Teach English Abroad – Should I get a TEFL, a TESOL, TESL or a CELTA?

  • Should you get a TEFL, a TESOL, TESL, a CELTA
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Bangkok GirlsPhoto Credit: Halfeez



TEFL: Teach English as a Foreign Language (awarded by varying educational establishments). Course duration is for 40 hours or more. There is no required hands-on teaching assessment. Thus, a TEFL certificate is not considered as valuable as TESOL or CELTA certificate.

TESOL: Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (awarded by Trinity College, London).  Involves a minimum of 100 hours of theory, together with six hours of teaching. Learn more about the curricula on Wiki.

CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages (as a provision of Cambridge English Language Assessment). Involves 50 percent learning of theory, and 50 percent hands-on teaching. Learn more about the CELTA curricula on Wiki.

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language (awarded by various educational establishments). Refers to teaching English in an English-speaking environment. There’s no obligation for teaching assessment, thus, TESOL is seen as a lesser qualification by some prospective employers.



Should you get a TEFL, a TESOL, TESL, a CELTA



So, should you get a TEFL, a TESOL, TESL, a CELTA? Or something completely different?

Confusing, right?

Short and sweet answer is: Depends on what you want to do with it. It’s merely a tool, after all. A tool to get you to where you wish to go. And it should work to complement other tools that you have within your arsenal, and that you build up over time.

Long and still sweet answer is:

If you want to earn some decent cash flow, you’ll need a degree for starters.

If you have the degree, and it need not necessarily be in English – it can be in arts or whatever – then your best bet is to get a CELTA certificate – if you want to go in for the big money. Big money? Like, $100 US per hour sort of thing, yes.

The highest-end jobs are no longer in countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong, or Japan. They are in the Middle East. And in the Middle East, you don’t pay tax on your income – definite added bonus, no?

An online TEFL will do perfectly well if you’re intent on teaching in the likes of China, for example. And, quite frankly, most teaching English jobs are available in China. The governmental drive for schools to teach English (as in read and write, not actually speak – yeah, it’s like kinda, um, duh??), means that the demand for native English speakers in China is colossal.




And where better to travel than in China? It’s absolutely vast, and stunningly beautiful. And it’s extremely safe, too. I know – I lived there for almost 2 years.

Again, though, even in China these days, a degree is very much sought-after. A TEFL or a CELTA will open a few more doors to you, but you can still teach English in China without a TEFL or a CELTA. You do need a degree to teach in larger cities – Tier 1 and Tier 2, as they are called.

Tier 1 cities include: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen.

Tier 2 cities include: Tianjin, Chongqing, Wuhan, Chengdu, Xiamen.


For smaller Chinese cities, you may not be asked for a degree in order to take up a teaching position. In fact, the smaller the city, the less likely the demand for a degree will be. However, smaller cities tend to pay less. But then, in smaller cities, the cost of living is correspondingly less.

With respect to cost of living in China, even in the likes of Shanghai and Beijing, you can live pretty cheaply in comparison to the Western world. Rents are fairly high in centralized areas, yes. But you can eat out extremely affordably. And supermarket goods are relatively inexpensive, unless they’ve been imported from Western countries, then the added tax is an added cost burden.

So, to get back to the main point: A degree is most desirable, irrespective the subject matter. A CELTA qualification will land you the highest earning jobs. An online or offline TEFL certificate will open plenty of doors in Asia without any prior hands-on teaching experience. An TEFL will open doors to all sorts of jobs if you do have a year or more teaching experience under your belt. 



As a final word.

You see, the thing about teaching is this: It’s a job.

Now, fine. You could argue that it’s a fleeting job if your intent is to travel around a lot. You’ll perhaps stick in one place for a few months, then move on someplace else.

But that’s just it. You’re stuck to a job – stuck to rigid hours. Stuck playing fiddle to someone else’s tune, basically. And that, to me, equates to confinement

You may even be expected to work six days each week, which I was. But then, I’m a dork.

Doesn’t leave much time for traveling, does it?

So, with this in mind, there are better ways to make ends meet – if your main goal is to actually travel.

On the other hand, if your key focus is to teach, and you couple that with the desire to experience life in a different country to the one you were born and/or bred, then an investment in a TEFL, TESL, CELTA, or a TESOL will be valid preparation.

And with this in mind, my own personal recommendation is to undertake an online TEFL with a company called the International TEFL Academy. 

The price is not to be sniffed at, but the International TEFL Academy’s TEFL course offers no less than 150 hours of online training and course work, in addition to a further 20 hours of hands-on practicum work whereby you teach actual students under the guidance of a trained and experienced professional teacher. 

To learn more, download the International TEFL Academy’s free brochure: Click on the image below.




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