3. The Visa and MasterCard of TEFL Certificates

There are thousands of available programs but only a few meet the requirements listed in the previous part. When you go abroad, you need a certificate as acceptable and well known as your VISA or MasterCard. 

You won't travel abroad with a Papa Murphy's Pizza charge card: nobody takes it. Likewise, obtain a credible certificate if you want the employers to take you seriously!

In the global TEFL market there are only two names that are recognized as worldwide: the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate and Trinity College London. 

These are the international examination authorities that validate the most respected and recognized TEFL certificates:

Cambridge CELTA  
Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
Certificate in TESOL  
Awarded by Trinity College London

There is also DELTA -- the Diploma, an advanced version of CELTA.

"...I never would have gotten the job without the CELTA. I started looking for work about 3 weeks ago and in the past 2 weeks I've had 7 job interviews and 4 job offers. I've never felt so wanted in all my life!"
--Gordon Reisdorf

If you are serious about teaching English overseas these are the two courses you should choose from. They are available through many centers worldwide. Go through our TEFL school listings and see for yourself: many schools REQUIRE one or the other. 

Would it be overkill if you only look for a short-term job? Probably, if your goal is travel teaching in some remote countries.

Advantages: worldwide acceptance. Training focused specifically on TEFL issues.
These two are akin to VISA and MasterCard: whatever school and country you go to your CELTA or TESOL certificate will make you stand out from the crowd of applicants. 

Disadvantages: as with any quality products - these certificates come with a price, in terms of the money and effort you have to invest. We will discuss
the alternative options later in this chapter.

-- I have a different certificate; what should I do?


Many schools will accept your qualifications, especially if you have full-time teaching experience. Personal qualities and experience are of paramount importance!

-- Where can I find the listings of reliable TEFL courses?

-- Go to the ESL section of Joyjobs.com members area and select the TEFL Certification Programs. 

The database contains the most reputable courses in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

*** Joyjobs.com is not affiliated with any of the mentioned certificate programs.

Alternative Certification Programs

By "alternative" we mean non-CELTA and non-TRINITY courses although they do not label themselves as such. Because their international acceptance and overall recruitment potential is lower we place them in a separate category.

US College and University ESL Programs

The majority of US colleges and universities offer some kind of ESL certification program. If you are considering such a course keep in mind its drawbacks:

The majority of US colleges and universities offer some kind of ESL certification program. If you are considering such a course keep in mind its drawbacks:

1. The focus of these courses is primarily on immigrants and their needs in a new country. This means that the structure and content of these courses is oriented toward integration of new immigrants in the North American culture. The materials designed for immigrants (e.g. how to use US public transportation, Laundromats, money, etc.) can be offensive to EFL students who are not interested in immigration; they take English classes to improve their lives at home.

2. These courses do not provide adequate hands-on training leaving you with little practical skills. 

3. Because of the different target market and lack of practical training most reputable overseas employers do not recognize these certificates. 

Independent Certificate Programs

You probably know at least one or two of these programs: their number has increased exponentially in the past few years. The thing is that there are no legal requirements for such a program and virtually anyone can design and run a certification program.

Being commercial ventures these enterprises vary in quality and price and you should be VERY careful when selecting one. 

Why do people choose an independent certification course over the most reputable CELTA and Trinity? Because they have a number of very attractive advantages:

1. They are consumer-oriented. As any business they compete for your money offering affordable prices.
2. "Ease of use." You can take them part-time and combine current work with training. 
3. You have a choice of programs, prices, time-lines, etc.

Why are these programs inferior to CELTA and Trinity?

Their weaknesses come from their strengths: being consumer-oriented they often lack what the employers value.  Specifically:

1. Since many of the independent commercial ESL programs are not monitored and evaluated externally they have less value in the eyes of overseas recruiters (they are less reputable than the CELTA, for example, that has a rigorous monitoring system.)
2. Their target is ESL for immigrants and as such they lack the international focus.
3. They also lack the practical training: many of these courses provide very little teaching experience. Even the little hands-on experience they provide usually involves immigrants or fellow students.
4. As a result, most reputable employers do not accept these certificates.

On the credit card comparison scale, these programs range from AmEx (good) to Maestro Electron (waste).

MA TESOL Programs

MA TESOL programs are offered by many universities in the USA and Canada; however, their quality varies from school to school. If you are looking for an administrative career in ESL this is the right program to choose. For teaching English overseas it is often impractical, here's why:

1. Many MA TESOL programs have an emphasis on theory while the employers look for those with practical skills and experience! This is a big drawback.
2. As with most other US-based ESL programs their focus is on teaching English to immigrants. Foreign schools are not particularly interested in this area of English.
3. MA TESOL degrees are expensive and take over a year to complete.
4. Although MA TESOL is accepted everywhere in USA and Canada many overseas recruiters do not recognize it as a valid certificate.

However, if you look for an administrative position (e.g. Director of Studies) MA TESOL is excellent.

MA TESOL is similar to the Diner's Club card: expensive, prestigious but not practical in most cases.

Proprietary (In-House) Programs

There are several school chains that operate in a wide range of countries and use proprietary teaching methods and instruction materials. Some of them are well known in many foreign countries. 

Other in-house courses are provided by individual schools and less-established organizations. The employers often use the "free" training as an additional benefit in their recruitment materials. 

You must realize, however, that such a free course is usually too short to allow effective training (two weeks maximum). In-house programs are primarily geared towards the specifics of the school. If the chain is big and has schools in several countries you may find some flexibility in terms of contracts and countries. However, since the teaching method and instruction materials are proprietary your certificate will have little or no value to other schools.

These certificates are similar to local grocery and supermarket cards: they work only at selected locations.

Distance Learning Programs

Recently, we are receiving many inquiries about internet-based TEFL training programs. Naturally, many people find them exciting as they offer affordable and no-sweat certificates.

To be the top dog, however, you should always approach the employment issues from the recruiter's viewpoint. Unfortunately, the distance learning programs have little to appeal to the overseas recruiter. Since none of them recognizes these certificates it is generally a waste of money to take a distance course. There are a few exceptions when a distance course may be the only option, for example if you live in the Outback or a similar remote and hard to reach area. Otherwise, don't bother.

Introductory Courses

These might be useful those who plan to teach while traveling and need some basic skills and teaching know-how. Travel teaching is increasingly popular with various types of people who come from all walks of life. If you're thinking about combining your travel with teaching English it is a good idea to invest some time and effort in an ESL workshop or a short introductory course. Even though the reputable schools do not recognize these courses you may find them useful in terms of basic understanding of TEFL methods.

The Bottom Line: 

Take CELTA or Trinity. It is an excellent investment in your future TEFL career. Make your job search easier, and your work pleasant. 

If a CELTA or Trinity course is out of the question, evaluate the alternatives using the following guidelines. Remember that you get what you pay for: attractive prices mean that you have to sacrifice quality.

How good is the program?

1. Make sure overseas employers recognize the certificate otherwise the whole project is a waste of time and money
2. Make sure the program is at least 100 hours. IMPORTANT: this is instruction time only, excluding homework, lunch breaks, etc.! 
3. It is essential that the program is issued and validated by an external authority, for example, a university. The value of a program is much less if it is solely home-grown. 
4. Make sure you will get at least 6 hours of supervised teaching practice. This does not include team teaching. Your supervisor must provide written evaluation sheets.
5. Grammar is the weakest link so makes sure the course includes at least 12 hours on grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
6. Make sure you will be able to observe a few classes given by experienced EFL teachers. 
7. Make sure the class size is within 15-16 participants. Large classes are ineffective.

What are the financial conditions?

1. Make sure you will be able to receive a full refund if you cancel it or a partial refund if you drop out during the program. 

How much experience does the school have?

1. Make sure the school has been in business for at least 3 years, 5 is better.
2. Make sure you ask for references from the past graduates.
3. Make sure the TEFL trainers have at least 5 years of full time experience.
4. Make sure the trainers are certified! For a trainer, a MA TESOL or a Diploma is a standard requirement.

Does the school offer placement assistance?

1. Make sure the program offers placement assistance.
2. Make sure you receive a graduate credit.

Most of this information will be covered in the school's application brochure. However, it pays to ask questions. If the school is reluctant to provide the information it is not a good sign.  Walk away: there is a large choice of TEFL schools to choose from.

Overseas Courses

Sometimes it makes sense to take a course in a less expensive country. Tuition fees are lower in many countries; even though you have to pay for airfare and accommodation you can still save money by taking a certification course abroad.  

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