The CELTA Course

Title: The CELTA Course
Author: Scott Thornbury & Peter Walkins
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Components: Trainee Book (reviewed below), Trainer's Manual (not reviewed)
Reviewed by: Dr. Jesús García Laborda
Review date: January 2008
Summary: Very well written and practical "how to" approach to English teaching.

The CELTA Course - Trainee BookIn my experience as a teacher, head of ELT of some high school departments and teacher trainer, I have observed that there is a broad difference between English teachers in England and first language teachers anywhere in the world. In Spain, for instance, Spanish as a foreign language teachers are required to have a four year university degree which includes the language at advanced level (theory and practical language use, writing, listening and speaking), cultural issues and applied linguistics (for ESL, see also Virginia's language educational policies, 2007). What is necessary in the United Kingdom? In order to find an answer, it may be better to look at the Cambridge University ESOL examinations website: "CELTA is a specialist qualification in the area of adult education". So, if you want to teach adults you only need a 120 hour course which covers:

  • Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context
  • Language analysis and awareness
  • Language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing
  • Planning and resources for different contexts
  • Developing teaching skills and professionalism

Is that good enough? True professionals would probably deny this was so. However, in a country like England where there is a huge influx of avid students who need to learn and pass exams to show proof of foreign language competence, the need for teachers is desperate. Thus, qualified and unqualified professionals are equally necessary, and many language schools do not hesitate to hire teaching staff with the minimal skills and requirements to do that job. In light of this reality, this book covers all the requirements for the CELTA course. The content is intended to be delivered or addressed in 40 sessions and addresses the topics:

  • Learners and their contexts
  • Classroom teaching
  • Language awareness
  • Professional development

Experiences and practical training are suggested in the book under three headings:

  • 'Teaching practice', which is an essential component of the book and suggests ways of planning, teaching and post-teaching, and journal activities

  • 'Classroom observation', which is a compilation of tasks and activities to reflect on one's own experiences

  • 'Tutorials and assignments', a selection of advice to lead everyone's practice

Finally, the book includes a 'resource file' with extra activities such as warmers, fillers, a language use basic guide, a glossary and further reading for personal development.

On the one hand, the book is a comprehensive guide which includes the basic important aspects of language teaching from a very 'utilitarian' approach (very much a "know what to do" encyclopaedia). On the other, it seems to follow the long standing tradition that includes the most significant contents necessary to do the job ("everything you wanted to know and never dared to ask…"). However, the book tends to be oversimplified. A good example would be the presentation of 'Conditional clauses' (do not miss the definition on page 205) in which only three types are presented (when most advanced grammars present 4 plus irregular structures). There is no question that most teachers will never use more than these three but this is similar to asking a primary maths teacher to only know the basic four operations because they will never teach more than that to first year students. I personally do not blame this limitation on the authors but, instead, on the Cambridge Examinations Board which finally grants awards to prospective teachers who are not likely to have achieved the minimum standards to teach a foreign language. For instance, one can wonder what they will know about psycholinguistics, second or foreign language acquisition, reading skills, and a thousand more topics which certainly the limitations of time will not allow to be included. Overall, given the CELTA award limitations, the book is well written, and very practical. Its contents and design are those required for the course goals. Besides, the book integrates lots of information, tasks, and materials for CELTA courses and, thus, is a valuable volume for instructors involved in teacher training.

Nevertheless, I believe it is necessary to mention the damaging situation of this mini-course that allows many to become an EFL instructor without the desirable skills each year. This fact has been clearly stated in professional forums and papers (Smith et al., 2007; Celik, 2007; García Laborda, 2006). The award is so easy to achieve that it was universally accepted for a while but progressively, language schools are discovering the limitation and effect on learners. Of course, non native language instructors (like myself) should make an effort to improve their language skills since it is language skills that are the most important part of language instruction (Beetham, 2007), but teachers should be also urged to go beyond language (and, from my experience as a Spanish native speaker, native speakers are not always the best examples!) (Tudor, 2006), explore and evaluate their own beliefs (Wilbur, 2007), and explore culture and all the processes that lie below the typical language class - as was already understood 30 years ago.

  • Beetham, James (1997) Certification Offers a Fast Track to Teaching Qualifications. American Language Review, 1(5):20-22.
  • Celik, S. (2007) A Concise Examination of the Artificial Battle between Native and Non-Native Speaker Teachers of English in Turkey, Kastamonu Education Journal 14(2): 371-376. Available from East Lansing: ERIC documents. Document number ED497938.
  • García Laborda, J. (2006) Forum: Native Or Non-Native -- Can We Still Wonder Who Is Better?, TESL EJ, 10(1).
  • Tudor, I. (2006) Teacher Training and "Quality" in Higher Education Language Teaching: Strategies and Options, European Journal of Teacher Education, 29 (4): 519-532.
  • Smith, C.; Butler, N. L.; Hughes, T. A.; Herrington, D.; Kritsonis, W. A.(2007) Native vs. Nonnative English Teacher in Polish Schools: Personal Reflections, Lamar University Electronic Journal of Student Research Spring. Available from East Lansing: ERIC documents. Document number ED495069.
  • Virginia Department of Education (2007) Modern Foreign Language Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools. Available from East Lansing: ERIC documents. Document number ED498205.
  • Wilbur, Marcia L. (2007) How Foreign Language Teachers Get Taught: Methods of Teaching the Methods Course, Foreign Language Annals, 40(1): 79-101. ESL Reviews & ArticlesDr. Jesús García Laborda works for the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain. Email: jgarcial[at]