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TEFL, TESOL or CELTA – which is better?

You’ve decided you want to teach English abroad (brilliant decision!) but now you’re up against a mountain of bewildering letters. TEFL, TESOL or CELTA – which is better? In fact, what do they all mean?

Don’t panic. We’re here to unravel the mysteries and guide you out to a world of teaching and travelling abroad.

What do TEFL, TESOL and CELTA stand for?

Let’s get the acronyms out of the way first. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. And CELTA stands for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (until recently it stood for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults).

In other words, TEFL and TESOL are general names for the field of teaching English to non-native English speakers and CELTA is the title of a specific TEFL / TESOL certification programme that would-be teachers can take.

What is the difference between TEFL and TESOL?

Technically TEFL refers to teaching English to non-native English speakers in countries where English is not the first language. TESOL, on the other hand, covers all forms of teaching English to non-native English speakers – including to non-native English speakers in countries where English is the first language.

In practice, the terms are used pretty interchangeably across the world. The one you hear is more likely to depend on which country you happen to be in at that moment.

In the US and Australia, for example, TESOL is commonly used. Across much of the rest of the world, including in the UK and Ireland, you’re more likely to hear the term TEFL.

What is a TEFL certification course?

TEFL is a general name referring to teaching English to non-native English speakers. A TEFL certification course is a course that trains you how to do this. You end up with a TEFL certificate if you successfully complete the course.

There is no internationally agreed TEFL accreditation board or set of standards, which means that there is a huge variety of TEFL courses out there. However, some individual countries have options to quality assure course providers and regulate qualifications, which can be applied to TEFL. In the UK, for example, you can be confident that a TEFL certification course is of a reasonable standard if it:

  • Lasts for a minimum of 120 hours, including any online delivery
  • Is delivered by an accredited provider (i.e. the course provider has gone through external quality checks by a recognised quality assurance body)
  • Leads to a regulated TEFL qualification, listed on the Ofqual (England) or SQA (Scotland) register
  • Gets good reviews on independent sites such as reviews.co.uk

What is a TESOL certification course?

A TESOL certification course is similar to a TEFL certification course. You may find some variations in tone as TESOL teachers are more likely than TEFL teachers to teach English in a native English speaking country, however the vast majority of the content is the same.

The main difference is that, at the end of a TESOL certification course, you will end up with a certificate in TESOL rather than TEFL.

Is TEFL or TESOL better?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Despite the technical differences between TESOL and TEFL, in practice the courses tend to cover similar content and many TEFL employers don’t distinguish between the names on a certificate.

If you do want to work in a specific school or country, it’s always worth checking if they have any particular requirements before you sign up for a course. Otherwise, select the course (and name!) that works best for you.

What is the difference between TEFL and CELTA?

A TEFL certificate is a general name for the certificate awarded at the end of a TEFL certification course. It does not refer to a specific qualification or body.

CELTA is the name of one specific TEFL qualification and a CELTA course is a course that leads to that qualification. CELTA is the most widely recognised TEFL qualification worldwide and meets all the quality marks we outlined above – but ultimately it is simply a ‘brand’ of TEFL certification.

Is CELTA better than any other TEFL qualification?

CELTA (followed by its close competitor CertTESOL) is the most well-known TEFL qualification out there. CELTA courses are run across the world and are tightly regulated in terms of both content and quality, meaning you can be confident you’ll be getting a good quality, trusted course wherever you take it.

CELTA courses also offer more hands-on teaching experience than many other TEFL certification courses – and having CELTA on your CV definitely moves you up the TEFL job application ranks. In fact, if you’ve not got CELTA or CertTESOL on your CV, you’re highly unlikely to find a TEFL job in a native English speaking country or with certain employers, such as the British Council.

On the downside, CELTA requires a fairly hefty investment both of time and cash and alternative good TEFL courses offer similar content at a fraction of the price. In addition, CELTA courses often rely on their name alone to attract students to a course. Other TEFL providers need to work harder to draw in students, so can offer valuable add-ons such as support with finding jobs and preparing for your first lessons as a TEFL teacher.

Ultimately, if you’re looking at TEFL as a long-term career option or want to teach in a native English speaking country, CELTA definitely can be worth the investment. If you’re planning to teach English as part of a travel adventure in Asia and South America, say, then it’s worth also considering TEFL / TESOL certification courses run by accredited providers – you could use the money you save to book that first flight!

Read our article Which TEFL course should I take to help work out the best option for your situation – and start turning your dreams of working your way around the world into reality!

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