this is a good place to start.
TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language, and it is a common exam required by many universities and other programs for non-native English speakers. The TOEFL course is valid for 2 years.
IELTS is the International English Language Testing System, and it is another exam required by many universities, as well as being part of some Governmental requirements for visas and work permits.
Why do I need a TEFL certification?
If you are looking to teach English abroad, then yes, the short answer is that you do need some kind of TEFL certification, regardless of what you studied and what experience you have. Of course, if you already have an education degree, or a Post Graduate Certificate in Education, you may be tempted to skip the TEFL altogether. But it’s important to realize that even if you are qualified to teach English, teaching it as a foreign language is a whole other ball game.
TEFL has its own theories, methods, and activities, so if you are unfamiliar with teaching students who potentially speak little to no English, a TEFL course will really help you get to grips with the specific challenges you’ll face in the TEFL classroom. Chris has a PGCE and teaching experience, and he found studying TEFL to be a really useful experience, especially because teaching in our home country is very different to teaching in Asia. The best TEFL courses will be able to teach even the most experienced teachers something new, so don’t dismiss them too early!
That being said, if you are a qualified and certified teacher in your home country, you may not need to teach English at all. International schools all over the world recruit teachers of all sorts of subjects, as long as they are certified to teach their chosen subject back home. So if you are a teacher, have a look at somewhere like Teachaway, which features a job board for all sorts of international teaching opportunities.
What is the best TEFL course for me?
Another thing you need to think about when sifting through the best TEFL courses out there, is where you want to end up teaching. Each country has slightly different requirements, and you need to be aware of these before you settle on where you want to end up. Even within a country, requirements can vary, and it can be quite confusing and overwhelming when you first start.
In general, Asia and South America have less strict requirements than Europe and the Middle East. An online TEFL course will most often be adequate for teaching in many Asian countries, although some areas may require an in-class component as well. For teaching in Europe, you may want to consider taking a CELTA or DELTA course, which is a much more rigorous and intense course than the average online TEFL course.
Likewise, teaching in the Middle East can require an in-person PGCE, rather than a course that is primarily online. For example, UNISA, South Africa’s largest corresponding university, is now not recognized as a PGCE provider for international school teaching jobs in the UAE.
What do the best TEFL courses have in common?
So once you’ve thought about if you really want to teach, and where you want to teach, you can start searching for a good TEFL course. Here are some of the options of what’s out there.
Online vs In-person
Maybe the biggest difference in the TEFL courses available is whether you will study online, in-person, or a combination between the two. Obviously it’s tempting to go for an online course as they are convenient, and quite often, much cheaper than in-person courses. As always, it really depends on where you want to teach as to which option is better.
As the TEFL industry gets more competitive, having an in-class component to your TEFL course can make you stand out above the crowd. In fact, some areas in Asia are now requiring in-class hours for all their teachers. For example, Busan, a lovely coastal city in Korea, requires all potential EPIK teachers to have at least 50 in-class hours as part of their TEFL course. As cities become more popular destinations for TEFL teachers, in-class requirements will likely increase as a way of attracting more qualified and serious applicants.
This is one of the strengths of the CELTA program, run by Cambridge University. With a minimum of 120 contact hours, CELTA is a deep dive certificate course in teaching English as a foreign language, whereas other TEFL courses are pretty surface level and introductory. If you are looking to be certified to teach in Europe, or are looking to teach in this industry long-term, then I would definitely recommend looking into taking a CELTA. The certificate is undoubtedly one of the best TEFL courses available, and if you can afford it, and take the time off work to complete the course, then it really is worth every cent. You can learn more about CELTA here.
I personally would recommend taking a course with at least some in-class hours, as a way of really making sure you are prepared for TEFL style teaching. The course I took had 20 hours in-class, which was spread over a weekend, and it was the most valuable part of the entire course. Although I had gone through all the theory, it wasn’t until I was asked to teach practice classes and be assessed by our trainer, that I really got an idea of what TEFL teaching would be like. It was also a good opportunity to gain confidence, and see any areas that I didn’t understand and needed to review.
When we got to EPIK training in Korea, it was so easy to see who had taken online-only TEFL courses. It was a heck of a lot easier for me to give a practice lesson in front of the EPIK evaluators knowing that I had already had that experience in my TEFL course. If you already teach then you might find in-class hours an unnecessary expense, but again, TEFL teaching is a very different method, and I don’t think it’s a waste of time to practice it with other learners before you step foot into your first TEFL classroom.
How many Hours?
Another big decision you will need to make is how many hours your TEFL course will be. There is quite a range of courses available, and it really does make a difference which one you choose. If you want to teach English in Korea, you should check out our comprehensive guide for English teachers here, but in general you should take a TEFL course with at least 100 hours, which can be online or in-class.
It is a problem, though, in the industry as the number of hours on your certificate actually has little to do with how many hours it takes you to finish the course material in real life. I have heard stories of 120 hour certificates that took people 20 hours to complete, and even in-class hours aren’t necessarily exact, with a weekend of work often being called 20 hours or even more. So rather than obsess over how many hours your course is claiming, rather look at what your chosen country requires and go from there.
My TEFL course was with i-to-i and it had 120 hours online and 20 hours in-class, and I would say it is a pretty good length. You can get courses that are longer, even up to 300 hours, but often they are including other specialization such as teaching business English, or teaching English to young learners. These can be very useful courses, but they may not be necessary for what you want to do, so don’t feel pressured to take the longer course if you don’t need it. Again, if you want the best TEFL courses, you’re going to want to look at CELTA or DELTA, and other online TEFL courses are not really going to compare.
What about accreditation?
With the overwhelming amount of TEFL courses available online, many organizations are turning to accreditation to get their programs noticed. Our TEFL course is accredited by Ofqual, a British regulating body that keeps up standards of education and certifications in the UK. This was important to me, as it meant that our qualification was being regulated to some degree, but in reality no one will be checking if your TEFL course is accredited or not. It really is a personal decision. I needed something to make sure that the organization I was learning from was a legitimate learning institution, and accreditation was how I decided that.
What if I have no experience?
A pretty cool trend that I’ve seen around is the idea of offering TEFL courses and intern teaching opportunities all in one, like a certification and experience package deal. One of the scariest parts about getting into the industry is finding your first job from halfway across the world, and it takes a lot of guts to step on a plane when you haven’t met any of your employers in person. There are a lot of scams out there folks, so do your research.
An option that really helps is to buy what’s called a TEFL internship, which is basically a TEFL course followed by a few weeks of teaching all in a lovely location. The idea is that you take out all the fear from trying to get your first job and finding your teaching feet while still being looked after by a company that you know is legit. It also means that you’ll come away with a little teaching experience so that your CV isn’t just ‘recent graduate’. This is also a good way of figuring out whether or not you actually want to teach English without committing yourself to a 12 month contract. Check out the i-to-i internships to see if this is something you’re interested in.
I hope that this article has been helpful in describing what makes the best TEFL courses so great, and what you should avoid altogether. Again, please really think about whether or not teaching is for you before you head out, and also have a look at what you should know before moving abroad, because it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies out here. However, if you are a passionate teacher looking for a new adventure and the opportunity to learn about new cultures, then teaching English might just change your life.
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