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TEFL Courses Explained – Why You Should Take A TEFL Training Course To Teach Abroad

The ESL market has changed significantly since I first got my start as an ESL teacher in 2002. Back then I got my start on a career in ESL by taking a 100-hour TESOL course and I quickly learned that there is a huge different between teaching English and being fluent in English. Just because you speak English fluently doesn’t mean you understand the mechanics of how the English language works. TEFL courses will give you the basics that you need to become a successful and skilled educator. Here’s why you should take a TEFL training course if you want to teach abroad.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that more and more schools are making a TEFL certification a requirement for hiring. Furthermore, the global ESL market is becoming increasingly competitive due to thousands of teachers applying for teaching positions each and every day. People write to me all the time to ask if a TEFL course is really necessary for teaching abroad. My answer is always a resounding yes.

These are my top reasons for become TEFL certified:

  1. A TEFL course will prepare you for your year abroad.
  2. A TEFL course will help you become a better teacher.
  3. A TEFL course will almost always bring you a better rate of pay.
  4. A TEFL offers job security. More and more schools are making the decision to take on TEFL qualified teachers.
  5. A TEFL course looks great on your CV.
  6. Your TEFL is good for life. You can even use your TEFL in your home country.
  7. The best schools in the industry require teachers to have a TEFL certification.

The current ESL market has a huge demand for TEFL qualified teachers. Reputable schools within the four world giants of the ESL market – China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan – are all starting to make TEFL certifications a part of their regular hiring criteria.


Not surprisingly, the rules for foreign teachers in China change all the time. Simply put, the best schools in China want the best teachers and the governmental agencies that these schools report to are the agencies that set teaching requirements in China.

A number of schools that we work with in China have reported that the Chinese government requires teachers to meet certain criteria before being issued a working Z visa. The general rule of thumb today is that teachers must have two years of work experience post graduation and a TEFL certificate. In some areas, like Shanghai and Beijing, your post-graduate experience must be related to teaching.

If you’re offered a teaching position with a school that doesn’t require a TEFL certificate or a university degree, make sure you do your homework on the school. Most importantly, make sure you find out what kind of visa you will be teaching on. Anything other than a Z visa means you’re teaching illegally in China.


Good schools in Taiwan are now demanding that teachers have a TEFL or teaching experience. Without one or the other, it can be difficult to get in with some of the better paying schools. This is not to say that jobs can’t be found, but more and more schools are asking for qualified teachers each and every day. Furthermore, many schools in Taiwan set restrictions on the type of TEFL a teacher must have, such as accepting no less than a 100+ hour certificate.

South Korea

The Korean government has not yet made a TEFL certificate a requirement for ESL teachers, but it does reward public school teachers with a higher rate of pay. Both public and private schools in Korea give preference to teachers with a TEFL certification.


Most schools in Japan nowadays will want to see that you have a TEFL certification.

Are TEFL, CELTA, and TESOL certificates all created equal?

TEFL certificates come in all shapes and forms, and some are certainly better than others. This is because there are hundreds of different course providers and each provider generally offers several kinds of courses.

For simplicity’s sake, I refer to all certificates as a TEFL certificate. Course providers have come up with their own names for course certification, but there is no regulatory body that standardizes TEFL courses.

For practical purposes, these acronyms all essentially mean the same thing. Here’s a breakdown of some of the acronyms and courses that you will see floating around the Internet:

  • ESL: English as a Second Language
  • ESOL: English for Speakers of Other Languages
  • EFL: English as a Foreign Language
  • ELT: English Language Teaching
  • EAL: English as an Additional Language
  • CELTA: Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TESOL: Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages

Please note that many professionals note a distinction between TEFL and TESL. The same goes for EFL and ESL.

  • TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) involves teaching English for business, travel and leisure related purposes within their own countries.
  • TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) involves teaching immigrants who have moved to English-speaking countries.

Simply put, the best certification that you can get these days – barring university and college courses – is a certificate with at least 100+ hours, preferably classroom based.

When you are thinking about which course to take, please consider the following criteria:

  1. Is the course internationally recognized and accredited by a well-respected agency or authority?
  2. Length of the course
  3. Course content
  4. Which course best suits the country that you are going to?

The Cambridge CELTA course

The Cambridge CELTA course is the granddaddy of all certification courses. This in class course is one of the most widely recognized ESL courses in the world. It takes one month to complete the course work and includes six hours of observed teaching practice. Many teachers choose to take this course at CELTA training centers around the world because it gives them the opportunity to study in an international setting and gain valuable experience abroad at the same time.

TEFL and TESOL Courses

TEFL and TESOL courses don’t really differ from each other except for the fact that they are generally taken by North American citizens.

Deciding on a TEFL course can be overwhelming. TEFL courses vary in length, cost, content, availability; international recognition and in location.

There are many online courses to choose from, but the majority of teachers that we work with recommend the i-to-i TEFL. This course offers a very thorough curriculum, covering everything from classroom management and games to teaching techniques. The i-to-i TEFL course is offered as a 100-hour and as a 120-hour online course. It also offers additional course modules and support for teachers who want to further develop specific teaching skills. i-to-i is certainly one of the best known TEFL courses in the world.

Many courses also offer a classroom component to their certification, so if you can get some hands-on experience along with your coursework, my advice is to go for it!


Individuals with an interest in a long-term teaching career in the US usually take an MA in TESOL rather than a TESOL course. Taking a MA in TEFL program is another option that opens up a world of possibilities for the student. This master’s degree allows students to not only teach English overseas, but also qualifies them to teach at the post-secondary level all over the country. Many who take this degree program end up teaching at universities in the United States, where they ensure that students have a solid grasp on the English language before they continue their studies. It is possible to complete this master’s program online, making it much more accessible for the average person.

DELTA Course

For those of you who have a CELTA course and several years of teaching experience, a DELTA (Diploma of English Language Teaching to Adults) is highly recommended. This course is specifically designed for teachers that are planning on furthering their career as a TEFL instructor, and it comes highly recommended if you are considering a position as a Director of Studies (DoS) at a language school.

ESP Courses

Teaching English for Special Purposes involves teaching English to professionals in fields like nursing and banking. You must have field experience in order to pursue one of these courses. If you are planning on specializing in areas such as Business English, teaching young learners or teaching English for Special Purposes (ESP), you might want to consider one of the following options:

CELTA and the CELT Young Learner Course

CELTA certificates are geared towards teaching English to adults, but if you’re a teacher that loves working with children, consider getting the CELTA YL extension course.

Business English Courses

Business English teachers are always in high demand. Many Business English teachers find work through companies rather than in a language school.

This monthly series is designed for ESL educators in countries all over the globe. This month’s Blog Carnival is being hosted by TEFL Tips.

Check back for more articles, and if you’d that would like to contribute to our ESL Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me through the CONTACT page.

Notice: The information provided in this post is based on information given to us by the government agencies and client schools that we work with and are based on the feedback provided by our teachers.


GoTeachAbroad’s Guide To TEFL Certification

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!


  • Josh Aggars

    Wow Carrie, that is a heck of an insightful report! Talk about all you need to know on TEFL in SE Asia. I’m going to bookmark this for future ref as it’s something me and Mulan have discussed in the past and definitely on our future to do list so thank you.

    How are you anyhow? How is Taiwan today?

    I might have another beach for you soon for best beaches in Asia. Will email details soon.


  • Jenna

    This is a great resource. I started teaching EFL abroad without any training (just a B.A. in an unrelated field). I soon realized that teaching English is hard and that without training, I would be lost (even though English had always been my strongest subject in school). I went back to school and got an M.A. in linguistics. I have been teaching ESL to adults in the U.S. for 12 years. It’s very rewarding work!

  • May Verdejo

    Hi Carrie, are there online TEFL certificate courses? Is it possible to get a comparative list of fees for enrolling in such a program? Looking forward to your reply.

  • Danielle Kjar

    Hi Carrie,
    I have a few questions regarding a tefl course. I am an American living in London, currently working with children. I am a level 3 nursery nurse. My university degree is English Literature and I would love to become certified to teach English to both adults and children. I work with a diverse group of children and most have not acquired English. Would an on-line course allow me to teach? Any information or recommendation is greatly appreciated.

    • Carrie

      Hi Danielle,

      Thanks for writing! If you’re interested in teaching in Asia only, an online degree will get you in most doors. I to I has a 120-hour TEFL certification that’s quite reasonable. Reach To Teach is offering a 10% discount on this course if you sign up through this page:

      If you plan on teaching in North American,South America or Europe, you’ll want to get a professional course. The CELTA Cambridge course is a great course if you’re interested in teaching adults. My second recommendation with be International TEFL Academy’s 170-hour online course. That course will allow you to teach anywhere in the world. A friend of mine owns that company, so let me know if you’re interested. I might be able to work out a discounted rate for you. Here’s the information:

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • colleen kelly

    I have been both a teacher and a lawyer. After I receive my CELTA, is there a course which specifically focuses on teaching Legal English to adults? I agree with you that the Cambridge program is the granddaddy. Would you recommend Dubai or Sri Lanka as a site for study?

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