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Your TEFL Training Options

A Guide to TEFL/TESL Programs in N. America



For people who want to obtain full training, there are two major options:
1) an MA TESOL degree from a university, or
2) a TEFL certificate.
In general, MA TESOL degrees are most appropriate for people who already have TEFL/TESL experience and/or want to teach mainly in Canada and the USA. Certificate programs are more appropriate for people who are new to TEFL and who want to teach overseas.

It is important to realize that "TEFL certificate" is a generic term and that many different TEFL certificate programs are now available. As there is no effective regulation of programs, they vary enormously in terms of quality and of recognition by employers. So if you are thinking about taking a TEFL certificate course, you should research the different programs to make sure you find one which will provide effective training and will be recognized by employers.

The best employers require TEFL training that includes at least 100 hours of training and a minimum of 6 hours of supervised practice teaching. Several 4-week intensive TEFL programs meet these requirements, as does the English International "Certificate in TEFL with Practice Teaching" course, which can be completed entirely by distance learning.

Most overseas employers frequently recruit teachers who have no formal TEFL training. Courses that are shorter than 4 weeks or that do not include practice teaching will help you to find a job with these employers.


MA TESOL Programs

Many US/Canadian universities offer MA programs which provide a sound theoretical foundation in TESL/TEFL. Courses involve lectures, seminars and ESL class observation. Some include supervised practice teaching.

  • Courses provide a foundation in TESL/TEFL theory.
  • The better courses also provide supervised practice teaching .
  • MA degrees are widely accepted by US employers and are normally required for jobs with universities and colleges.
  • MA TESL degrees are usually required for non-classroom jobs (e.g., those involving program or materials design).
  • Courses are comparatively long and expensive.
  • Many programs focus on TESL to immigrants, rather than on TEFL to students overseas.
  • Some courses provide little or no supervised hands-on training with foreign students.

If you intend to make a career in TEFL, you will probably need to obtain an MA at some point. However, it usually is best to start by taking a good TEFL certificate course. This will enable you to gain some overseas teaching experience before deciding whether to embark on TEFL as a career. The certificate training and the overseas experience will then help you to get into a good MA TESOL program and to get the most out of it.

Some MA TESOL programs that have a good reputation are those offered by: Columbia Teachers College (New York), the Monterey International Institute (California), SIT (Brattleboro, Vermont) and USC (Los Angeles).


The Cambridge University CELTA Program

The CELTA is the most prestigious of all TEFL certificates and one of only two which enjoy worldwide recognition. (The other is the Trinity College TESOL Certificate, which is not generally available in North America.). CELTA courses are offered by over 200 centers in 40+ countries, including several centers in the USA and Canada. All courses are rigorously monitored by Cambridge University.

  • Courses provide practical training in proven classroom techniques for teaching EFL overseas.
  • All courses include supervised practice teaching with classes of foreign students.
  • Courses can be completed in one month.
  • All centers/programs are inspected by Cambridge.
  • CELTA graduates can usually obtain credits for MA TESOL programs.
  • The CELTA is more widely recognized by overseas employers than any other TEFL certificate.
  • CELTA courses are very intensive and challenging.
  • Some CELTA programs are more expensive than other, less-recognized TEFL certificate programs.

For more information on the CELTA program and on CELTA centers in North America, check out our What is the CELTA? page.


North American University Certificate Programs

Many US/Canadian universities offer TESL certificate courses, usually part-time over several months. The focus is normally on teaching immigrants, rather than on teaching overseas. Courses involve lectures, seminars and ESL class observation. There is often little or no supervised practice teaching with foreign students.

  • Courses provide a theoretical introduction to TESL.
  • Many overseas employers recognize the certificates, particularly if they are from well-known universities.
  • You may receive credit if you later enter a MA TESOL program.
  • Courses are available in many cities in N. America.
  • Programs may take several months (or longer) to complete.
  • Programs usually focus on the TESL to immigrants rather than on TEFL to foreign students overseas.
  • Some programs include little or no hands-on training with foreign students.

One university program which certainly adopts a practical approach is the TESOL Certificate offered by the School of International Training.


"In-House" Certificate Programs

Several language school groups offer courses to train teachers for their schools. Courses usually last 1-2 weeks, and they provide practical training in the specific method used in the group's schools.

  • Courses are short.
  • Courses are often inexpensive.
  • Training may lead to a job in one of the chain's schools.
  • Programs teach one (often outdated) method.
  • Courses are too short for really effective training.
  • The training is not recognized by other employers.
  • You will not receive credit if you later enter a MA TESOL program.


Independent Certificate Programs

Several small independent institutes now offer their own certificate programs, which often combine lectures/workshops with practice teaching. The standard of training provided by these centers varies enormously as does the extent to which their certificates are recognized by employers.

  • Courses usually cost less than more recognized programs.
  • Most programs include practical hands-on training.
  • Courses are usually easy to enter and to complete.
  • Many overseas employers may accept the certificates (if the course lasts at least 4 weeks).
  • Training is often in outdated methods.
  • Practice may involve teaching peers rather than actual foreign students.
  • Many employers will not automatically recognize certificates from lesser known institutes. To get a job, you may have to travel to the foreign country to give a demonstration lesson.
  • You will usually not receive credit for a later MA TESOL program.


Independent Certificate Programs Overseas

A number of organizations outside of the USA and Canada offer their own TEFL/TESL/TESOL certificate programs. The quality of these programs varies enormously and so anyone who is interested in enrolling in one should check it out very carefully. (Start by looking for postings about it on the Teacher Training page of Dave's ESL Cafe.) One of the better-known independent programs overseas is operated by TEFL International in Thailand.


Distance Learning Certificate Programs

Until recently, distance learning TEFL programs were of poor quality and were viewed unfavorably by most employers. However, the situation has now changed: Several good distance learning programs are available and the better ones are recognized by most overseas employers.

  • Courses cost less than onsite programs (particularly when you take into account the cost of travel, housing, loss of income, etc. ).
  • You can work at your own pace and from home.
  • The better distance courses provide more 1-on-1 assistance and counseling than is possible in many onsite courses.
  • Most overseas employers will recognize the training, as long as it is provided by a reputable organization and lasts at least 100 hours.
  • The better courses include a practice teaching option (normally carried out by video); certification from such couses compares with the certification obtained from 100-hour onsite courses.
  • Training may be superficial and may not cover both methodology and language analysis in depth.
  • Some courses provide little in the way of materials and support: You basically receive a textbook and a list of essay titles.
  • Some courses have a slow response time: You can wait a week or more to receive feedback on your assignments or answers to your questions.
  • Many employers will not automatically recognize certificates from lesser known institutes. To get a job, you may have to travel to the foreign country to give a demonstration lesson.
  • You will not receive credit for a later MA TESOL.

Note: The quality of distance TEFL courses varies greatly and it is very important that you do some research before enrolling in a program. A good way to start is by checking out comments about particular programs on the Teacher Training page of The ESL Cafe. (The page has a Search function that allows you to access past postings as well as current ones.)


English International Distance TEFL Program

We now offer affordable, quality TEFL training by distance learning.

For details of our distance program, click here.


How To Prepare Yourself For An Onsite TEFL Course

If you are going to invest a lot of money in taking an onsite TEFL training course, you will want to prepare yourself so that you can realize your full potential during the course.

You will probably want to brush up on your knowledge of grammar. Jeff Mohamed's book A Grammar Development Course For American Teachers Of EFL/ESL was written specifically to help new teachers to improve their formal knowledge of grammar before starting a training course or taking up an overseas job.

To see details of this publication, click here.



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