TEFL is Teaching English as A Foreign Language – that is, to adults or children whose first or main language is not English. Having a well-regarded TEFL qualification opens up employment opportunities both in the UK and overseas, at the same time as giving you the chance to gain teaching experience and develop your own language skills by living and working in another culture. Working as a TEFL teacher is a popular way for graduates to fund travel plans and for some it becomes a long-term career.
The Covid-19 pandemic may have led you to postpone your travel plans for the time being but that doesn’t mean you’ll also have to put your tutoring on hold. Websites such as tefl.org provide advice about how you can go about conducting lessons online with people around the world. Then, as and when the time comes, you might decide to use the qualification to travel.
TEFL, TESOL and TESL: what do they mean?
This is a field that is packed with acronyms, which are often used more or less interchangeably, though it is important to be aware of the potential differences – especially when researching courses that use these terms.
- TEFL is a broad umbrella term for teaching the English language to students of any age who do not speak English as their first language. It is sometimes used to refer specifically to teaching pupils who are normally resident in a country where English is not the first language.
- TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is sometimes used specifically to refer to teaching English to people who are living in the UK but who do not speak English as a first language and need to develop their English language skills for day to day life.
- TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) is typically used to refer to teaching English to people who have moved from their own country to the UK or another English-speaking country. Teaching English as an Additional Language (TEAL) is also used to describe this kind of work.
Other terms used to refer to teaching English to those who don’t speak it as a first language are ELT (English Language Teaching), EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
What qualification do I need to become a TEFL teacher?
There are two main internationally-recognised TEFL qualifications: the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course and the Trinity College London TESOL certificate course, commonly referred to as CertTESOL. These qualifications are often specifically requested by recruiters. They involve supervised teaching practice and typically take about one month of concentrated study time to complete, though there are also flexible and part-time options available.
Both Cambridge CELTA and Trinity College London CertTESOL courses typically widely available in locations across the UK, alongside opportunities to study for these qualifications or other TEFL courses overseas. Due to the pandemic, the Cambridge CELTA can now be completed online, without any requirement for face-to-face training or teaching. You can find out more about where you can complete the CertTESOL by looking at the individual course providers.
The CELTA qualification is awarded by Cambridge English Language Assessment, part of the University of Cambridge. You can get advice on CELTA courses offered by the British Council from the Teaching English website.
A range of specialist and higher-level courses are also available, including study at masters level and courses for those who wish to train other teachers. For example, you could progress to the Cambridge DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or Trinity College London DipTESOL qualification. These courses are suitable for graduates with TEFL experience who wish to deepen their expertise or progress to senior roles. There are also higher-level qualifications for experienced TEFL teachers who wish to take on management responsibilities and specialised courses for teaching English to specific groups of students, for example, teaching business English.
It is also possible to take a PGCE (Postgraduate or Professional Certificate in Education) qualification that includes TEFL.
There are many other courses, qualifications and providers offering TEFL training in different formats, including distance learning and taster courses. It is very important to remember that anyone can set up a TEFL course and no formal accreditation is required, so you should always check carefully what is on offer. The British Council is a useful source of information on training and opportunities to teach overseas.
If you are considering teaching in Japan, the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is supported by the Japanese government and recruits graduates in any subject to work as assistant language teachers in Japanese schools.
TEFL work in the UK is generally based in urban areas and involves teaching residents whose first language is not English. In the holiday season, from July to August, there are opportunities to teach English to overseas students who are visiting the UK.
Questions to ask when choosing your TEFL course
Make sure you’re clear about what is on offer before you commit to a course. Here is a checklist of points to consider:
- What qualification is offered? Is it externally accredited?
- What qualifications and experience do the course tutors have?
- What are the pass rates?
- What is the structure of the course? Find out how many contact hours to expect (time spent face to face with tutors and fellow students) and check the arrangements for teaching practice.
- What support does the course provider offer in finding a TEFL job on completion of the course? What links do they have with employers? What percentage of past students have found TEFL jobs, and with which employers?
- How does the course provider accept payment for places?
- What are the facilities like? If you are going to take a residential course, what accommodation is offered, and is it free or subsidised?
How will I find a TEFL job?
Although it’s possible to find jobs teaching EFL without any experience or qualifications, most language schools require a degree (in any subject) and a TEFL certificate such as the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity College London CertTESOL.
Most TEFL contracts are fixed term and last between nine months and two years. When you’re able to travel again, it’s well worth making sure you know what to expect before you head off:
- Find out as much as possible about the country you’re going to be teaching in.
- What will you be paid and what are the holiday pay and sick pay arrangements? What will your working environment be like and what accommodation is on offer?
- Check your contract carefully. How long is it? Will you have to teach at evenings and weekends? Is planning time included in your normal working hours? What will the dress code be?
- What age will your students be? Is the school single sex? What size are the classes?
If you are a qualified teacher with a PGCE and a couple of years’ experience teaching in the UK, you’ll be in a strong position to find work in an international school overseas when travel is easier and safer. These can offer attractive benefits such as a good salary, flights and accommodation.