What is TEFL?

The acronym TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. While this term is used for the physical act of actually teaching English abroad, it is also commonly used to refer to the training courses that many prospective teachers complete before heading overseas, and the qualification that they receive upon successfully graduating from the course. By gaining a TEFL certificate it is possible to find work as an English language teacher in almost any country of your choice worldwide.

While researching the ins and outs of English language teaching you are likely to come across a few other acronyms similar to TEFL that can cause some confusion, such as TESOL, TESL and ELT. The truth is that these acronyms are generally used interchangeably and different countries, companies, and individuals have their own preference as to which they use and how they use them. The technical definitions of these acronyms are outlined below.

TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language

This term is predominantly used when English is being taught in a country where it isn't the native language (for example teaching English to Spanish people in Spain).

TESL - Teaching English as a Second Language

This is where English is being taught to non-native speakers of English in a country where it is the native language (for example teaching immigrants in the UK/USA).

TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

This term theoretically encompasses both of the above.

ELT - English Language Teaching

This term is often used to refer to either TEFL or TESL by some institutions in the U.K.

TEFL Qualifications

If you plan to join the many thousands of people who head overseas each year to teach English, you should seriously consider completing a TEFL certification course before you start applying for jobs. A TEFL certificate is the standard qualification for English language teachers worldwide, and although it is still possible to find teaching positions in some countries without certification, the vast majority of employers who offer a good rate of pay and a settled work environment now expect their teachers to be TEFL certified.

Choosing a TEFL Certificate Course

Unfortunately, a quick online search will reveal that there are a large number of course providers offering all manner of TEFL courses that vary hugely in terms of cost and the time required to complete them. So how do you know which one to choose? The first thing to remember is that TEFL courses are usually categorized by the estimated time they take to complete. For example, you will find courses ranging from as little as 40 hours or even less, all the way up to 500-hour courses and beyond. The rule of thumb here is that anything under 100 hours is generally considered an introductory course that is ideal for people planning to volunteer as an English teacher; however, a certificate of over 100 hours is usually expected for most jobs that pay a good salary.

Online or In-Class TEFL Course

As well as being offered in different durations of study, TEFL courses are also offered in different formats. If you are looking for a complete training package that includes real classroom teaching practice, an in-class TEFL course might be the right choice for you. In-class courses generally run for 4-weeks and are often held in areas where there is a strong demand for teachers. With the benefit of teaching practice in a controlled classroom environment and the local knowledge of the training center, most graduates have little trouble finding a job upon graduation. The downside to this form of certification is the cost, as 4 weeks training at an international location can be prohibitively expensive for some trainees.

If you are restricted by budget or have time restrictions that rule out an in-class course, then an online TEFL course is probably your best bet. Although online courses don’t normally involve any teaching practice, a good quality course from a reputable course provider is still widely accepted by many employers worldwide. As distance learning has rapidly gained in popularity over recent years, the quality of online TEFL courses has also increased to meet the demand. Regardless of your timeframe and budget, there is now a TEFL course option available to everyone who wants to change their life by starting a new career as an English language teacher at home or overseas.


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