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What's the Difference Between CELTA and TEFL?

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If you've given any thought to teaching English abroad, you’ve more than likely seen a lot of different acronyms thrown around when talking about certifications -- TESOL, CELTA, TEFL and TESL to name just a few.

We're going to help you understand... the difference between TESOL, CELTA, and TEFL certifications and pick which one is right for you!

It can get confusing, and it’s sometimes difficult to know what certification you actually need, so with this article, we’re going to try to cut through the clutter a little bit and help you understand the difference between TESOL, CELTA, and TEFL certifications and pick which one is right for you!

Explaining TEFL, TESOL, and TESL Certificates

TESOL TEFL course at a glance

Before we get into explaining a TEFL / TESOL certificate, first let's dive into what the acronyms TEFL, TESOL, and TESL mean. While there are obviously differences between them, you shouldn’t worry too much about whether you receive a TESOL certificate or a TEFL certificate during your preparations to teach English abroad.

If you are looking to remain in your home country and teach English as a Second Language, then you’ll want to do some research and find out more about the requirements to work as an ESL teacher in your particular state or region, as they can vary pretty widely. But, in a nutshell:

1. TEFL

Probably the most common acronym, TEFL refers to Teaching English as a Foreign Language. In theory, a TEFL Certificate is what you want in order to teach English in a country where English is not the native language (Thailand, for example.)

2. TESOL

Another very common acronym, TESOL refers to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. For example, if you are a US citizen, and you want to teach English to a student whose native language is not English, this is a great certification to have. TESOL and TEFL are used pretty much interchangeably in the industry at this point.

3. TESL

And finally, TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language. A TESL Certification might be used to teach English to someone who lives in an English speaking country, but whose native language is not English. For example, a US citizen teaching English to a recent immigrant in the US.

Now, the confusing part is that all of the above are used pretty much interchangeably these days. For the purpose of this article, we’ll stick with the acronym TESOL, as it’s probably the most widely used and recognized certificate out of the three.

TESOL Certificate at a Glance

  • Some courses are accredited by an external body like the College of Teachers or ACCREDITAT, some are not.
  • Price varies anywhere from a couple hundred dollars for an online course to $3,000 for an on site course. Generally less expensive than CELTA.
  • Prerequisites again vary -- some will require a completed college degree, some will not. Generally participants need to be at least 18, but there are exceptions.
  • Curriculum will be anything from an easy online course to a rigorous onsite course. Look for at least 100 hours of classroom time, as well as at least 6 hours of supervised practice teaching.

What is a CELTA Certificate?

Celta courses at a glance

To make things even more confusing, you might have also seen the acronym CELTA referred to when talking about becoming certified. Don’t worry though, it’s really a lot less confusing than it seems! You can essentially think of TESOL as the product, and CELTA as a specific brand of that product.

The acronym CELTA refers to the Certificate in Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages -- it was formerly known as the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, but changed about 15 years ago.

You can essentially think of TESOL as the product, and CELTA as a specific brand of that product.

Most distinctively however, all courses are affiliated with and accredited by Cambridge University. Because CELTA courses are all affiliated with Cambridge University and have to adhere to the same standards, it is sometimes viewed as the more prestigious certification.

When hiring schools see a CELTA, they know that the course had to cover certain requirements -- which is often a perk for both the hiring bodies and the teachers applying for teaching jobs abroad.

However, the reality is that TESOL and CELTA certifications are also becoming more and more interchangeable these days. More and more TESOL courses are meeting or exceeding the standards set forth by Cambridge University for CELTA certification.

In short, you can certainly achieve the same level of preparation by attending a TESOL course, but the problem is that there is less oversight and more of a range of quality within TESOL courses. That doesn't mean you should throw the idea of a TESOL course out the window, but that you have to be careful the course you select is a thorough and accredited one.

CELTA Certificate at a Glance

  • Affiliated with Cambridge University
  • Price varies greatly, but ballpark $1500-$4000.
  • Course length is full time, 4-5 weeks, part time 2-3 months.
  • Prerequisites are over 18 and native-level English skills, usually determined by a test and interview.
  • Curriculum is six hours of practice teaching and four written assignments.

Which One is Right For You?

The bottom line is, if you take a CELTA course, you pretty much know what you are going to get. That’s not to say that all CELTA courses are good, but you know that they will have to cover a certain curriculum, and adhere to certain standards.

With a TESOL/TEFL course, there is a little bit more risk involved. There are a lot of different providers out there, and no one central authority in charge of oversight. If finances are a big factor, you can find cheaper TESOL courses out there, but again, be wary about deals that sound too good to be true.

Don't assume that a provider is solid because they offer a CELTA course, and don't assume that every TESOL company is a scam.

With both certifications, you’ll want to do some research beforehand and make sure that you are signing up for a thorough course that meets the requirements you are looking for. Read reviews. Don’t assume that a provider is solid because they offer a CELTA course, and don’t assume that every TESOL company is a scam -- the course can also go above and beyond the Cambridge University standards if it chooses!

Browse all CELTA and TEFL courses.

Photo Credits: Sean Eshoo and infographics by Jessie Beck.
Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at LanguageCorps and a freelance writer, in between playing drums in various touring bands and trying to be a better photographer. Follow him on Google+.