Which EFL teaching program is right for you?

May 10, 2021

Danielle Bodnar

Maybe you want to find a way to see the world and come in contact with other cultures, or you want to make a difference at home by helping immigrants learn English. Perhaps you love the English language so much that you want to teach it to eager learners wherever they are in the world. Whatever your case may be, teaching English to speakers of other languages, also known as TESOL, will put you on the right path to achieving your career dreams.

Why get certified?

Some employers, especially in other countries, are so eager for native-speaking English teachers that they don’t require any certification. However, without certification, you may get paid less and have problems finding another, better job if working with that first employer doesn’t work out.

Despite how some teachers make it look, teaching is not that easy. If you don’t have experience with teaching, taking a teaching certification program can prepare you on what to expect, how to manage a classroom, and deal with students of various skill levels and temperaments.

Even if you have some teaching experience, certification programs in English language teaching can be useful. This can be because native speakers have learned to accept aspects of the language that can be really confusing for English learners. A certification program may help you better understand and communicate with English learners.

English teaching is not just for native speakers. Non-native speakers can get certified too. The main requirement to take any of the following certification programs is proficiency, or near-native level, in English.

Luckily for aspiring teachers, there are many certification program options. What are the options and how do you pick the right TESOL program?

University programs

The most rigorous route to becoming an English language teacher is to enroll in a university program. Reputable universities offer post-baccalaureate and master degree programs that provide a thorough curriculum in both theory and practice, and tend to be 1-2 years in duration. Most universities incorporate internships into the curriculum, which helps students get experience before they complete their degree.

A full university program may suit you if you know you want English language teaching to be your long-term career. If so, the hefty investment of time and money will likely be well worth it. However, if you’re looking at English language teaching as a career break or as a springboard to a life and career abroad, the upfront costs may set back your goals. What’s more, while most universities offer programs aligned with TESL or TESOL certification, teaching certification is not always included in the program. Preparing for teaching certification may cost additional time and expenses.

Many university English language teaching programs focus on immigrant learners. If your plan is to move abroad to a specific country, this may not match your interests. As immigrants come from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the language teaching advice you get may be too broad for your needs.

The real hurdle when it comes to pursuing university programs is undeniably the cost, which can range from $4,000 per year to upwards of $50,000. That’s hardly a small change for someone looking to change careers fast. And considering that English language teaching is not typically the highest-paid profession, tuition costs will take a long time to recover in wages earned.

TESL/TESOL/TEFL certification

All 3 of these terms are sometimes be used interchangeably, and most employers, domestically or internationally, will recognize any legitimate teaching program regardless of the acronym. However, the acronym of the certification program can tell you what type of English language students the program focuses on and the skills the certification program hopes to instill in the trainee teachers.

Most TESL/TESOL/TEFL programs have similar requirements to enroll including a minimum age of 18 years, a high-school diploma, and proficiency in the English language. So no matter your age, qualification background, or native language, you’re eligible for a large swathe of TESOL programs.

TESL/TESOL certification

TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language, and TESOL is the acronym for Teaching English to speakers of other languages. TESL and TESOL tend to be used almost interchangeably these days. While TESOL is a more general term to describe English language teaching, TESL is specifically used to describe domestic English language teaching in English-speaking countries. You most commonly find TESL or TESOL certification programs offered through universities and online programs that mainly focus on English learners living or looking to live in predominantly English-speaking countries.

In addition to North American universities offering TESOL certification, there are non-university-affiliated TESOL programs offering over 100 hours of course instruction and 20 hours of teaching practice. TESOL certification covers teaching non-native speakers both within the country and in non-English-speaking countries. TESOL is the most commonly recognized certification in English-speaking countries. However, TESOL on its own may not be enough to teach English in an English-speaking country, as additional certifications may be required. TESOL is the most common certification for those with teaching experience, or a degree in education, or a similar field.

TEFL certification program

TEFL stands for – Teaching English as a Foreign Language – which underlines its purpose. TEFL certification is the most widely recognized teaching certification internationally, and is one of the more sought-after certificates in countries where it is difficult to immerse oneself in the English language. As a native-level speaker with a TEFL certificate, you serve not just as a teacher but also as a linguistic ambassador, sharing your culture and language with students.

TEFL certification requires at least 100 hours of coursework, making it much less time-intensive than a master’s program. A typical full-time program will take about a month to 6 weeks, while a part-time or online at-your-own-pace program may take 3-6 months. This also means less money, as TEFL programs range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

What to look for in an independent TEFL/TESOL program

There are a lot of TEFL/TESOL certification programs out there, and most of them are not affiliated with universities. It’s wise to check the program outlines to ensure that it does provide proper certification. The most recognized and reputable TEFL programs offer at least 100 hours of coursework, usually 120 hours, at least 6 hours of practicum in which you practice teaching in front of real students, accreditation from one of the numerous independent organizations, and qualified instructors who typically have education and certification beyond TEFL. Some programs also provide a robust job search support and guidance network.

If you want to get certification teaching young learners in particular, there are TEFL extension programs that offer such coursework. Some programs may offer it as a supplementary part of the main course, while others consider it a separate, albeit shorter, program in itself. This may also be something to think about when browsing through the numerous TEFL programs out there.

Please note that not all TEFL programs offer in-class practice as part of the curriculum. If you already have some teaching experience, this may not be a problem, but otherwise, your first day of teaching after certification may feel a bit like getting thrown off the deep end.

CELTA certification program

Another type of well-recognized certification, arguably the most recognized in the world, is the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, or CELTA.

Unlike TEFL certification programs, CELTA programs are accredited by a single body, Cambridge University. This can make CELTA certification easier for employers to trust, as there are no unusual acronyms to decode and double-check. As Cambridge is based in the U.K., this certification is highly recognized in both Europe and Britain’s former colonies, where some employers prefer the CELTA over TEFL certification.

CELTA programs are similar to TEFL in that they are often short, at four to five weeks for a full-time program, but they are more rigorous and more expensive than most TEFL programs. CELTA also has the typical TEFL enrollment requirements of a minimum age of 18, a high school diploma, and proficiency in the English language. The program also follows TEFL standards with 120 hours of coursework, including 6 hours of assessed teaching practice. Unlike some TEFL courses, CELTA always keeps classes small, with 6 students per tutor and 2 tutors teaching per course. CELTA courses have always had an online option, and in light of the pandemic all courses are now offered online.

As the name suggests, CELTA is mainly for those who want to teach English to adult learners, whether it’s at the university level, as business English, or as a private teacher. While CELTA used to offer an extension course focused on young learners, it has since been discontinued. If you’re primarily interested in teaching children or teenagers, a different program may be more suitable for you.


The DELTA program (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) is very similar to CELTA. However, while CELTA is more akin to TEFL programs, DELTA is more advanced. Unlike CELTA, DELTA is for those who have already been teaching English for at least one year.

The program is composed of 3 modules designed to further deepen your understanding of English language teaching. The first and third modules can be taken independently at your own pace, while the second, which involves developing teaching practice, needs to be taken as a traditional course. The timeline can vary from a few months to over a year, depending on your pace.

Considering that there are 3 modules, each ending with an assessment, the DELTA program is more intensive than other programs. This program is more for English teachers who are looking to advance their careers, especially if they plan to be teacher trainers or department heads.


TKT, Teaching Knowledge Test, is another certification program offered through Cambridge and that takes another approach to teaching certification. As the name suggests, TKT is a course based on a series of modules, with exams taken at the end of each module. This program has a lower language proficiency threshold than the other programs on this list, with the minimum level being an independent English language user. Hence, for students without an advanced level of English language proficiency, the TKT may be the most suitable certification option.

In addition to the 3 basic modules —background to English language learning, lesson planning, and managing the teaching and learning process— the TKT program offers 2 specialist modules, which are open to CELTA trainees as well.

The first specialist module is the young learners (YL) module that focuses specifically on teaching young learners. The second module is the content and language integrated learning (CLIL) module that dives deeper into content and language. Similar to the DELTA program, TKT is mainly for those who are already teachers and want to advance their professional qualifications. Though, unlike DELTA, all modules, which are simply tested in online assessments, can be taken either independently or via a formal course.

In-person or online?

These days, securing a spot in an in-person program is as much a gamble as booking a flight to Greece. But even as we have yet to move toward the post-pandemic era, the question of in-person or online learning is still worth asking. After all, what good will your learning be if you’re not doing it the way you learn best?

Another way to look at it is whether you willing to wait, or looking to kick-start your teaching career as fast as possible? If your answer is the latter, then the choice is obvious. Online programs are still steadily humming along during this extended period of social distancing. Some TEFL programs even offer an online practicum. If your plan is to move abroad, this may be a little harder to do, although is can depend on the restrictions of your desired country of residence. But with a little patience and dedication, you’ll get your teaching certification and prepare to start your English teaching career.

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