What is TEFL Certification and Why Do I Need it?

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4 minutes


Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) means means teaching in a specific setting: where students of English don’t have much access to natural English conversation outside of the classroom.

For example, in Thailand English is a common subject in many schools and is used a lot in the tourism industry, but the vast majority of Thai people don’t have regular opportunities to use English in organic settings.

Your students may not have access to native English speakers outside of the classroom.
Your students may not have access to native English speakers outside of the classroom.
Photo courtesy of Ashbey A.

On the other hand, when a recent immigrant in New York City leaves an English class they have plenty of opportunities to practice in daily life. In New York, English is not a foreign language, but is very much a second language for many people.

Why get certified?

Teaching English is not something “anyone can do” just because they speak English and are outgoing. A dynamic attitude and strong control of the language are essential, to be sure, but teaching is an art as well as a very real job. It’s a responsibility to a community that deserves a well-prepared teacher.

3 reasons to get certified:

1. Learn about the struggles your students may have while learning English

Your students might face a range of challenges that impact their ability and comfort in your class. For example, they might not have access to native English speakers in their daily lives. Knowing this will help you be more patient and perhaps focus on creating more life-like situations in your classroom.

2. Lesson planning training

There’s more to lesson planning than having an idea and winging it! If you’ve never designed a lesson before or one for English-language learners, a TEFL certificate will help you understand the essential elements of a well-prepared language lesson.

3. Learn classroom management tools

No matter where you’re teaching or the subject, classroom management skills are essential to effectively teach. TEFL training will teach you strategies to ensure that your students stay on track and that you make the most of your time together.

Whether you teach in a class or online, certification will prepare you to effectively help students.
Whether you teach in a class or online, certification will prepare you to effectively help students.
Photo courtesy of International TEFL Academy

How long does it take?

It varies — some courses are as short as one week and some as long as several months. There is no single quality or minimum number of hours that makes a TEFL certification “the right kind.” This will depend on the organization doing the hiring, or, in some cases, the government of the country where the organization operates. Many countries require a certificate of at least 120 hours and one that includes a practicum (practice teaching).

How much does it cost?

This depends on the length of course you choose and whether or not there is a practicum component (practice teaching with an experienced instructor observing). A basic “crash course” could start from around $100 whereas a more comprehensive certification could approach $2,000.

Where can I get certified?

There are many providers so we recommend comparing several. International TEFL Academy provides both live courses and a popular online option requiring a teaching practicum so you can still get some practice teaching. Maximo Nivel offers live TEFL training programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru.

Get TEFL certified from the comfort of your home!
Get TEFL certified from the comfort of your home!
Photo courtesy of Norvell W.

What else should I know?

Acquiring a TEFL certificate can certainly contribute to your success as an English-language teacher but there are other factors that matter just as much. Knowing the challenges that your students struggle with, what motivates them, what is likely to distract them and having traveled or engaged with non-native English speakers are all things that will enhance a teacher’s ability to deliver effective instruction.

Your own experience adapting to your teaching environment (the classroom and the country where you’re teaching) will also be an important factor. For this reason, live TEFL courses done abroad are great options as they can help you acclimate to your new surroundings if you plan on teaching after your course ends.

If you’re planning to teach English abroad, here are a few more things that might help in addition to a certificate program:

  1. Learn as much of the language(s) native to that region as you can. This will not only help you communicate with your students, but it will also help you to identify with the challenges of learning a new language.

  2. Look for ways to connect with non-native English speakers in your own region. Experience with English learners, whether as a teacher or a conversation partner, will help you improve your teaching technique and train your ear to common challenges in communication among English-language learners.

  3. Talk to current or former teachers about their experiences. Ask about the challenges they faced and how they moved past them.

For those with teaching experience, TEFL certification provides insight into what will prove to be a very different teaching environment. For those without much classroom experience, a TEFL course could be the critical missing piece in an aspiring teacher’s preparation.

InterExchange Staff

InterExchange is proud to have an experienced team that is dedicated to international cultural exchange. We come from a variety of backgrounds, but nearly every member of our New York City-based staff has extensive experience traveling, working, or living abroad.

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