We are often asked if taking a course to become certified in teaching English is completely necessary. While it is quickly becoming the norm to have one of these certificates, and in some places a working visa requirement, it’s important to know the differences and benefits.

Let’s start with the basics on what these acronyms even stand for:

ESL: English as a Second Language. You can be an ESL student or ESL teacher.

TESOL: The Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages course incorporates both TEFL and TESL. This prepares teachers to teach a student whose native language isn’t English. Such as an American teaching a student who didn’t learn English as their first language.

TEFL: The Teaching English as a Foreign Language course demonstrates how to teach English in a country where English is not the primary language. Such as an American goes to China to teach English.

CELTA: The Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages course is a “brand” of the TESOL course backed by Cambridge University. The CELTA course is widely recognized and some consider it the most reputable of TESOL courses.

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language is often used interchangeably with TEFL but has a large difference. This course will prepare a teacher to teach in an English speaking country to students whose first language isn’t English. Such as an American teaching a child from from Mexico that is living in America how to speak English.

I took a 30-day TESOL course that was hosted by a training center in Harbin for $1,500. Room, board, Mandarin lessons, and hands-on experience were included. While I learned a great deal about China and teaching strategies during my course, you eventually find what works for you and what doesn’t. I hardly practice anything I learned from the course after two years of teaching in China and am a little disappointed at how much I paid for my course, considering we offer a free course that takes a fraction of the time and guarantees you a position afterward.

Certificate F.A.Q

Which do you think is the best?

My TESOL course was detailed and hands-on. Not only was I learning about teaching, I was able to experience what my day-to-day life would be like in China. I was constantly on some kind of mission gathering materials for my lessons and spending lots of time lesson planning while being in the same atmosphere as future teachers going through the same emotions as me. I guess you could say I think a TESOL certificate is the best.

What do you think of online courses?

Yes, online courses are fast and you can do them in the comfort of your own home and country. Some online courses even require you to come in to their office and do a demo class before you’re awarded your certificate. While this is convenient and easy, there is slowly becoming a downside to these online courses.

What are the downsides of online courses?

Five years ago it probably didn’t matter if you took an online course, a physical course, or a course within the country you plan to teach. While the market is growing for foreign English teachers in China, so are the preferences and skills. Simply put, schools would prefer you to take your course abroad so you have an idea of what the classroom environment is like within the country you’ll be teaching in.

The TESOL course you took sounds great! Any downsides to that?

The course I took was great – but it was long. I made friends for life in that course and have loads of memories wandering the streets of China with them. The problem was that we would have these really intensive and informative mornings and then spend the rest of the afternoon lesson planning and getting “feedback” that wasn’t too valuable. I soon realized I had paid $1,500 to practice lesson plans. If we hadn’t had three-hour lesson planning sessions everyday, I am certain the course could have been crammed into two weeks and half of the price.

With the knowledge you have today about these courses, which one would you take?

I would still take a TESOL or TEFL course abroad. That won’t change. I would search for a free course or a cheap course that provides room, board and experience. I would hope my course was less than two weeks so I could get on with my life and start my new career.

What are the requirements for these courses?

This depends on which country you plan to teach in and where you take your course. Most courses in China require you to be a native English speaker and have a degree. If you’re taking a course in your home country, you’re probably just required to pay a fee.

How much do these courses cost?

Courses range from $0-$5,000. Just because your course is free doesn’t mean it’s bad, and just because your course is expensive doesn’t mean it’s worth all of that money. Do your research and watch testimonials of people who have first hand experience.

(photo credit – Flickr CC: Renato Ganoza)

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