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What are TEFL, TESL, TESOL and CELTA? And what do you need to teach abroad?

    As a rule, TEFL certification is a requirement for all language teachers wishing to work abroad, irrespective of qualifications and experience.  

    The exception is certified teachers, especially experienced educators with good qualifications and a teaching license in sought-after fields such as science and maths, who usually don’t need any other certification to teach abroad.

    Where a TEFL certificate is a general work permit requirement for all ESL teachers, those who are well-qualified and experienced can simply do a 120-hour online certificate. When aiming for lucrative international schools or a university job, then apart from a Master’s degree, a CELTA would obviously be a better qualification than a TEFL.

    So, what are TEFL, TESL and TESOL?

    TEFL stands for ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’ in foreign language countries, while TESL means ‘Teaching English as a Second Language’ in English-dominant countries. TESOL is the acronym for ‘Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages’ and is a newer qualification that combines elements of both TEFL and TESL and is currently less highly regarded as the first two certifications.

    TESL is ideal for teachers in Anglophone countries and the many other countries where English is an official language or lingua franca for business and tertiary education. Teachers in the USA, Canada, and the UK increasingly have students from foreign countries and learners with low English proficiency, making a TESL qualification essential.

    TEFL is often an official requirement for overseas work permits for teachers and curricula tend to favour TEFL-qualified candidates. There are schools and organizations that simply will not recognize TESOL certification.

    Where do CELTA and IETSL fit in?

    CELTA stands for ‘Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults,’ and is an advanced ESL qualification certified by Cambridge University’s ESOL department (English for Speakers of Other Languages). CELTA is accredited as a level 5 qualification in the UK, ranking just below a degree.

    Cambridge ESOL is the organization that runs the internationally recognized suite of in-depth English proficiency exams for learners of all ages and levels, including IELTS.

    These proficiency tests are taken by over two million people annually. IELTS is a requirement for (official) migration to Anglophone countries and because English is now the recognized international lingua franca for business, many international companies also require IELTS certification for professionals. This, of course, boosts the ESL industry and therefore a CELTA is such a valuable certification to have.

    A full-time CELTA can be done in about five weeks, while the part-time version can take several months to complete.

    Pitfalls for new teachers to avoid

    Teachers who wish to go abroad, either because of economic reasons or simply to travel, see and experience the world, are the obvious targets of the language certification industry and recruiters chasing money and who do not have the interest of the unsuspecting teacher at heart.

    There are horror stories out there in the world of ESL teaching that newbies must take cognizance of. For that reason, do the homework, use reputable job websites for teachers (see link) and try to get work with well-established education companies.  

    Be wary of the following advertisers:

    1. pure scams, B. below-standard certificates, C. deluxe, overly expensive certificates.

    If inexperienced, go local and practical

    If inexperienced in teaching, always consider doing a practical TEFL. The online version is cheaper and okay for experienced teachers, but for those with little or no experience in teaching, the practical version is highly recommended.

    While recruiters sell stories of how wonderful teaching ESL in a foreign country is, teaching per se is difficult, it’s a calling and not for the lazy. Doing a practical TEFL helps a lot to prepare newbies for teaching in a foreign country, which is usually challenging and can sometimes be a downright nightmare.

    When is a TEFL Internship a good call?

    Some companies successfully create the impression that finding a teaching job abroad will be impossible without their (expensive) certification and an internship. This is obviously unnecessary for freshly graduated teachers, but a practical TEFL combined with an internship could be ideal for non-qualified young people wishing to explore abroad.

    Yes, it’s true – the demand for English teaching is so huge that young and dynamic native-English speakers without a university degree but only a TEFL, get employed in the less formal ELS market. Others teach successfully online and eventually become good teachers.

    In summary, there are ESL jobs available for non-graduates, but smart, eloquent, and dynamic native English speakers, but such travel-thirsty individuals can avoid heartache and pitfalls by enrolling with a reputable company that will ensure that the adventure has a happy ending. Consider that a 6-month paid internship will count more on a resume than volunteering.

    Doing a TEFL combined with an internship affords young people the chance to (A) gain a valuable qualification; (B) explore education as a career choice; (C) start building a resume with global experience.

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