Teaching English abroad is an incredible way to explore the world, discover new cultures, and make a positive impact. Whether you’re teaching basic English vocabulary to schoolchildren, helping adults learn business English, or even tutoring students of all ages in a language center, there are so many ways you can help people build new skills and expand their educational and career opportunities through learning one of the world’s most commonly-spoken languages.
If you’ve started researching programs that will let you teach English abroad, you’ve probably encountered acronyms like “TEFL” and “TESOL”, or “CELTA” – but what do these mean, and what’s the difference between them? And which certification is best for you?
Let’s take a look at these different certifications – plus some opportunities for you to start your English teaching abroad journey!
TESOL vs. TEFL
Since TEFL and TESOL are the most common certificates required for teaching abroad, many people wonder about the difference between TESOL and TEFL (TESL is closely related to these certificates as well). TEFL allows you to teach English in a country where English is not a predominant language, whereas TESL does the opposite and allows you to teach English as a second language to those who live in a country that speaks predominantly English. In contrast to TESL and TEFL, TESOL certification allows you to teach English in a country where English is or is not a predominant language. This means you could teach English to a native Mandarin speaker, whether they lived in China or Canada. Most planning on volunteering abroad need to consider TESOL vs TEFL. When debating TEFL or TESOL, which is better depends on where you plan on teaching.
Types of English Teaching Abroad Certifications
TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
Short for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language,” TEFL certification is most often required by schools and language institutes where you’ll find English teaching placements. TEFL certification is perfect for travelers who want to teach English in countries where English is not a first language, such as in China or Peru.
To become TEFL certified, you do not need English teaching experience (or any teaching background) to get started, but it’s best to become certified through internationally-accredited programs so that you can earn the highest-quality certification you can, and to increase your chances of being hired as an English teacher abroad. The better your training, the more likely you are to receive a TEFL job. Most schools and language centers worldwide require that their English teachers earn at least 100 to 120 hours of TEFL training to apply, and some even offer programs with up to 300 hours of study before you begin your work as an English teacher.
TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
Teaching English as a Second Language, or TESL, is provided for students who live in an English speaking country, but who do not speak English as their first language – for example, recent immigrants to the United States may receive English education from a TESL teacher. Similar to TEFL certification, you can expect to take 100 to 120 hours of coursework to become certified as a teacher. If you live in an English-speaking country, you can use this for teaching jobs when you return from traveling.
TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
Less common than TEFL programs overseas, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – or TESOL – is a certification program where you may teach students both in English-speaking and in non-English-speaking countries. Oftentimes this terminology is used interchangeably with “TEFL” and “TESL”.
CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
The Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, or CELTA, is a specific type of TEFL certificate you can earn if you’d like to focus on teaching English to adult learners. Offered by the University of Cambridge’s English Assessment organization, CELTA is a standardized course that provides a roughly equivalent certification to other TEFL training centers.