Note: We mainly use the term TEFL on these pages but in most cases the terms TESOL/TESL could equally well be used.

Frequently Asked Questions

TEFL Courses Overview

What does “TEFL course” mean? What kind of TEFL course should I take? What’s the difference between a “TEFL course” and a “TEFL certificate”?
TEFL stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language”, and anything you study about teaching English to non-native speakers can be defined as a “TEFL course”.

For people with no teaching qualifications and little or no teaching experience, “TEFL course” is often used as a synonym for “TEFL certificate”. This expression is also used in many ways, but if an employer asks for a TEFL certificate they usually mean a certificate given at the end of a course with at least 100 to 120 hours of instruction and at least six to eight hours of observed teaching practice, such as the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) or Trinity CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Such courses are most commonly taken intensively over four weeks, but part-time courses are available.

It is also possible to take a TEFL course online, but it will count as a full TEFL certificate only if it has a face-to-face component during which you gain observed teaching practice, as in the new Online CELTA and a few others. Many other purely online TEFL courses are also available, as well as weekend TEFL courses, but these do not have observed teaching practice and so do not prepare you so well for your first teaching job and are not accepted by many employers.

Other options for beginner teachers include the Cambridge TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) and Cambridge ICELT (In-Service Certificate in English Language Teaching) courses. Perhaps the best preparation available for a first teaching job is to take a standard teaching qualification for teachers in your own state or country (e.g. a PGCE) in TEFL or TESOL.  

For people with a lot of experience of teaching English, the two most well-respected types of advanced TEFL courses are TEFL Diplomas and MAs in TESOL. Pre-experience MAs are also available, but you may still have to gain a TEFL certificate afterwards if the course does not include observed teaching practice. It is also possible (but very rare) to take a whole degree in TEFL.

Some people, especially those with teaching experience, take more specialist courses in topics such as teaching Young Learners, teaching Business English or ESP, teaching online, teaching with technology (ICT) or ELT management.

How can I spot a TEFL course that I should avoid?
Typical reasons to be suspicious include:

  • Only one or two centres offering that course
  • Tacky marketing, e.g. special offers and affiliate marketing (paying bloggers to recommend their courses)
  • Claiming to be accredited by or recommended by an organisation that doesn’t accredit courses (e.g. IATEFL or TESOL)
  • Mixing up accreditation and other things such as business partners on one page
  • Associations with dodgy online degree mills
  • Being asked to pay into an account that is in the name of a person rather than an organisation
  • Over-the-top claims about how well recognised the course is
  • Multiple websites
  • Very rapid expansion
  • Many negative online reviews

I paid for/took a TEFL course and now nobody is replying to my emails and/or I haven't received my certificate. What should I do?
This tends to be due to admin overload, but it is not unknown for TEFL course providers to go bankrupt or disappear. First, check every email address and phone number on the site and try them all, including ones that seem irrelevant. Google the names of all the people involved with the school and site to see if there are online reports of problems or other ways to contact them (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook or a comment on their blog). Then check the site and other information for accrediting agencies and contact them. At the same time, contact your credit card company and cancel payment. If you hear nothing or get an unsatisfactory response, publicise your problems on TEFL forums such as the TEFL.net ones (within the rules of the forums). Finally, contact the police, local trading standards authorities and/or the Better Business Bureau. If you can track down people who were involved with the course and now seem to have moved on to another kind of business, get a lawyer and sue them and/or warn other people off doing any business with them.

How can I find out more about TEFL courses?
You can look in the TEFL Course Database or check out any local British Council office, university or language school, many of which offer TEFL courses or may be able to advise you. ELT magazines and newspapers such as EL Gazette also carry advertisements for various types of TEFL course. If you still cannot find something suitable, try asking at TEFL.net Forums for recommendations.

How can I get more background on a specific TEFL course that I am thinking of taking?

  • Google the name of the course and then google the names of the people who have commented on it if you have any doubts about them being biased one way or the other.
  • Google the names of the people and organisations involved with it (e.g. accrediting organisations).
  • Start a thread in a relevant forum asking people for details.
  • Ask the course provider to put you in touch with people who have recently completed that course.
  • Contact people you might want to work for and ask for their opinion on the qualification offered.

How can I compare two different TEFL courses?
Usually the most important thing is how well recognised the courses are, so look out for job ads that specifically ask for one of the two qualifications. You could also ask employers which one they rate. How much observed and graded teaching practice you will do is also very important.