Acronym overload! Which certificate is the best for teaching English to non-native speakers?
October 1, 2007 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I want to teach English. TEFL, TESOL, TESL, CELTA, ESOL: what, exactly, is the difference? Which ones are the most highly respected?

I live in the U.S. and I want to teach English to non-native speakers both here and abroad. Which certificates are the most widely accepted and respected?
posted by HotPatatta to Education (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And what has been your experience with finding employment with your particular certificate?
posted by HotPatatta at 6:23 AM on October 1, 2007

TEFL seems to be the most popular that I've known.
posted by k8t at 6:31 AM on October 1, 2007

As a former ESL, EFL instructor, I can't say that any of these certificates are 'respected' abroad. Locally and at home, you may wish to identify what college (post-secondary institution) you want to teach at, see what certificate they like, and get it. Personality and the ability to stand in front of a class and deliver lessons seem to be more important than anything else.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:47 AM on October 1, 2007

I agree with KokuRyu. If you have a specific goal in mind, you can research the sort of school where you'd like to teach and see what the reqs are. In my experience, I never needed any certificate. You'd be surprised how far enthusiasm and charisma can carry you. Still, they help, so if you're up for it, and you want to be prepared, do the research. None of them are more or less respected, just different and different programs have different preferences.
posted by mateuslee at 6:53 AM on October 1, 2007

I respectfully disagree. If any of the English language schools in Ireland employed someone to teach EFL without a TEFL cert they could lose their accreditation. ( I used to run the system).

Yes you can get jobs with just some Chutzpah but often they are not the better or well-paid ones (in an industry that gives new meaning to the words minimum wage!). A TEFL cert is like a bit of additional insurance, I'd get it or the CELTA.
posted by Wilder at 6:56 AM on October 1, 2007

Wilder speaks wise words. ESL, EFL or whatever can be a fairly unstable way to earn a living, so a little extra alphabet soup after your name can help a lot. However, I wonder how places around the world actually accredit language schools. British Columbia, which hosts significant numbers of Asian students every year, does not. Neither does Japan or Korea or China...
posted by KokuRyu at 7:18 AM on October 1, 2007

I've been in China for five years, and have taught in various levels, and while I've seen a few schools that boast of having teachers that have some of those certifications, I've never seen it required, and I've never seen any evidence of it affecting one's ability to get a job over here in any kind of school, from crappy private language schools all the way to well-known colleges. Some schools require a bachelor's degree, but it often doesn't matter too much what field it is in. You could almost argue that any field is English related if it was taught in English.

Another thing to consider is that most of those acronyms, if not all, are just private companies that "certify" people in English teaching. As far as I can tell (and I never got one myself) is that many of them are just looking for suckers. Someone else may tell you otherwise, but that's my impression.

I know that doesn't answer your main question, but I hope it helps with perspective.
posted by strangeguitars at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2007

I am an EFL/ESL teacher trainer. I have trained as a CELTA and SIT TESOL Certificate trainer. Both of those certificates are internationally recognized.

What you want is a certificate that is a) externally assessed and b) includes a practical teaching component.

The CELTA has been around longer, and is more widely recognized in Europe. The SIT TESOL Cert is newer, and is mainly known in the Americas.

Most of the terms you have asked about are really just acronyms, and as far as I understand they are not specific qualifications!

TEFL = teaching Eng as a Foreign lang.
TESOL = teaching Eng to speakers of other langs
TESL = teaching Eng as a second lang.
ESOL = Eng as a Second or other lang.

Email is in profile if you would like any further information, good luck.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:05 AM on October 1, 2007

strangeguitars: a piggyback question if you see it. I have little formal training (one linguistics class in my undergrad days), but I've been speaking English all my life...I've lately considered teaching English in China. (Note: I know no Chinese, but I'm not bad at picking up languages.) Could you recommend any resources for setting that up if I decide to go that route?
Rather than further diluting this thread (sorry HotPatatta!), my email is this username at gmail.
posted by solotoro at 8:38 AM on October 1, 2007

Mrs arcticseal did a CELTA qualification last year, very intensive and it taught her a lot. Course was tough, lots of hands-on experience and only 50% pass rate for the people in her class.

She found it a good program and it's stood her in good stead on our current international posting.
posted by arcticseal at 8:48 AM on October 1, 2007

As Meatbomb was saying, mostly you're just talking about different acronyms for the same idea. ESL was replaced (in some places) with EFL, acknowledging that many people already speak more than one language before learning English. The newest is EAL: English as an Additional Language. (Throw a "T" in front of any one of those and it become Teaching English...) What KokuRyu said is probably true--pick where you want to end up and find out what they want. If you really aren't sure, just find a good, reputable program.
posted by wallaby at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2007

ESL is teaching English to people with a non-English background, in an English-speaking country.

EFL is teaching English to the natives in a non-English-speaking country.
posted by Rash at 3:20 PM on October 1, 2007

I can't really help you with US specific stuff, and all my advice is peppered with the disclaimer that I haven't taught TESOL for 6 years. I did the Trinity College TESOL course about 7 years ago. The other main option at the time I could find was the CELTA.

They both seem to disagree over which is the most widely recognised worldwide ;)

They are both short courses, typically done as an intensive 4/5 week course, or 1 evening a week for a year. If you go for the intensive route, be aware it is intensive, and you will have to put your life on hold while you do it if it is going to be worthwhile.

When I was doing my course I was told that the difference was that CELTA only looks at teaching adults (that's what the A stands for). I did my course at a state community college (not quite the same thing as what you guys have in the US, but similar), and most of the teaching practice they offered during the course was with primary school children, so they offered the TESOL certificate.

I would go for TESOL, because it makes you more versatile. But that's just me. I like kids.

I would do some training at least, because it means you might have half a clue what you are doing. Also it does make you more employable. I worked in Poland and I didn't see any school advertising for unqualified teachers. I had to take my certificates with me to prove I'd done a qualification, and I had a letter of reference from my course director. Over there I was working alongside Polish teachers who had an MA in teaching English. My 4 week certificate was put to shame. But at least I could hold my own in lesson planning sessions, I knew my way around English Grammar, what the phonetic alphabet is, and the difference between the FCE and the CAE, and so on...

I wouldn't go and work for a school that took unqualified teachers. But that's just me.

Be aware that there are cowboys in this industry.

For interest, and anyone wandering into this from other places. There are other routes into teaching English in the UK. I've talked about this before.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2007

Also teaching TESOL means there's too much teaching going on... sorry.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:32 PM on October 1, 2007

For teaching in the US, you generally need a master's degree in TESOL to teach at the community college or university level, as well as for many intensive English programs. This degree is also widely accepted in overseas universities, though many ads will also request publications and experience. Teaching K-12 depends on the requirements of the state. In California, you'll need a teaching credential even if you have finished the master's.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been told that the average college-level instructor works for 7 years before getting a full-time job. YMMV--some people get lucky earlier, others do, and others (like me) strike out in other directions.

You can contact me through the e-mail in my profile if you want to talk more.

I urge anyone else who is considering teaching EFL overseas to at least take a certification course that includes both theory-based studies and in-classroom experience. Being a fluent or native speaker of English does not automatically mean that you can teach the language. Speaking and teaching are two wildly different skills, and while there are a few natural teachers in the world, normal intelligent human beings need training in order to do a good job. It's true that there are plenty of McEnglish jobs that require no real effort or knowledge on your part, but at least if you do a certification program you'll realize what your students (and you) are missing out on.
posted by wintersweet at 6:14 PM on October 1, 2007

On the subject of accreditation, there are systems in almost every English Speaking country, but for the most part they are voluntary.
The UK goverment is talking of compulsory accreditation within 2 years. Brave but I don't see it working. Ireland has RELSA.
There's English Austrailia and English New Zealand and a host of international organisations to try to self regulate the industry. Have a look through the acronym soup and look for those letters in an employer.
I, too, would not work in a company that took unqualified teachers but YMMV.
posted by Wilder at 3:33 AM on October 2, 2007

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