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Teaching English Abroad: 6 Considerations For Choosing a TEFL Certification

By  July 31, 2017

Having a TEFL certification can mean better schools, better pay, and may even be required for a work visa. But which kind of course should you choose?

TEFL certification is still a little like the Wild West: there is no single internationally recognized accrediting body, and the quality of TEFL courses varies enormously. There are some highly credible TEFL providers that offer month-long (or longer) detailed in-class courses, which include a teaching practicum. But beware; the sector also attracts a certain number of sketchy operators that will basically write you a certificate in exchange for payment.

Do you need a TEFL certificate? The answer to that question is often a matter of personal choice. If you lack teaching experience, or have doubts about your grasp of the rules of grammar, a TEFL course can help you feel much better prepared to teach English. For many contracts, you will be expected to hit the ground running, and it is not uncommon to find yourself teaching within the first few days of arriving.

Having a TEFL certificate can also improve not only your job prospects, but also your potential salary. Some employers pay TEFL-certified staff higher salaries than uncertified staff, for the same positions. The difference in pay can often more than make up for the cost of a course. In some countries— Vietnam, Mexico, Turkey, many areas of China, for example—a TEFL certification is required to qualify for a working visa.
Choosing the best TEFL course for you depends in large part upon your objectives. If you are gaining a certificate simply to tick a box (for example, for visa requirements), you may be able to get away with an inexpensive online course. But if you are looking to gain some knowledge about teaching, classroom management, English grammar and language learning, then you will want to research dependable TEFL providers. Here are some factors to consider as you weigh your options:

1. Is the course online or in-class?

While the quality of online courses is now typically much higher than it used to be—and can include classroom participation, teacher feedback and the like—it is still the case that not all employers will accept an online certification. Further, a course that involves some teaching practice is going to better prepare you for stepping into a classroom and teaching your first students. However, an online course is usually a small investment that enables you to get a taste for teaching English, and what it entails, before deciding whether this is right for you.

2. How many hours is the course, and how is that time spent?

Beware of simply comparing the number of hours stated in the course description. For example, are the hours taught or self-taught? Do they include your practicum element? Be sure to clarify this in advance. Hours are also important because some employers (e.g. government schools in Korea) do not recognize TEFL certifications below a minimum number of hours (120 hours in this case, at the time of writing).

3. Does the course include a practicum?

And, if so, with whom? Your classmates or real English learners? How many hours is the practicum? Is it monitored and assessed, and do you get feedback?

4. Does the course provider have any professional accreditation or affiliation?

There is no single internationally recognized accrediting body for TEFL certification. However, accreditation bodies do exist. Some are very reputable, while others are bogus—essentially started by TEFL providers in an attempt to lend their own courses some credibility. Be sure to check out any accrediting organization thoroughly. Also, be aware that there is a big difference between a TEFL course provider having a professional membership in a TEFL industry association—which usually involves simply paying a fee—versus accreditation, which involves meeting a set of standards.

5. What is the curriculum content?

Of course, the curriculum content is likely one of the most important factors in your decision—and it can also be a difficult one to get information about. You'll want to find out if you will actually be learning anything more than you could teach yourself online—but also whether the content is relevant to your needs. For example, if you are planning to work as a private tutor, then a TEFL course that focuses half of its time on classroom management and public speaking is probably not what you want. If you never formally learned the rules of English—and this is true of many people who grew up speaking English—you might consider enrolling in a course that has a strong grammar component. It is not uncommon for learners in other countries to be well-versed in English grammar—and being well-prepared to explain some detailed rules of English can help you to avoid potential embarrassment.

6. What post-training support is offered?

One advantage of taking a course is that many of the more reputable TEFL training centres have contact with recruitment agencies, and can help you with advice and contacts to obtain a job after your training. If this service is important to you, then be sure to research it prior to signing up. But beware of "job guarantees." If they sound too good to be true; they probably are.

The gold standard of short-term courses in this industry is the Cambridge CELTA. These are four-week, full-time courses that include teaching practice—and usually come with a very high price tag. The CELTA name is well-known and respected. Some other providers have developed courses modelled on the CELTA program, and these can be equally comprehensive. Choosing to take one of these courses is a significant commitment of time and money, and is probably best suited for individuals who are absolutely certain of their intent to teach English.

Overall, there is a plethora of TEFL providers out there, and a correspondingly diverse array of courses to choose from. This is one area where you do really need to do your research to ensure you are getting what you expect and what you need. Make sure you consult online forums (there are many out there for prospective English teachers), and ask course providers plenty of questions. Don't be afraid to ask to be put in touch with former students, who can share their perspective about the course and the company support. A reputable school will not hesitate to do this.

 This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Verge. 

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Published in Work Abroad
Jeff Minthorn

Publisher, Editor-in-Chief

A co-founder of Verge Magazine and the Go Global Expo, Jeff is a well-known voice in the area of international working, studying and volunteering and was writing about gap years before the term even appeared the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Having worked, studied and travelled on six continents, Jeff is passionate about the important role international experience plays in developing responsible, caring global citizens. He has spoken to audiences across Canada and the United States on subjects ranging from how to plan an international volunteer experience, to developing effective media skills and literacy.
Jeff holds two degrees from the University of Waterloo. Before co-founding Verge, he spent 10 years in the field of experiential education, including several years training experiential educators. Through Verge and the Go Global Expos, Jeff has been helping to connect international organizations and global citizens for nearly two decades.

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