June 15, 2010

TEFL Certification – Necessary to Teach English Abroad?

Earlier this week we talked about non-teaching jobs abroad, for all of those who want a job that involves something besides teaching English as a foreign language. While there are plenty of those types of jobs out there, the most popular overseas job remains teaching English, and with good reason! Teaching English in a foreign country has many benefits: flexibility, competitive wages, and using a skill that you already have.

China English Language Teachers Pose on Steps for Photo

Teaching English abroad also provides tons of interaction with locals – you’d be surprised at how much you can learn about a foreign language just by teaching someone English. Things like slang, history and culture all come through when you are talking with someone about what to say, and what not to say, in both social and business situations.

To many, the key to teaching English abroad is certification. The easiest way to give someone your credentials and make them feel comfortable about having you as an instructor is to explain that you are either certified in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TEAL (Teaching English as an Additional Language).

That’s a lot of acronyms! It might be difficult to make sense of all of those letters, so we’ve compiled from frequently asked questions about teaching abroad certifications to make the process easier for you to begin. So if you’re looking for or securing a teach abroad job for the summer, look no further for answers!

1) Which certification do I need?

The truth is, you don’t “need” any certification at all (see question 2 below). But it is a good idea to look into some sort of certification if you want to fall into the English teaching abroad world more easily,. If you are looking into a specific program abroad, they might even require that you are certified before you can be deployed.

The TEFL is the standard certification for English instructors abroad (and in the United States).  It can be completed either in person or online. You will have to complete a course (which can also be done online) to qualify for the TEFL certification.  There are many (many many) online resources for the TEFL course, most of which will charge you are pretty penny to take the course and become certified.

2) Can I teach English abroad without any certification?

The short answer to this question is YES. But you should be award of a few things as you try to find a job. The first is that teaching at any of the major English language schools will be close to impossible While teaching English abroad is very lucrative, it is also very popular. Students studying abroad, and those working in other jobs may teach English on the side to make extra money, leaving the market saturated with potential teachers and tutors. Those with certifications can stream line the process of applying for jobs at the major schools by using their certifications to prove credibility.

If you don’t have TEFL, don’t worry! There are opportunities for you. There are many people who are looking for a more casual learning experience, or just a conversation partner to learn English with. You’ll have to do a little more work to find them, but Craigslist (and similar marketplaces abroad) are full of people requesting English tutoring. It is generally cheaper for them to find someone outside of an English school, and you get to keep more of your wages (and decide how much to charge, for that matter) than you would if you were working for a school.

3) Where should I take the TEFL course? How much should it cost?

This is where things get tricky. There is now official TEFL certification. There are simply schools (or online course providers) that offer ways to earn a certificate. The key to making the best use of your money with TEFL is to make sure that your course if recognized by a reputable external organization, UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate).

Another important component to TEFL is real-world experience. While many can get everything they need from an online course, only in-person courses can offer classroom observation and hands-on experience.

TEFLCourseReview.com and TEFL.net host forums where you can rate the different TEFL courses (both online and in-person). Consult the boards on those sites (or other similar review sites) before you commit to any TEFL course financially.

The cost for a TEFL course will vary from school to school, with the average cost for an in-person class (and I would recommend in-person over online classes) at about $2,000 (longer for longer-duration classes) and online classes at about $500. If you find a deal that is much lower than that, beware – extremely cheap classes are likely not recognized by employers abroad.

4)   How long does TEFL certification take?

A good course should last for no less than 4 weeks.

A great course might be closer to three months. Some schools offer a weekend class that packs in close to 18 hours in just two days – this may sound attractive, but I would only advise taking part in accelerated courses as a refresher class, not as your only experience with TEFL or teaching English.

TEFL and other courses are only part of the teaching abroad experience. Great English teachers are passionate about language, interested in meeting new people, and are extremely patient. If you posses these qualities, the teaching abroad experience might be the right fit for you.

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