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 studying English.

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!