TEFL Certification FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about TEFL Certification

Note that while we mainly use the term TEFL on these pages, in most cases the terms TESOL and TESL could equally well apply.


What does “TEFL certification” mean?
Anything that you study about TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) that gives you a certificate at the end can be defined as TEFL certification. In practice, though, “TEFL certification” or “TEFL certificate” usually means a standard initial qualification that includes at least 100 hours of instruction and at least six hours of observed and graded teaching practice. This usual meaning of “TEFL certification” can be contrasted with lower-level qualifications (e.g. weekend TEFL courses and many online TEFL courses) and higher-level qualifications (e.g. TEFL diplomas and MAs in TESOL). Some course providers use the terms “certificate” and “certified” for lower-level qualifications, and this can often be a good reason for treating their claims with caution. The more general expression that covers all of these is “TEFL course”.

What’s the difference between a TEFL certificate and a TESOL certificate?
TESOL courses in America and Canada are sometimes more geared towards teaching people who want to settle in that country, e.g. immigrants and refugees, but otherwise there tends to be very little difference between the two terms. For example, the Cambridge CELTA (usually called a TEFL certificate) and the Trinity CertTESOL are very similar and the majority of people who take them want to teach English abroad. The terms “TEFL certificate” and “TEFL course” below are used to refer to both.

What kinds of jobs can I get if I pass a TEFL certificate course?
All kinds. Most people start off working in private language schools or in primary/secondary/elementary/junior high/middle/high schools, but you might also be able to get a job teaching in companies, in a kindergarten, or in further education colleges. However, jobs in universities and most of the decent jobs in some places tend to be reserved for those with higher qualifications and/or a few years’ experience. There are also jobs that you could probably get without any qualifications, such as Assistant Language Teacher in public schools (= state schools) and teacher in some big chains of language schools. If you have a decent TEFL certificate, you should be able to do such a job better and more quickly move on to a better position.

What TEFL certificate has the best name recognition?
The Cambridge CELTA. The Trinity CertTESOL is probably in second place, followed by the SIT TESOL Certificate, but that can vary depending on what country you want to work in.

Are there any international accreditation bodies for TEFL certificates?
No. The main guarantee of quality of the most well-respected courses (e.g. CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL and SIT) are the standards and reputations of the organisations that provide the certificates (e.g. Cambridge ESOL, which is part of Cambridge University and Trinity College London, a UK-based exam board).

How can I compare two (or more) different TEFL certificate courses?
The most important thing is recognition of the qualification. If you can find job ads that specifically mention one of the qualifications, that is probably the one to go for. If not, contact schools that you are considering working for (or random schools in an area that you are thinking about) and ask which they would recommend.

How can I tell if a course is really equivalent to a CELTA or not?
In terms of worldwide name recognition, no course is really a CELTA equivalent. However, when employers ask for "CELTA or equivalent" they mean a course with at least 100 hours of instruction and at least 6 hours of observed teaching practice. They are also likely to prefer a course that is well known (e.g. one that has been around for a long time and is offered by many course providers), and is accredited by a respectable university or exam board.

I’ve heard that TEFL certificates aren’t really valued in the country/school that I want to work in/I won’t get any extra pay for having a TEFL certificate. Is it still worth paying 1000+ dollars to do one, or should I do an online/weekend course/nothing?
It is probably still worth doing a standard certificate course (100+ hours with at least 6 hours of observed teaching practice). For one thing, you may later want to go onto a job or country where that is a necessity, and in such a situation it may well be that only post-certificate experience counts. That means that one year of experience is more valuable after a TEFL course than it is before. The same is true when trying to get on advanced courses such as TEFL diplomas. Part of the reason for this is that one of the things you will be taught on a good course is how to keep developing once you start work. You are also likely to be a happier teacher and have more satisfied students and bosses if you know how to do your job. If you choose your jobs carefully, you should easily make back the money that you invest in your TEFL course in the first year or two.

My future boss says/The visa regulations say that any TEFL certificate will do. Should I just choose the cheapest?
If you are interested in doing your job properly, you will need to do a course with observed teaching practice. This will also help you if you want to move on to a better job, especially if you take one of the better-known certificates.

What TEFL certificates does the British Council accept?
The British Council only accepts certificates that have at least 100 hours of tuition, have at least six hours of observed teaching practice, and are moderated by a university or exam board. As moderation is a tricky topic, individual branches of the British Council might show a preference for qualifications that they know, such as the ones from Cambridge, Trinity and SIT.

There are wildly differing reports online about the TEFL course that I plan to take. Who should I believe? How can I make a decision?
Google the usernames of the people who are complaining about the course. Do they seem to have a real axe to grind, for example because they failed the course? Then google the usernames of the people who are praising the course. Are there other people backing them up, or are they always a lone voice? Do they sound ridiculously positive? Could they possibly be someone connected to the course who is masquerading as a trainee or impartial observer?

Why are TEFL courses so expensive?
They aren’t. You will be paying approximately the same per hour as your students will be paying to be taught by you in your first TEFL job, but on a good course you will get hugely experienced trainers, job search help, small class sizes, and an internationally-recognised certificate at the end. Most schools make about the same amount of money from TEFL courses as they do from teaching English, the appeal being that TEFL courses can be arranged to take place during slack periods and can provide an interesting challenge for the senior members of staff. Also, try comparing the cost of a TEFL course to almost any other face-to-face qualification such as IT training.

Do I really need a TEFL certificate?
Yes. There are jobs available for people who don't have any TEFL training, but these are the worst jobs, with the worst employers and/or in the worst locations. Having training will also of course help you do a better job - making you, your students and your managers much happier.

Can I get away with just a weekend or online course?
You can get away with nothing at all, but the best starter positions are reserved for teachers with a well-known TEFL certificate with at least six hours of observed and graded teaching practice.

Should I do a TEFL course before I start teaching or after a couple of years?
Before you start teaching. Some people are natural teachers, but for the rest of us the first couple of years would simply be wasted, and unhappy both for learners and teacher. You will also probably find that the bad teaching habits you get into make the TEFL course more difficult than it is for complete teaching beginners. Your TEFL course will also teach you how to keep on improving once you start teaching, meaning that teachers who have done the course learn more from each week of actually teaching than teachers who have no training. You will also find that only post-qualification experience counts for many things, for example job applications and getting on a TEFL diploma or MA course. This means that someone with one year of post-TEFL qualification teaching often has an advantage over someone with two years of teaching experience that was before they gained a TEFL certificate.

Is it worth taking a TEFL course that comes with a "guaranteed job"?
No. If you are willing to be flexible about location and the kind of school you work in, you will have no problem finding yourself a good choice of jobs within weeks of finishing your TEFL course. In other words all TEFL courses in effect "guarantee" you a job, they just give you the freedom to choose your job and they don't bother trumpeting the fact. Most TEFL courses which tie the course to work do so because those jobs are ones that cannot be filled any other way, meaning that you will end up with the least desirable jobs in TEFL.

Is it better to gain a TEFL certificate through a university?
Some universities offer the Cambridge CELTA, in which case there is no difference between taking it there or taking it through any other CELTA provider, most of which are private language schools. Universities that offer their own TEFL certificates might train you well but should generally not be your first choice because a certificate that is only offered by one institution will never be well recognised in the global industry that TEFL is.

I don't know any English grammar. Is it still possible to get on and pass a TEFL certificate course?
As long as you learn the basics (names and meanings of tenses, parts of speech etc) by the end of the course, you should be okay. As this can be done before you start and might come up in the interview for the course, it makes sense to start studying some grammar as soon as possible. Ask the TEFL course provider which grammar book(s) they recommend.

When should I apply for a course?
As soon as possible. The most popular courses fill up very early, so try to plan ahead. There is no harm in applying before you are absolutely certain when you want to study, although you will need to pay for the whole course before your place is secured.

How can I work out which accrediting organisations are best?
It's unlikely that you can, as even employers who have been in the industry for many years have problems with this. Signs of bogus accreditation organisations include:

For most people, if you want to avoid all risk it is best to just stick to the best-known organisations (Cambridge, Trinity and SIT, in approximate order).

Why do some providers ask for interview fees/ application fees?
Because they can. Some courses are very over-subscribed and so they have copied this practice from universities to make sure that they don’t waste their time interviewing people who aren’t really interested. You can easily avoid paying these fees if you are flexible about location, however, and with a standardised course like the CELTA where you study will make no difference to your studies or chances of passing.

I'm a qualified and experienced primary school/secondary school/high school teacher in an English-speaking country. Do I really need a 4-week TEFL certificate to teach abroad?
Your best option is probably to teach your own subject (e.g. geography) in an international school, where you will be basically doing the same job as you do now and will be much better rewarded than the vast majority of TEFL teachers. For subject teachers in international schools, a TEFL qualification is useful but not essential. If you do decide to teach English as a foreign language instead, school teachers in other subjects are precisely the kinds of people who have most problems adjusting to the specific methods of TEFL. You would then find a TEFL certificate both expected by employers and extremely useful. This is especially true if you will be teaching adults.


Can I take a TEFL certificate course part-time?
Yes, as long as there is a course close enough to where you live. However, if the local TEFL courses are not very well recognised it might be worth going away for a month to do a better-known full-time course instead.

Is it better to do a part-time or full-time course?
There are advantages to each. Part-time courses are less hectic and give you time to absorb the feedback and information that you get, as well as to do extra reading. However, most people find it difficult to juggle work, family and course, and to concentrate for the whole three- to six-month period that the course takes. It can also be difficult to find local part-time courses that are close to home and start at a convenient time. Four-week full-time courses are incredibly intense and you won’t be able to get anything else done during that time, but at least you should be able to put your life on hold and/or move away for that period and so be able to concentrate. They are also good preparation for the pressures of your first teaching job.

I can't quit my job to do a full-time TEFL course. What should I do?
It is probably best to do the course shortly before you plan to start teaching, maybe abroad in the country where you want to teach. Your other options are a part-time course, and/or an online TEFL course (preferably one with observed teaching practice).

Is a 4-week full-time TEFL course as stressful as people say?
It is, but it is also enjoyable. The stressful parts are getting used to standing up in front of people and the sheer amount of work that needs to be done. It is to some extent possible to prepare for both of these before the course.

I don’t have enough money to do a 4-week face-to-face TEFL course. What should I do?
If you don’t have that much money, how will you support yourself when you get to the country that you want to teach in, e.g. if you want to quit the job early and fly home (a real possibility if you have no teaching qualifications or experience)? The best option is simply to keep saving until you have enough cash, or to borrow the money from a relative and choose a first job in a country where you will be able to send money home (South Korea, for example).

Is it better to take a full-time TEFL course at home or abroad?
There are advantages to both. A 4-week course is incredibly intensive, so you cannot afford to have any life issues getting in the way. If being at home will be comfortable and allow you to concentrate on the course, it might be worth it. The advantages of going abroad include being in a country where you want to look for work, having experience of teaching monolingual classes (the normal situation in most places you will be in during your career), being away from distractions back home, having a wider selection of courses to choose from, and the course probably being cheaper.


Do I need a degree to take a TEFL course?
It is theoretically possible to get on most TEFL certificate courses with the equivalent of A-levels or a high school graduation certificate, but the most popular courses will tend to ask for a degree. More importantly, you should avoid TEFL course providers who offer you a place without explaining the issues that you will have getting a job without a degree after you finish the course.

Do I need to have a degree in English?
This might help when you are competing for jobs with people who have exactly the same qualifications and experience as you, but specific TEFL qualifications and experience are much more important than what subject you studied at university. The vast majority of EFL teachers have totally unconnected degrees.

Grades and Pass Rates

How likely am I to fail the course?
As long as you do the work and respond positively to the feedback that you get on your lessons, you are very unlikely to fail the course. The vast majority of people who fail or drop out are people who don’t do those two things. It is also possible to get ahead on the work front with pre-reading etc. There are also a few people who can’t get over the “stage-fright” of standing in front of a group of students, so if you get the chance to practise something similar before your course it is well worth it.

What is the pass-rate for the course?
It depends on the course, but it tends to be in the mid nineties. For example, only around 3% of people fail the CELTA and another few percent drop out.

How can I be sure that I will pass the course before I pay a thousand plus dollars?
You can't, but then people pay a lot more for an MBA and the failure rate is much higher on those courses. The people who are most likely to fail are those who are lazy or won't listen to their trainers' and peers' advice. A small number of people fail or drop out because of stage-fright, but most people surprise themselves by how well they cope in front of a room of people by the end of the course. Very few people fail because they can't get their heads around the content of the course (for example understanding grammar explanations or learning phonemic symbols), and almost all trainees will be able to cope if they do the work. You can also do a lot to prepare before the course.

Why is it so difficult to get an A or a B?
British exam boards (Cambridge ESOL being connected to UCLES, one of the biggest) traditionally arrange their exams so only the top 5 to 10% get an A. As TEFL certificate courses often have a mix of experienced and new teachers, the top grades tend to be dominated by the people who have already taught for a while.

What’s the difference between an A/B given on some certificate courses and a Distinction/Merit given on others?
They tend to be the same thing. For example, some courses switched to Distinction/Merit grades when they had problems with students from some countries not understanding British grading. You can check how equivalent they are to a CELTA A/B by asking the course provider what percentage of people get each grade.

What do I have to do to get an A/B or Distinction/Merit?
Your grade is mainly based on your observed lessons, so the main thing is to listen to your lesson feedback and respond positively to it. Being on top of the course content, e.g. knowing grammar and the phonemic chart well, will help a little with your grades and also free you up to concentrate on your lessons. Most people who get an A/B already have some experience of teaching, so for most people the aim should be to do your best but to expect a Pass (= a C).

How much difference does getting an A or a B on the course make?
Because higher grades are so rare, it can really help in getting a good first job. As your career progresses, however, having experience and/or a higher qualification (e.g. a TEFL diploma) is much more important.

Non-native English Speakers

Can non-native English speakers take TEFL certificate courses?
Yes. In fact, almost all courses have at least some non-native speakers in them, usually people who want to teach or continue to teach in their own country, but also sometimes people who want to teach abroad. You will need to have a good language level for the best courses, however, sometimes even as high as Cambridge Proficiency or IELTS 7.5. 

I’m a non-native English speaker but I want to teach abroad. Will a TEFL certificate be enough to get me such a job?
It’s a good start, but there are likely to be many difficulties ahead whichever route you take. For example, in some countries you can only get a teaching visa if you are a native speaker, and in most places students tend to be biased towards native speakers. However, depending on your level of English and your determination (and possibly nationality), it is possible for a non-native speaker with a well-known TEFL certificate to get a job abroad.

My English isn’t good enough to get on the TEFL certificate course that I want to take. What are my options?
One way is simply to concentrate on getting your English up to the right level. You may find that an exam preparation course such as CAE, CPE or IELTS is a good way of pushing yourself to improve, and the certificate can be used as proof of your English level when reapplying for TEFL courses. Some training centres, e.g. many branches of the British Council and summer schools for teachers in the UK, also offer specific courses in language development for teachers, sometimes known as “classroom English”. Some other TEFL courses (e.g. Cambridge TKT or Cambridge ICELT) are also available for people with an Intermediate or Upper-intermediate level of English.

Cambridge CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL, SIT TESOL Certificate

Should I take the CELTA or the TEFL?
There is no such thing as "the TEFL". TEFL stands for the generic term Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and "TEFL course" is a general expression for all training for teachers who want to teach English as a foreign language. The Cambridge CELTA is the most recognised, and probably the most respected, TEFL certificate course. Other well-known and well-respected TEFL courses include the Trinity CertTESOL and the SIT TESOL Certificate.

Is it true that the CELTA is an advanced course and I should leave it until I have a couple of years' experience under my belt before I do it?
No. This is a complete fiction that has been promulgated by the providers of online courses, who obviously have commercial reasons for wanting that to be the case. The CELTA was specifically designed as a course for people with no teaching experience, and there is a more advanced course (the Cambridge DELTA) for people who have several years' experience. Very few people fail the CELTA, and the majority of people who take it have no previous teaching experience.

Do you need to teach "the CELTA way" to pass the course?
No (despite the online rumours). For example, CELTA courses based mainly around TBL (task-based learning) have been run successfully. Your lessons will be judged mainly on how much students learn, however you choose to make that come about. However, you do need to listen to and react to the feedback of your observers and peers. There is also understandably a focus on the basics of teaching, for example being able to elicit, explain things, put people into groups and get your timings right. This means that you can't make up for a weakness in one area with a particular strength in another, as you might be able to in a teaching job. All this means that if you go into the course thinking "I already know how to teach, I just need a piece of paper to prove it", you will struggle.

Is there any benefit to choosing a particular school for my CELTA?
No. The CELTA is incredibly standardised, so you may as well choose by price and location.

Is it true that Cambridge or each CELTA course provider decides on the number of people that must fail?
No, this is a total myth spread by competing TEFL course providers and the (very few) people who feel bitter about failing the CELTA. Around 3% of people fail the CELTA, but this varies year by year and course by course depending simply on the candidates. The vast majority of people who fail are simply lazy or have not responded to the feedback on their lessons that they get from their observers and peers.

Why is the CELTA usually mentioned most or first (e.g. “CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL or equivalent” in job ads)?
The CELTA is a direct descendant of the very first TEFL certificate course, is offered by some of the biggest and most respected organisations (International House, British Council etc), and is still the most popular TEFL course. That doesn’t mean that all other TEFL courses don’t reach the standards of the CELTA (though many of the more obscure ones don’t) - just that it is the most recognised.

What’s the difference between the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity CertTESOL?
The Trinity CertTESOL course originally lasted for five weeks and focused more on students who wanted to settle in an English-speaking country, but neither of these is any longer the case, and the courses and certificates are now more or less the same. The Cambridge CELTA still wins on name recognition, but almost all schools that accept the CELTA will also accept the Trinity CertTESOL.

Are there any disadvantages to taking a Trinity CertTESOL instead of a Cambridge CELTA?
You might find that it has less name recognition, especially in places where TEFL certificates are not well known but the name “Cambridge University” is. (In a perfect world, though, you would be better off avoiding schools that had never heard of Trinity.) If you later take the Cambridge Young Learner Extension to the CELTA, you will receive the Cambridge qualification if you have an actual CELTA but the centre will only give its own certificate to all other successful participants. This extension course is quite rare, though. Therefore, for most people the Trinity CertTESOL and Cambridge CELTA are basically the same.

What does "equivalent" mean in "CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL or equivalent"?
At least 100 hours of instruction with at least six hours of observed and graded teaching practice, and preferably accredited by a well-known university or exam board.

The nearest course to where I live is not well known. Is it worth travelling further to do a CELTA, Trinity or SIT course?
Yes, especially if you are thinking of travelling a lot further once you start teaching.


What books should I read before the course?
Your TEFL course provider should provide you with a list, either on their website or by email. How to Teach English (Jeremy Harmer) is probably the most basic general guide, and mentions other books that you could read.

What can I do to prepare for the course?
Do something that involves standing up in front of people (e.g. amateur dramatics or a debating society), volunteer to teach or be a teaching assistant, take and/or study for the Cambridge TKT, improve your English language skills and maybe take an exam such as Cambridge Proficiency (if you aren't a native speaker), study English grammar and grammar jargon, learn the phonemic script, study a language, study anything else and closely watch what the teacher does, do a conversation exchange (online or with someone local), and try to remember your own language learning experiences. More about preparing for a TEFL course.