Are TEFL Reviews fake? Reviews can be (and are) manipulated, and the TEFL world is no different.
TEFL certification is a business, and as with any product or service, you are going to find promoters and detractors. The world of business is like that. Some people like this. Others like that. And then there are some, who think all of it is BS.
The truth? All of them are probably right, from their own point of view.
Recently, we paid a company to perform some work on this website. We relied heavily on online reviews before making the decision to hire this company. Where did we look?
- “Trusted” review sites
- Blogs (like this one) with review articles
We even chatted with the online customer support before deciding to go ahead. The result? We were completely unhappy with the quality of service, after spending twice as much as we had expected to pay. The company initially told us it would cost us a flat fee, but then told us we had to purchase the same flat fee service again to fix the problem. To make matters worse, the problem we hired them to solve was not actually fixed. On the contrary, after paying double the expected amount, we had to undo all of the “work” they did, and ended up fixing the problem ourselves. We found them to be unprofessional beyond imagination.
So, we went back to the review sites to check the negative reviews, and what we discovered was that the company was flagging all negative reviews, essentially skewing the reviews in its favor. Many of the positive reviews seemed to be contradictory to our experience, to the point we could tell the reviews were almost certainly contrived. Let it be said we will never be using that company’s services again, let alone recommending it.
We also went to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) site, where the same company had a good, albeit lower score from customer reviews than review sites, but had an F (the lowest possible) rating for failing to respond to a number of customer complaints.
Two things became vividly clear to us:
- Positive reviews were so important to this company that encouraging (and likely paying for) manipulated or fake positive reviews was not outside of its moral fabric. Moreover, silencing all negative reviewers was just as important to said company.
- Reviews don’t always reflect reality, or our own experience with the product or service, and thus cannot be relied upon solely.
We wanted to share this experience with you, because, firstly, we know how frustrating it can be where and how you spend your hard-earned money, and secondly, we perform and publish reviews ourselves (and we do get paid a portion for any sales generated through these reviews – more on this later). So, we want to be transparent – reviews can be a reliable source for making purchasing decisions, but you must also keep in mind that not all reviews can be trusted, and you should be equipped to distinguish between legitimate and fake reviews.
Fact: The TEFL Certification industry is unregulated
The first thing we need to establish is that there is actually no such thing as a legitimate TEFL provider – at least not currently. This is because there is no single accrediting body that is internationally recognized. In essence, you could enroll in any TEFL course, earn a TEFL certificate, and chances are you would be hired by some organization. It could very well be you enrolled in the worst possible course in terms of preparing you to teach English to ESL learners, paid the least amount of money, and still be hired.
At the other end of the spectrum, you might decide to enroll in the most expensive TEFL course, thinking that higher price equates to higher quality, and thus higher chances of employment in ESL, or higher pay. The reality though, is you might still discover you have no real employment advantage over someone who enrolled in a low-end, template course.
A lot of people recommend enrolling in the CELTA or CertTESOL, as these are developed and offered through reputable academic institutes. However, for most ESL teachers, these would be expensive options to qualify for the majority of ESL teaching jobs. Furthermore, the CELTA has been designed to provide training for teachers to teach adults, whilst most ESL jobs in the market today are geared toward young learners. Even if you decided to go with the CELTA, you would not be equipped to teach young learners without enrolling in the CELTA Young Learners extension course, which you can complete only after earning your CELTA.
Given that you could effectively complete a TEFL course from any provider, and be hired regardless of the quality of the course itself, choosing a course becomes either a no-brainer, or more confusing, depending on your personal goals for taking the course. If you want to get hired as quickly as possible, and aren’t too concerned about being a good teacher of ESL, any course will do. On the other hand, if your goal is to be a good ESL teacher, and have the right knowledge and skills to help your students improve their English, then you will need to choose a TEFL certification provider more carefully. Since we are all about helping quality ESL teachers get hired by quality employers, we are going to focus on the latter.
Let’s look at what factors are important in choosing a quality TEFL course, and how to avoid falling for fake reviews altogether.
TEFL Course Accreditation
Accreditation is a form of review, whereby an independent accrediting body has audited the TEFL certification course and awarded an accreditation based on satisfying specific criteria.
However, as mentioned earlier, there is no industry-wide accrediting body, and thus, a TEFL course does not need to be accredited to be offered. At the same time, any TEFL provider can gain accreditation via an agency that is willing to award one. This muddies the water supremely, making it difficult to choose a TEFL course to enroll in.
You’ll notice that many TEFL providers are or claim to be accredited. However, having an accreditation alone is not a guarantee of the quality and legitimacy of a TEFL course. It’s very important to consider who is providing the accreditation, what credibility the accrediting body has, and if the accrediting body is, in fact, independent. Unfortunately, some TEFL providers have questionable accreditations. Some of these accrediting bodies have little to no history, nor are they government-recognized or regulated. Some are even owned by the same company that offers the TEFL certification, meaning they are hardly independent.
Some TEFL providers apply the term accredited to their courses using very loose definitions. They state an affiliation or membership in an organization, and claim to adhere to that organization’s standards. However, membership in an organization does not necessarily mean the course is formally accredited.
One of the first steps you should take when deciding on a TEFL certification is to determine the reputation and credibility of the accrediting body itself. In the absence of an industry-wide accreditation body, government recognition and regulation becomes an important factor. Having a government-regulated accreditation means the TEFL certification meets acceptable criteria for an academic qualification according to a government framework for qualifications.
In the UK, The Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is an independent government agency that is responsible for regulating qualifications. CELTA is a UK Level 5 qualification and its accreditation is regulated by Ofqual. What this means is that CELTA must undergo continuous, rigorous audits to demonstrate that the qualification accurately reflects the knowledge and skills acquired by who have completed and earned the CELTA certification, according to the UK government’s qualifications framework. Presently, only a handful of TEFL providers offer Ofqual Level 5 certifications, which are equivalent to the CELTA, but offered at a much lower cost:
Regardless of participant reviews about the quality of these TEFL certification courses, you can be certain each is accredited by an independent body that is regulated by the UK government, and meets the requirements for a Level 5 qualification.
In the U.S., accredit bodies such as The Accrediting Council of Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) and the Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA) are officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as reliable authorities. In other words, TEFL certifications that are ACCET or CEA accredited satisfy the requirements of a qualification as defined by the U.S. Department of Education. The following U.S. based TEFL certifications are ACCET accredited:
- BridgeTEFL (whose courses are also recommended for undergraduate and graduate college credits)
When selecting a TEFL certification, look beyond the accreditation. Investigate who is the accrediting body, and what makes this body a reliable and recognized authority. We only recommend UK Level 5 TEFL certifications and U.S. Department of Education recognized accreditations.
Any of the above recommended TEFL course providers will provide you with a TEFL certification that is legitimized through a government-recognized and regulated accrediting body, and each of them will be able to offer proof of their accreditation. Don’t succumb to companies which plaster logos all over their websites. Ask for evidence of the accreditation.
Consumer Review Sites
The fundamental challenge with consumer review sites such as TrustPilot is that they are not as independent as they may appear to be Here’s why:
- They offer paid services to businesses to gain reviews and charge anywhere between $80 – $800 per month, or more.
- Because they rely on paid subscriptions from businesses, their services are designed to favor the success of their clients, rather than providing an objective platform for consumers to review a business.
- There is no clear and stated vetting process to ensure that publish reviews are indeed from real customers. Indeed, many review sites are plagued with fake consumer reviews.
Can you see the problem here? If the business is not benefiting from the service, they will stop paying for the subscription. Additionally, it is not uncommon for businesses to pay for reviews (including TEFL reviews), or to incentivize their customers to leave positive reviews. Some companies also engage in campaigns to leave negative reviews for their competitors, making the entire consumer review site business a questionable one.
Which of these two reviews is actually meaningful to helping you decide if the TEFL certification course is worthwhile enrolling in? We think it’s pretty obvious. Unfortunately, many people overlook the sheer amount of meaningless (and potentially fake) reviews and just focus on the overall rating. In our experience, while a high rating is important, there’s more to the rating than meets the eye. Here’s what we recommend:
- Look at both positive and negative reviews and determine if the review is actually meaningful or if the reviewer is simply dropping pleasantries along with a five star rating. Same thing with overly negative ratings – check to see if the negative feedback is actually relevant to the course. Some negative ratings have nothing to do with the course itself, and more to do with gripes or misunderstandings the enrollee had.
- Pay attention to how the TEFL provider responds to negative reviews. Is the provider offering constructive explanations and solutions to address the reviewer’s concerns, or is it on the defensive?
- People are more likely to leave reviews when they are not happy, than when they are. So, scrutinize positive reviews more than you would negative reviews.
Many accredited TEFL courses appear on coupon/deal sites, and are offered at rock-bottom prices, sometimes as low as $20. Now, think about this carefully for a moment. Do you honestly believe that for $20 – $50, you could learn the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective English teacher? Proper accreditation costs significant investment of time and money, so if the course is being offered at an unbelievably low price, then it’s probably too good to be true. Would you pay someone to teach you a language for $20? Probably not.
Aside from lack of proper accreditation, TEFL courses offered on coupon/deal sites almost always won’t have a qualified and experienced ESL professional on-hand to evaluate assignments (and probably won’t have assignments to begin with). Why is this important? The whole point of even taking a course is to learn a skill, but because teaching English to ESL learners is a hands-on skill, you want someone with experience to provide you feedback that can help you start your career on the right track, to let you know what aspects of your teaching skills are strong and which ones you need to improve.
In our experience, we’ve found the low-end TEFL courses you see on coupon / deal sites to be disingenuous about their pricing. Many of them sell their courses at $20 – $50, with a 60-day window to complete the course. Then they attempt to upsell you with offers to extend your time to complete the course for $99. If you go down this route, you will have paid up to $150 for a TEFL certification. Ultimately, this is not the $20 deal you thought you got.
Can you get a job with a low end TEFL certification? Sure. Can you get one anywhere, particularly with high-paying employers? Unlikely.
Affiliate Site / Blog Reviews
Many sites and blogs exist to earn commissions for products and services they promote, and one of the ways a site or blog can promote a product or service is by publishing a review. So the question begs: how can someone who earns a referral commission from a product or service write an unbiased review? To answer that question, let’s make two assumptions:
There is no such thing as an unbiased review.
The only reviews actually worth trusting are ones which the blogger has actually trialled the product or service.
Unfortunately, not everyone who publishes reviews online has tested the product or service they are reviewing. So the real consideration you should be making is not whether the reviewer earns a commission for referring you to a product or service through a review, but whether the reviewer has actually used the product or service, and is recommending it because after trialling it, the blogger believes in it.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with recommending something you get paid to recommend. If you worked in an Apple Store and earn money recommending Apple products, that makes you biased towards Apple products, of course. But if you also use and like Apple products, is there something wrong with also recommending them and earning an income as well? We don’t think so.
What we do think is wrong is people publishing bogus reviews for the sake of earning an income from a product or service they have never used, and will never purchase.
Here at ESL Job Exchange, every product or service we recommend is something we have either tested, bought, or use ourselves. The same is true with TEFL certifications. Before recommending any TEFL providers, our rule of thumb is to audit the course ourselves. We are TEFL certified and experienced ESL teachers, so we feel we are more than adequately qualified to assess the quality of a TEFL course.
More importantly, our emphasis is and will always be on reviewing and recommending TEFL courses that have earned legitimacy through a government-regulated accreditation. As long as there is no industry-wide accrediting body for TEFL qualifications, we are only interested in reviewing and recommending accredited TEFL providers with government-regulated accreditations. We have turned down offers from other TEFL providers – we don’t want to endorse a TEFL course we don’t believe in and would not pay for ourselves. The only way to do that is to gain access to the courses and go through them as an aspiring ESL teacher would. Any other way, in our view, would not be authentic, and a disservice to anyone keen on becoming an ESL teacher.
So if you are searching for and checking TEFL course reviews on blogs , you should be skeptical of TEFL reviews (including ones we publish). Check that the reviewer has personally audited the TEFL course. Because you can’t be 100% sure someone who claims to have audited a course has actually done so, you can also request TEFL providers you are considering to give you restricted access to the course, or to speak to graduates about their experience.
Wrapping Up: Beware Fake TEFL Reviews
The world of e-commerce and online marketing is highly competitive, and online reviews are one of several ways companies try to gain an edge to earn credibility with consumers. This is true for TEFL certification courses, too. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of fake TEFL reviews online, so it is important to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you. We only recommend TEFL certification providers with UK and US government-regulated accreditations whose courses we’ve actually reviewed and tested ourselves.