Teach English Abroad: What’s the Difference Between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA?


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!


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.

Ways to Teach English Abroad

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Teach English Abroad with Maximo Nivel

Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel provides volunteer abroad, intern abroad, study abroad, and teach abroad placements in Latin America. This organization partners with local organizations to provide high-quality and engaging placements for travelers who want to teach, learn, and do good for the communities welcoming them in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Maximo Nivel offers TEFL certification including:

  1. 150 hours of coursework with highly-qualified TEFL trainers
  2. 6 hours of practical teaching experience
  3. 6 hours of observation from experienced teachers

During your training, you’ll also have the chance to teach real ESL classes, have continuous assessment from your instructors, and have lifetime job placement assistance upon successful completion of your certification.

4-Week TEFL Course Abroad

If you’d like to get TEFL certified abroad, check out Maximo Nivel’s four-week, 150-hour course in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. Course modules include Approaches to Learning and Teaching, Critical ESL Techniques, Class Management, Lesson Planning, English Grammar, Teaching Vocabulary, Assessing Learners, and more. This program incorporates 100 hours of inc-class instruction, 35 hours of required reading and written assignments, and 15 hours of observation and practical teaching. During the final week of your course, you’ll take over an actual English class, teaching hour-long lessons for five days. Depending on the location, this certification course starts from $1,400 and includes airport transfer, orientation, official TEFL/TESOL Certificate, lifetime job-finding assistance, and much more. Click here to learn more!

Teach English Abroad with Global Vision International (GVI)

Global Vision International (GVI) offers a wide variety of volunteer and intern abroad programs all over the world for travelers interested in teaching, as well as many other projects such as wildlife conservation, sports coaching, women’s empowerment, health care, and more. So far, more than 24,000 volunteers have traveled with GVI to Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australasia, and Europe. If you’d like to teach English through one of GVI’s award-winning programs, you can earn TEFL certification while volunteering with a community in need – a truly immersive experience for travelers who are looking for adventure and impact.

Teaching English and TEFL Internship in Thailand

On this program, you’ll travel to the tropical Andaman area of southern Thailand, where you’ll spend 12 weeks volunteering on a community project while earning your TEFL certification. This training is provided through the International TEFL Academy, and includes 150 hours of online coursework plus 20 hours of practical training in a classroom. After you’ve earned your certification, you’ll work in a local classroom for another 12 weeks, and on successful completion of your internship, you will have the opportunity to work with GVI or with selected partner organizations worldwide as a teacher. Learn more here!

Teach English Abroad with i-to-i

Since 1994, i-to-i has provided TEFL certification, adventure trips, paid internships, and jobs for travelers who want to teach English worldwide. So far, more than 175,000 graduates have completed i-to-i’s TEFL courses, with certificates recognized by thousands of employers worldwide. i-to-i also provides a job board for graduates to find paid teach abroad positions once they’ve completed TEFL certification – courses you can choose from include:

  1. Online 120-hour TEFL course
  2. 140-hour combined TEFL course, including two days of practical experience
  3. Online 300-hour TEFL course
  4. 320-hour combined TEFL course with two days of practical experience

And with a 90% approval rating from their past participants and students, i-to-i offers amazing journeys such as four- to five-month English teaching and training trips to China and Vietnam, plus shorter TEFL experience placements in Cambodia, Thailand, and other countries.

Paid Vietnam TEFL Internship

Through this internship, you’ll have the opportunity to earn your TEFL certification and to teach English in Vietnam. You’ll begin with 120 hours of online TEFL training to help you teach English confidently, followed by 20 hours of classroom training. After your orientation week in Vietnam – where you’ll learn about culture, history, and even a few Vietnamese phrases – you’ll begin your four-and-a-half month teaching experience, where you can work with students aged four to 18. Each month, you’ll earn a living allowance of $700, plus housing will be provided with fellow interns. This program costs $1,199, including training, orientation, support, and much more – and afterwards, you’ll earn a $700 completion bonus. To sign up for this internship, you must have a degree as well as a passport from the UK, Ireland, United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. Learn more here!

Teach English Abroad with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

Since 2007, IVHQ has provided impactful and affordable volunteer programs for travelers who want to make a difference overseas. So far, more than 67,000 volunteers have signed up with IVHQ on projects throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Oceania.

Online TEFL Certification Course

Through a partnership with CCELT Online, IVHQ offers a specialized online TEFL certification course for $399. This 100-hour course is an excellent option for learners of all backgrounds, regardless of teaching experience, and equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed as English teachers abroad. Once you’ve successfully completed your certification, you’re welcome to apply for teaching opportunities abroad – a few you can sign up for with IVHQ include:

  1. English teaching in Brazil
  2. Teaching English in Thailand
  3. Teaching English in Laos
  4. Teaching English in Morocco

This course is available for students who have a high school diploma and native-English fluency. Click here to learn more!

Teach English Abroad with Frontier

Since 1989, Frontier has combined community development, capacity building, ecosystem protection, economic growth, and the development of civil society through collaboration between local communities, researchers, and volunteers. Frontier currently provides more than 400 projects in 72 countries around the world, and whether you’d like to take on an internship abroad, volunteer project, gap year, or teach abroad / TEFL program, Frontier is a fantastic way to travel the world and make a positive impact. If you’d like to teach English abroad, Frontier provides TEFL Certification as part of their English teaching programs lasting four weeks or longer. Through this program, you’ll learn about English teaching through training from Frontier plus at least 20 hours of in-classroom experience.

Madagascar Teaching Program

Due to underfunding, many schools in Madagascar suffer from unequal distribution of educational resources – particularly in rural areas. As an English teacher, you’ll provide support to students and improve their opportunities for the future. Class sizes can be up to 70 students aged 6 to 11, and you’ll be able to teach groups, one-on-one sessions, and workshops for students struggling with course material. You also may be able to teach English classes to adults at a local community center to help improve their vocabulary and conversational English skills. This program starts from four weeks at $1,895 – learn more and sign up here.

Teach English Abroad with International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT)

Founded in 1993, International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT) is one of the world’s leading TEFL and TESOL course providers, offering training through an online coursein-class courses in 27 countries, plus a combined course. With more than 7,500 graduates each year, ITTT has worldwide accreditation for their TEFL courses, and offers lifetime job support for their graduates – including exclusive leads on unadvertised jobs, unique databases of potential employers, CV and resume review, cover letter assistance, contract consultation, and interview preparation. Online courses start at $190, in-class courses start from $1,490 for four weeks, and combined courses start from $1,195.

Combined TEFL Course

ITTT’s Combined TEFL Course is excellent for anyone who wants to earn TEFL certification alongside other students, but doesn’t have the time to attend a full, four-week course in a classroom. This combined course starts with a 120-hour online program that you can complete in your own time with assistance from a personal tutor, and after that, you can take a five-day in-classroom course in one of more than a dozen locations in the US or Canada, or an 8- to 10-day program in Spain, Thailand, Italy, France, or the United States. This program starts at $1,195, and you’ll receive full TEFL certification after successfully completing both portions of the combined course. Click here to learn more and to register.

Ready to Travel?

There are so many ways you can effect change worldwide, and teaching English is one of the very best long-term solutions to developing educational and career prospects for people in need. If you’re ready to build new skills and explore the world, check out these articles for more inspiration!

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