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How to get a TEFL certificate

What is TEFL? how can I get it and why it’s so useful for teaching English?

by Racheal Smith

The what, why and how of TEFL for teaching English

TEFL is an acronym (much used nowadays), which is short for "Teaching English as a Foreign Language". It is sometimes known as TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) or ESL (English as a Second Language) but all mean teaching non-native speakers. To be qualified as a TEFL teacher means you have been trained and sought qualifications that will help you to teach English to non-native speakers.  TEFL is more widely used in the UK, whilst you are likely to hear TESOL used in North America.  The two qualifications are essentially interchangeable.
You may also have come across the acronym CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults).  This is a specific brand of TEFL qualification awarded by the University of Cambridge.  If a job you are interested in specifies CELTA it is likely that they would accept other TEFL qualifications as equivalent.  TEFL is an industry acronym that covers all qualifications that attest to your successful completion of a course to teach English to non-native speakers.

A basic TEFL course will offer 100 hours of instruction.  This sounds like a lot but is only really 20 days of learning in how to become a teacher.  Some courses may offer intensive two-day courses but this might be a bit too much to ask – learning everything about TEFL teaching is a big task and maybe not suited to such intensive situations.
The TEFL course should help you to understand different methodologies for delivering English as a second language and demonstrate how to break down the language into attainable chunks.  Much of the time taken in a TEFL course will focus on grammar and showing the deductive skills needed to apply the rules. 

Why would TEFL be useful for teaching English?

If you want to travel abroad and teach English it is often essential that you have a TEFL qualification.  Teaching English as a first language in a state or independent school in the UK or US is very different to teaching a second language to a non-speaker.  Therefore, most organisations you would apply to teach in would require you to have a specific qualification for language teaching.  It is no longer acceptable to assume that just because you speak the language you can teach it.  The chance that you fully understand the rules of English grammar and how to apply these just because you speak English is slim. Most international organisations now recognise this and want proof that you can do what you say you can do.
Yet, you would want to gain a TEFL qualification to help you acquire the skills needed to deliver second language teaching effectively.  You may not wish to travel abroad but instead offer English language teaching over the internet.  At this point you have no need to present a TEFL qualification – but this does not mean that you shouldn’t gain one.  It is useful, though not essential, for you to develop the essential skills needed to be effective for your students. 
By choosing to take on a TEFL course you will learn the fundamentals of how to teach reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Speaking alone needs some skill – just consider if you know how to teach someone pronunciation. You know how to pronounce the words, of course, but how do you know how to help someone else pick this up?  Also, how do you deal with the errors your students will make?  How do you classify the error and then seek to remedy it? Furthermore, how do you help your students embed learning, so that it is available to them when you are not present? These are all reasons why you would need to take a TEFL course – for those things that you won’t realise are an issue until you start trying to teach English as a second language.

How would you go about getting a TEFL qualification?

The two most recognised international TEFL qualifications are Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity CertTESOL.  If you want to apply to a large organisation abroad it is sometimes better to go with a qualification that the employer will recognise.  If you do not have any previous teaching experience you will be relying on the reputation and known quality of the course provider to help land you a job abroad.
However, these are not the only courses available.  It is worth conducting some research to help you find the course that is most appropriate for you and your needs.  There are introductory, foundation, online and weekend courses available and each offer something different that might be useful to you.
When researching your course make sure the qualification is accredited by a recognised external body.  You are looking for the name of a college or university, or examination board, that you recognise.  A course just saying internationally recognised doesn’t mean anything, it is being used for marketing purposes only.
The course you choose needs to have an extensive grammar element.  This is the part of second language teaching that is the toughest and one as a native speaker you might not thoroughly appreciate just from speaking the language.  It is also a good idea to choose a course that gives you practical experience of teaching in the classroom.  You should really be expected to deliver 6 practice lessons, at least, before being offered a certification.  You might not want to be observed teaching but you need to be.  The feedback you will receive from an experienced trainer will be the best preparation you can receive for teaching on your own.


A TEFL qualification is excellent preparation for delivering English as a second language to students all over the world.  As there are estimated to be about 1 billion people wishing to learn English at any one time, it is a no-brainer for earning some easy cash.  If you want to move abroad to teach English, a TEFL qualification is essential.  However, if you want to teach English over the internet, a qualification will equip you with all the skills you need to teach effectively.