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5 Things to Look for in a TEFL Certification

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Looking to move overseas and experience the international adventure of a lifetime while getting paid to teach English abroad in a great foreign country like Italy, China or Argentina? Virtually any English speaker can teach English abroad, even without prior teaching experience or a degree in education, but unless you hold a degree in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL, aka TESOL), earning a quality, accredited TEFL certification will be key to ensuring your success.

A high quality TEFL certification will provide you with the skills you need to become an effective teacher and a qualification that tens of thousands of schools and language institutes around the world require and seek when they hire English teachers. The bottom line is that taking a TEFL class will qualify you for more jobs and better paying jobs teaching English abroad, and it will enable you to provide your students with the quality educational experience that they deserve.

Spend 5 minutes looking up “TEFL certification” or “teaching English abroad” on Google, you will quickly find yourself swallowed up by a confusing myriad of different TEFL training programs and courses. So, what do you need to actually look for and how do you know if a TEFL certification course will provide you with the training and qualification you need to get the best possible job teaching English abroad? And what about job placement assistance? Here are five key elements to look for in a quality TEFL certification.

1. At least 100 Hours of Training & Coursework

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According to international standards recognized by leading accrediting bodies, thousands of language schools around the globe, and major organizations within the field like the British Council, a professional level TEFL certification for teaching English abroad must incorporate at least 100 hours of class time and academic coursework as accredited by a recognized independent body.

This equates to a four-week, intensive, full-time class comprising at least 25 hours of class time for each week, or the equivalent in an online class. Anything less - including weekend courses, two week courses, etc. are not going to meet international standards for a professional level TEFL certification.

2. Live Practice Teaching is Critical

Working with actual ESL students is critical to providing you with actual hands-on experience teaching English as a foreign language and enabling you to gain the level of comfort and confidence necessary for you to succeed as a professional English teacher when you first walk into a classroom in Tokyo, Madrid or Buenos Aires. Most schools and language institutes around the world seeking to hire English teachers, as well as recognized accrediting bodies, require that any professional level TEFL certification course incorporate at least 6-20 hours of live practice teaching with actual non-native speakers.

role-playing with other students in your TEFL class may be useful, but potential employers do not consider it to be true practicum and will likely not recognize any TEFL certification that does not incorporate live practice teaching with actual ESL students.

NOTE: Do not assume that online classes do not incorporate a practicum, because some do, and don’t assume that every in-person class does include a practicum, but they do not. Be sure to check whether any TEFL class you look into incorporates a practicum, because it is a critical element for any top level course.

The vast majority of schools and language institutes around the world looking to hire you as an English teacher will not only look to see that you have a TEFL certification, but that it is accredited by a recognized, independent body within the field.

3. Accreditation from a Recognized Independent Body

The vast majority of schools and language institutes around the world looking to hire you as an English teacher will not only look to see that you have a TEFL certification, but that it is accredited by a recognized, independent body within the field. This is to verify that your TEFL class meets certain quality standards with regards to its curriculum, hours of training, practice teaching and the level of instructions. A website may claim that its self-taught, online class with no practicum is 120 hours, but unless it is accredited as such by a recognized independent body, that is virtually meaningless.

recent tefl certificate ownership

In his terrific “Guide to TEFL Certification,” Andrew Dunkle lists some major accrediting bodies including ALTE, English Profile, QuiTE, British Council, NCFE, ACCET, IATEFL, ODLQC, ACTDEC, the College of Teachers, and/or the University of Cambridge.

BE AWARE! Some TEFL training schools will claim accreditation or even create their own accrediting bodies, complete with bogus websites! Others may claim “recognition” or “membership” in an organization with an impressive sounding name to mask the fact that they aren’t truly accredited. To make sure that any course you take is actually accredited, check to see if the accrediting body is one that is listed above and make sure to check links – if it’s broken, the site looks unprofessional, or if it is owned or managed by the same person or company that operates the TEFL class, you know it is bogus. Bottom line: accreditation is critical!

4. Instruction Provided by Highly Qualified Trainers

If you seek to be trained and qualified (and paid!) as a professional English teacher, you owe it to yourself to receive professional level training from highly qualified instructors. Typically that means that any professional level TEFL certification course that you take should be taught by a university-level instructor with at least a master’s degree in TESOL or a related field, and extensive experience both teaching English as a foreign language and training teachers.

Be wary of TEFL classes, especially self-taught online classes that offer the services of a “tutor.” While some of these tutors may be qualified, there’s a reason why they are referred to as “tutors” rather than “professors” and in many cases, their qualifications may not amount to much more than 6 months or a year of teaching abroad.

Be sure to check whether any TEFL class you look into incorporates a practicum, because it is a critical element for any top level course.

5. Quality Job Placement Assistance

While job placement assistance may not be featured in the actual curriculum and coursework of a quality TEFL class, if you are going to invest your time, money and dreams in a TEFL certification course to teach English abroad, receiving quality job placement assistance is a critical element of any TEFL training program. It’s one thing to take a great a class, but navigating job markets, interviews and recruiters is also a crucial to making sure you land a great job teaching English abroad.

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It you will greatly enhance your opportunities to land a great teaching opportunity abroad if you receive training from an organization that can provide first-rate expertise; personal assistance with the interview process; and resources like contacts for schools and recruiters, referrals to top-level recruiters, and information about matters likes visas, interviewing seasons and hiring requirements.

Some quick tips for finalizing your TEFL training plans

Before you run out and send inquiries to every TEFL program online or elsewhere, keep these bits of wisdom in mind:

Do your research & speak with any TEFL certification program before enrolling. If you’re going to invest your time, money and dreams of living and teaching abroad in a TEFL course, you need to make sure that it’s up to snuff. Thoroughly check out their website and call them! Ask them about accreditation, practicum and job placement assistance. Ask them about job markets, interview procedures and matters like visas and hiring requirements. If they can’t answer basic questions about hiring requirements for South Korea or what the deal is with visas for teaching English in Spain, then you shouldn’t waste your time getting certified through such an organization.

Be wary of ultra-cheap classes. While some training is typically better than no training, if you think that you’re going to earn an accredited, professional-level certification and receive the job placement assistance you need to navigate job markets in Italy, Russia, or Thailand by taking an $89 self-paced online TEFL class that you bought on Groupon, you’re fooling yourself. TEFL classes are like anything else – if an offer or price seems too good to be true, it probably is, and you will get what you pay for when it comes to the quality of training, the accreditation of the course, and services like job placement assistance, which should be included with the tuition of your course.

Revel in your excitement! Finding the right TEFL course for you will take a bit of work, but don't let the added stress bog you down. It is all part of the journey that will land you abroad for the adventure of a lifetime. Keep the end goal in mind (your students and their needs, especially!), and enjoy the process from start to finish.

It you will greatly enhance your opportunities to land a great teaching opportunity abroad if you receive training from an organization that can provide first-rate expertise.

Typically, tuition for a legitimate, accredited 120-hour (100 coursework, 6-20 hours of practicum), four-week intensive class will range from $1,500 - $2,500. An equivalent online TEFL class that meets international standards typically costs $1,000 - $1,500.

Certainly taking a high quality TEFL certification class will require an investment of time and money. But when you consider that you are planning to move to a foreign country to live and work, and that you will receive a certification that will qualify you for tens of thousands of jobs worldwide and enable you to live and work overseas at virtually any point in the future, it may be the best investment you ever make.

Photo Credits: Reach to Teach and ITA.
Disclaimer: We have paid relationships with some of the companies linked to within this article.
John Bentley

John is a Senior Admissions Advisor at the International TEFL Academy. He holds a BA from Harvard University in Middle Eastern studies and a master’s in Journalism. John was an author for the Egypt-Israel edition of the Let's Go! travel guide series. He grew up in Egypt and has traveled to more than 50 countries. Find John on Google+.