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How to Choose Which Teaching English Certificate to Get

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In the English teaching/learning world, there seems to be a lot of acronyms – EFL, TESOL, TEFL, ESL, IELTS, and the list goes on.

All of these letters seem, at times, to be more confusing than learning the language! In a lot of job offers you may see them ask for a TEFL but then another post asks for a CELTA. I've taught English in 10 countries around the world and am the co-founder of the online TEFL certification course, TEFLpros. Read an honest, non-sponsored review of someone who was certified by TEFLpros and is currently teaching abroad in Thailand.

Another great place to consider teaching in Asia is Vietnam. It's especially great place for beginners.

It can honestly be really confusing to people like me who even have already been teaching for years but even more so to new teachers. In this article, I will break each one down so that you can make savvy choices when doing your research and finding out which certification is right for you.

Basic Acronyms:


English as a Foreign Language – This is for English being taught in a country where the native language is not English. For example, if you are teaching English in Japan, you are teaching EFL.


English as a Second Language – This is for English being taught in a country where the native language is English. For example, if you are teaching English to immigrants in America, you are teaching ESL.

Certification Course Acronyms:


Teaching English as a Foreign Language – This certification is the most widely recognized of the “three Ts”.

A TEFL certification opens doors for you to teach in a country where English is not the native language. But not all courses are created equal. 120-hours is the industry standard course length; don’t go for anything less.

Also beware of too good to be true options that are dirt cheap. They may get you a bottom of the barrel job, but you will be wildly unqualified to teach which is really just a disservice to the kids/adults that you’re teaching. Plus, do you really want to stand in front of a classroom of 50 people and not know what you’re doing? Or start that sweet job of teaching online and get a couple bad reviews? It’s best to invest in a course that will actually prepare you to do and KEEP your job.

A good online course is about $300-$400 and can typically be completed at your own pace. A good in-person course is $1300+ but requires you to take almost a month off from work and travel to the location.


Teaching English as a Second Language – This certification is not very common and it’s designed for people who want to teach in a country where English is the native or predominant language. Typically, in these countries you will need to get additional education certifications to teach in public schools etc.


Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – This is a newer certification and is somewhat of a hybrid between TEFL and TESOL. Most schools accept it interchangeably with TEFL certification.


Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults – CELTA is the most rigorous certification course and the only certificate accepted by some cream of the crop schools.

It is administered by the Cambridge English Language Assessment (a department of Cambridge University). A CELTA is a 120-hour course that you can take in-person in over 70 countries or as a hybrid online/in-person course. It takes 4-5 weeks to complete and if you ask a CELTA grad, they will all tell you it consumes their lives for that window of time.

A CELTA will set you back nearly $2800-$3000 but there will be absolutely no question about your certification.

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English Proficiency Test Acronyms:


Test of English for International Communication – The TOEIC is a US based standardized test that is typically used for non-native working professionals to demonstrate their English competency.

The standard test consists of a Reading and Listening section and is scored out of 990 points. There are other options for a Speaking and Listening test and a writing test as well.


Test of English as a Foreign Language – This is a US based test that is used for university acceptance for non-native speakers.

The test assesses the four major language areas – listening, speaking, writing and reading – and focuses mostly on academic related topics. There is a paper-based test and a more common internet-based test with a maximum score of 120.


International English Language Testing System – The IELTS is the British English language assessment test for non-native speakers.

There are many different versions of this test depending on whether you plan to use it to study or for work or for visa purposes. IELTS is scored on a band system with 1 being a non-user and 9 being an expert user. It tests non-native speakers’ ability to listen, read, write and speak in English.

There’s still a lot more to learn about each of these areas but hopefully after reading this article you’ll be a little less confused about all of those letters!

Now that you have that sorted and are feeling more confident and ready to starting teaching English abroad, explore all of the amazing places you could work!

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