What is TEFL?
TEFL or Teaching English as a Foreign Language refers to teaching English to students
whose first language is not English. There are other terms that are often used to
mean the same thing as TEFL, but do differ slightly. TESOL (Teaching English to
Speakers of Other Languages) and TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) are
two such terms, but differ to TEFL in that students may be living in an English
speaking country and are learning English as a second language. Two other terms
ESL (English as a Second Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) are often
used as general terms to refer to both the act of teaching English and the act of
TEFL usually takes place in state schools, private language schools and on a one-to-one
basis in non-English speaking countries. TEFL can also take place in English speaking
countries. This usually occurs when students come from abroad and enroll at language
schools for short courses. This immersion style of learning is very popular with
students as it is both educational and exciting.
Should I get a TEFL certificate?
TEFL jobs in the East usually do not require the teacher to have a TEFL qualification.
Jobs in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan usually only require the teacher to have a
Bachelors degree. This poses the question: Why should I bother getting a TEFL qualification?
Firstly, it will prepare you for teaching if you have never taught before. This
will be extremely important when you first start a teaching job in a foreign country.
You will undoubtedly be dealing with culture shock and trying to get settled for
the first few months. Learning how to teach English will be an added pressure, which
might just cause you to pack your bags and head home. Many language schools have
little in the way of teacher training and will expect you to “know” how to teach
English purely because you can speak it.
Secondly and most importantly, getting a TEFL certificate is the first stage in
becoming a professional TEFL teacher. Some teachers do a TEFL course after a few
years of teaching. They do this to improve their teaching abilities and to help
them develop in the ESL / EFL field. Better paying jobs require the teacher to have
a TEFL certificate. Take a look at jobs advertised for countries like Hong Kong
or in Europe. Most of them require some form of TEFL certification.
Which TEFL course should I do?
There are numerous types of TEFL courses available, so choosing a course can be
very confusing. At present there is no international organisation that accredits
TEFL qualifications. In general, employers will accept most types of 4-week, 120
hour TEFL certificate. However, when employers are more selective the preference
is usually for the UCLES CELTA or the Trinity CertTESOL.
The CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) is awarded by the
University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). The CertTESOL (Certificate
in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is awarded by Trinity College
London. Both of these courses can be taken at centres throughout the world. Prices
tend to differ from country to country.
Some international chain schools like Berlitz require teachers to train in their
own particular teaching methods and will not recognize any TEFL qualifications.
Other chains like EF English First offer subsidised TEFL courses on condition that
teachers work at one of their schools for at least a year.
What is it like to teach TEFL?
Teaching TEFL is quite unlike any other occupation. It involves moving to another
country which will probably be very unlike your own. You will need to use your native
language in the workplace, but communicate (at least partly) with people outside
of the workplace in a foreign language. The stress of adapting to this different
way of life is referred to as ‘Culture Shock’ and is one of the biggest causes of
people abandoning TEFL as a career.
For the most part TEFL teachers are not highly paid. However, in many countries
TEFL teachers are paid very little compared to other jobs in their home country,
but are well paid compared to locals. This means that they are able to have a comfortable
middle class lifestyle. There are well paid TEFL jobs even by first world standards
in places like the Middle East and Hong Kong. Taiwan and South Korea also offer
reasonable salaries, but are attractive to teachers because of the lower cost of
living. Japan is also monetarily an attractive destination for TEFL teachers. Wages
are very low in Thailand yet it is a very popular destination for TEFL teachers
mainly because of the attractive lifestyle.
Care should be taken by TEFL teachers when accepting employment from overseas. There
are constant reports of abuses of teachers and broken contracts by employers. The
danger of being exploited increases greatly when working in a foreign country where
you don’t speak the language and don’t know your rights as an employee. Almost anyone
can open a language school which leaves the industry open to abuse by unethical
employers. Before accepting employment research the school and contact teachers
who have worked at the school. If possible visit the country and school before signing
a contract. Cross-cultural misunderstandings are sometimes to blame for conflicts,
so be patient.
TEFL can be an adventure or a life-long career, but either way research, prepare
and have fun!