TEFL Diploma Courses FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about TEFL Diploma Courses

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 diploma” or “diploma in TEFL” mean? What’s the difference between a TEFL certificate and a TEFL diploma?
In TEFL, “diploma” is most commonly used to mean something similar to a postgraduate diploma from a university. This kind of diploma is taken by someone with at least two or three years of full-time teaching experience and (usually) an initial teaching qualification; and some universities will give you credit for this qualification when you take a relevant MA. The most well-known TEFL diploma courses are the Cambridge Delta and the Trinity DipTESOL. Employers who ask for a diploma almost always expect a qualification of this type, and usually one of those two alternatives. This level of qualification is also sometimes known as TEFL-Q. Unless otherwise stated, the answers in this FAQ are about this kind of diploma. However, some other organisations use “diploma” in other ways, usually for a qualification that is higher than their minimum course, e.g. a 4-week course by a course provider who specialises in weekend courses or online courses. This kind of qualification (100 to 120 hours of classroom instruction, designed mainly for those with no teaching experience) is more commonly known as a TEFL certificate, and calling this a diploma is usually a sign of low academic standards and/or over-the-top marketing.

What are the most recognised/respected diploma courses?
The Cambridge Delta and the Trinity DipTESOL. Most employers who ask for diploma-qualified teachers/trainers/managers or who offer pay rises for a diploma will expect it to be one of those two.

What jobs can I get with a diploma?/Why should I take a diploma course?
A diploma is usually the highest level practical teaching qualification that an EFL teacher can obtain (PGCEs in TEFL being rare and MAs being mainly theory). Many schools, especially those in Europe, ask for a diploma for management and teacher training jobs and give priority to diploma holders when filling teaching positions. Some universities also employ people with diplomas, although priority is usually given to MA holders. You can also often get credit for having a diploma when entering an MA course. 

Should I take a TEFL diploma or a TEFL certificate?
If you don’t have any teaching experience, you will not be accepted onto the kind of diploma course that is explained above. If you are accepted onto a course that is called a diploma without any relevant experience, that should be a red light about the standards of the training organisation and the value of its qualifications. If you do have plenty of relevant experience, whether you should take a certificate or diploma will depend on how confident you feel about doing and talking about the basics of teaching. Try reading a recent edition of The Practice of English Language Teaching (Jeremy Harmer) and see how new what it talks about is to you. You could also try applying for a diploma course just to see how your application goes. Course providers are quite precious about their pass rates, so they are unlikely to let you in if you won’t pass. You could also ask them for their honest estimation of your chances.

What questions should I ask a diploma course provider before I choose a course?
If it is a Trinity or Cambridge course, ask them about their pass rate and the amount of support that they give their candidates. You could also ask them what you can do before the course to prepare. If it is a different “diploma” course, ask them which schools and universities accept their qualifications as equivalent to a postgraduate diploma. If it seems to just be a TEFL certificate under another name, ask them if the qualification is more advanced than a usual 4-week course.

Can I get on a diploma course without an initial teaching qualification?
Yes, if you have sufficient experience. You will also need to have had lots of other teacher development, e.g. regularly going to conferences or reading TEFL publications, and to know the basics of grammar, phonology and TEFL jargon.

Can I get on a diploma course without a first degree (Bachelor’s degree)?
Because a diploma is meant to be equivalent to a postgraduate diploma, the normal entry requirements will include a first degree. A degree is an entry requirement for the Trinity DipTESOL.

Is it more worthwhile to take a diploma or an MA?
If you want to work in a university, you will need an MA sooner or later. The same is true for other top jobs in some countries where diplomas in TEFL are little known (e.g. East Asia) or where there is a lot of competition for the best jobs (e.g. the Middle East). For language schools, some (e.g. the British Council) prefer a diploma to a MA, especially for teacher training jobs. The other option is to combine the two, e.g. by taking a full-time MA that has a diploma as part of the course, or by taking a diploma that can be used as credit for a future MA.

If I do a diploma, can I get credit for it on an MA course?
Yes, although it depends on the diploma and the university.

Can I do a diploma course if I teach young learners?
Both Cambridge and Trinity specifically mention that you can, but in practice it is quite rare. If you are mainly teaching young beginners, you might also have problems tying your lesson plans in with the content of the diploma course.

How can I prepare for a diploma course?
The first thing to do is to revise anything you might have forgotten since your previous teacher training, e.g. grammar terminology, TEFL jargon, basic teaching techniques and the phonemic chart. Recent editions of The Practice of Language Teaching (Jeremy Harmer) are good for this as it is somewhere between certificate- and diploma-level. A book that you will need to read sooner or later and is good to read at the beginning and end is About Language (Scott Thornbury). You should also take part in as much professional development as you can, e.g. being observed by a manager and/or fellow teachers. Your course provider should give you a lot more help on this. If they don’t provide specific advice on pre-course preparation, you could start working your way down their reading list.   

Can non-native English speaking teachers take a diploma course?
Yes, as long as your written and spoken English is good enough.

Can I teach in a British further education college with a diploma in TEFL?
You might be able to find a job, but nowadays you will also need to complete a specific course such as the Cambridge DTE(E)LLS, either before or as soon as you start work.

Is two years’ experience really enough to pass a diploma?
Although Cambridge and Trinity both say this, three years is probably more realistic unless you have taken part in a very large amount of professional development during that time.

Can I teach in a university with a diploma (rather than an MA)?
Sometimes, although there are many countries where the competition for jobs is too great or where diplomas are not particularly well known. Even if you do get the job with just a diploma, it is often dependent on you starting an MA course as soon as possible.

Is it better to take the Cambridge Delta or the Trinity DipTESOL?
The courses are very similar, with a similar number of hours of study needed and a similar number of observations and marked pieces of writing. There are some differences in content, e.g. the DipTESOL’s greater emphasis on pronunciation. Perhaps the biggest difference nowadays is how the courses are set up, with the Delta being modular. The most important similarity is that employers and MA providers who accept one will almost always consider the other to be totally equivalent.