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TESOL, TEFL or CELTA? Navigating the alphabet soup of educational certificates can be downright daunting. Fortunately, once you understand what different education providers want, you can determine which is best for you. In this article, we will explore what a course in each certificate entails.


The TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is perhaps the most well-known, but that isn’t to say it is a magic size that fits all. TEFL courses come in varying lengths, prices, and quality. There isn’t one universal accrediting agency or body, so a potential TEFL course student will have to do their due diligence to seek reviews and look at who exactly is accrediting your effort.

While courses can range anywhere from 20 hours online to 200 hours online, in a classroom, or both; the important number (as of time of writing) to remember is 120. Whether you are teaching online or plan to take a journey across the globe to teach in a brick and mortar classroom in a foreign country, schools and companies frequently expect teachers to possess at least 120-hour certificates.

The courses themselves generally cover areas that any potential teacher needs to be comfortable with. Topics will include everything from lesson planning and language skills to teaching methods and classroom/time management, as well as various teaching resources. The more advanced TEFL’s will have options for specific English courses like Business English or Preschool English.

If you are new to teaching, having a practicum as part of your TEFL course can be a huge help to put theory into practice. A practicum is usually 10 to 20 hours of real-life teaching practice. You may teach ESL students, or with classmates (if you are doing an in-person certification course). It is an opportunity to get feedback and gain more confidence as you prepare for your ESL teaching jobs.

Prices vary widely. In-person courses tend to be more expensive than online-only courses, but that isn’t all you should factor in when selecting a program. Accreditation, quality of teachers and materials, and post-certification resources are all aspects to consider when choosing your TEFL course.

When all is said and done, the first and last thing you need to do is research the courses reviews. Also, don’t be shy, contact a school or company that provides the certification and talk to them in person. It never hurts.


A TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is yet another choice of certification a teacher can pursue. What makes it different? Well, nothing much. There was a time when TESOL and TEFL certs weren’t as interchangeable as they are now, but that time has since passed. Ostensibly, TESOL prepares teachers for teaching ESL learners who are living, studying or working in a country where English is the native language.

TESOL courses, on the whole, contain similar content and adopt a similar structure as their TEFL counterparts. What can you expect to be the most significant difference? TESOL courses may focus more on how to teach daily communication skills rather than grammar and language structure. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.

In the end, one man’s TESOL is another man’s (or woman’s) TEFL. For online teaching, I have yet to hear of a company that takes one and not the other.


The CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) has a well-known air of prestige around it. The best way to think of the Celta is to think of champagne. Where the TEFL is a sparkling wine with many regions making their own variations and recipes, the CELTA is the champagne. It is held to a stricter standard and as such, commands a bit more respect and bigger commitment.

Cambridge is the institution that has set the standards for the CELTA. They have set up centers around the world that provide an intensive in-class course that focuses on hands-on ESL teaching practice and classroom observation. It is invaluable for the career-minded teacher that wants to understand the ins and outs of the classroom paradigm. To sign up for a CELTA course, you do not need to have a previous certification or teaching experience; however, you will need to go through the application process.

The time commitment is quite a bit different for the CELTA. It requires a minimum of 120 hours, usually about 4-5 weeks if you study full-time. Cambridge offers online CELTA courses, but you will still need to attend a center for teaching practice. As the champagne of ESL certifications, you can expect CELTA courses to cost more than your average TEFL course. But the prices usually vary depending on where in the world you decide to take your CELTA course.

Obtaining a CELTA is certainly not for everyone. Nor is it required by most online schools. But, for the teachers who plan to make a career of teaching ESL, it may lead to better job opportunities than just a TEFL or TESOL. A recent Cambridge study showed that about 75% of international employers preferred CELTA holders.


With so many options and acronyms vying for your attention, confusion is understandable. When all is said and done, take a step back and assess your needs first. How far do you plan to take your learning and career in teaching ESL? What is your budget? Do you feel like an online course or on-campus course is better suited to your learning style? Once you have figured out what you need, you can narrow your search, and the rest will fall into place.

Which certification do you have or plan to get? TESOL, TEFL or CELTA? Or, something else?

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