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How to Choose a TESOL Certification Course

Updated on August 13, 2012
TESOL students learning by doing: Think-Pair-Share.
TESOL students learning by doing: Think-Pair-Share. | Source

Choosing the right TESOL certification course can be very stressful. After all, the wrong course basically amounts to time and money down the drain. By carefully considering your needs and the pros and cons of each type of certification, you can enrol in the course which will meet your needs and get you started in a challenging, but rewarding career which can literally take you around the world.

CELTA vs. The Other Guys

For a large percentage of the ESL world, there is only one name in TESOL certification: CELTA, the Cambridge Certificate In English Language Teaching To Adults. Everyone else is just The Other Guy. Depending on where you want to go (geographically) in your career, this could be a deciding factor.

However, if you plan to teach in Asia, for example, the CELTA is seen as one of many options for certification. Since it is fairly expensive, requires one month of full-time study (if you live near a course provider, you may have a part-time option), and is very intensive (even part time), you may want to opt for a less stressful course.

The CELTA is a very practical course, in contrast to a Master's program which is largely theoretical. So, many people choose to earn both qualifications. It also requires observed teaching practice, unlike some other TESOL courses. You should be aware that some employers will accept other certificates only if the course included observed teaching practice.

What do You do in a CELTA Course?

Teaching Practica

As mentioned above, some schools prefer a CELTA, but will consider any certificate that includes teaching practica, that is, observed demonstration lessons which must be of a certain standard in order to pass the course.

The CELTA requires six hours of teaching practice, so you should probably consider that the standard. In other words, don't waste your time with a course which requires only one teaching demonstration.

Online vs Offline Certification

If you are taking a course for your own edification, then by all means, take the course which fits in with your lifestyle, even if it is online. However, there are very few employers which will consider an online certificate to be a "real" qualification. If it is absolutely your only option, then I would only consider the online CELTA, simply because the reputation of Cambridge may help.

Honestly, there are too many certificates available online for the price of "enrollment" and too few legitimate ones. With a plethora of qualified teachers around these days, there is no need for a school to take the time to research which category your online certificate belongs to.

I work in Korea, where all offline courses are seen as fairly equal, whether they included teaching practica or not, but online certificates are generally dismissed out of hand.


You could go for the gold and get a Master's degree. I have an MEd. TESOL, but the requirements were virtually the same as for an MA. Be aware when you choose this option that it is very different from TESOL certification.

CELTA and other certificate courses are practical in nature. They teach you what to teach and how to be a good teacher. Master's programs focus on the theories of language acquisition and various aspects of language education.

Having earned an MEd. TESOL and having taught a TESOL certification course, I still plan to take the CELTA course when I move to Europe, simply because it is an excellent course and I am not delusional enough to think I have learned all there is to know about teaching ESL. It will have to wait though, because I'm also not delusional enough to think I can take it part time while teaching full time.

You should be aware that if you plan to teach at the tertiary level, this is the entry level degree. In the past, a BA and some experience could get you a university position in South Korea, but as the market has matured, that has become a thing of the past. In fact, many professors I know are currently working on EdDs or PhDs in order to continue to stand out in a crowded field.

In any case, the (very few) tenured foreign professors I know hold terminal degrees. I've never even heard rumors of a foreign professor getting tenure with only a Master's degree. So, if you are interested in ESL as a career, and plan to teach at the university level, be aware that a Master's degree may get you in the door, but you will be expected to pursue development opportunities, and ultimately may need to earn a higher degree.

What will you consider when choosing a TESOL course?

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    • Wesley Meacham profile image

      Wesley Meacham 4 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Voted up, interesting, useful and sharing...

      This is good information. You make the differences between Certification and MA degree options very clear. You also make the situation in Korea clear.

      I've a TESOL certification from Oxford Seminars. These would be the other guys you mentioned. I can't really complain about their course. They deliver basically what they promise. It does become clear very quickly from a little bit of reading online that CELTA is essentially king.

      I can tell you that in China certification almost doesn't matter. Most of the teachers here in public schools, universities and language schools have certifications. I have met a couple of kids though who were fresh out of highschool and had no certification or anything who were teaching. I also know a few people who have online certifications which they seem to be happy with.

      This is mostly the situation for mainland China. Areas like Beijing and Hong Kong are much more competitive and have higher requirements.

    • Jenniferteacher profile image

      Jenniferteacher 4 years ago from Seoul

      Fresh out of high school?! I knew some smart kids in high school, but I'm not sure they were ready to be teachers. Here in Korea, there is a shortage of native speaker teachers in rural areas, so there is a program for uni juniors to spend a gap year here (at nearly half the wages of a grad), but I haven't heard of high school grads working here.

      At "academies", you can get a job with just a BA, but for the better jobs, it's gotten so competitive, that most applicants need an edge. To move up to even better jobs, teachers need to continue adding to their qualifications.

      I always find it interesting to hear what hiring conditions are like in other places, especially when you see the wages and benefits being offered. HK seems to have quite good wages and benefits at public schools, but not at academies, but it seems like there is fierce competition for any job there.

    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 4 years ago from Canada

      Hi Jennifer,

      I never knew anything about TESOL & CELTA, so I was very curious and open minded at the start of your Hub. Very interesting and informative.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image

      Wesley Meacham 4 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Yeah, actually these kids were teaching in Gansu province. From what they told me the living conditions there are very poor. There isn't much water, things like that.

      I've one friend from England who has no certification and went to college but never finished. He is teaching at a Primary school in the same city that I'm in. I actually taught at the same school for a year before moving to a private language school.

      We make close to the same amount in pay but this year (starting in September) will be his fifth year teaching at the same school. He has worked his way up. Private language schools start you out at a higher rate. The down side is that you get less time off. You only get a week during Spring Festival instead of a month and there is no summer holiday.

    • Jenniferteacher profile image

      Jenniferteacher 4 years ago from Seoul

      That sounds simliar to Korean academy conditions-- more money, but no holidays. Before I came here to teach, I was in the Army, and I know a lot of wives with no qualifications would teach off the books, but I don't think that happens much, anymore, and you have to have a BA to get a visa.

    • profile image

      eslinsider 4 years ago

      Let me guess you took a CELTA? TEFL/TESOL/CELTA aren't required to teach in most of Asia. Some employers won't accept online certifications, some will and some don't care if you have any.

    • Jenniferteacher profile image

      Jenniferteacher 4 years ago from Seoul

      Yes, I stated most of that information and clarified that I have an MEd TESOL. To expand further, I have been a trainer for "the other guys" but have been in the field long enough to know that employers who do require a certificate tend to value a CELTA more highly than the competition, simply because of their standardized (high) level of training.

    • profile image

      sara 2 years ago

      Of course a good certification program should teach most or all of these topics, and it's common for schools to give an orientation before teaching starts.

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