Do I Need A TEFL Certification?10 min read

Note: This article is designed for teachers who are unsure whether they need a TEFL certification. If you know you need a certification and are looking to find the certification best for you this article can help.

If you are just looking into teaching ESL then one of the first questions you are probably going to have is whether you will need a TEFL or other type of certification. In reality, there isn’t a clear one size fits all answer to the question of whether you need a TEFL certification to teach ESL. In some countries having a TEFL certification is mandatory and in some places it can be used as a substitute if you are looking to find an ESL teaching job without a university degree and yet still schools in some countries will care very little if you have a TEFL certification and will only look at whether you have a university degree. There are also online ESL companies you can work for that will sometimes ask for TEFL certifications but for which you will not necessarily need a top-level 120-hour certification. I will go into these different examples plus a few more and by the end of this article, you should be able to answer the question of whether or not you personally need a TEFL certification to find a job teaching ESL.

What is a TEFL certification?

Teaching English as a foreign language, or TEFL for short is the term applied to travel abroad to teach speakers of other languages. Another term that often is used interchangeably with TEFL is TESOL or teaching English to speakers of other languages. On a technical level, TESOL refers to teaching non-native English speakers in your own country such as the United States or Canada. On a more practical level, these terms are used to mean the same thing and a TEFL and TESOL certification are the same.

A TEFL certification states that you have had the proper training in various theories and methodologies for teaching students English as a foreign language. A proper TEFL certification usually covers 100 hours of theory and instruction followed by 20 hours of classroom experience with real ESL students. Most TEFL courses will be conducted full-time over the course of one month (4 full weeks), however, some companies offer part-time courses which take place over a 3 month period. At the end of the course, you should be able to apply for jobs at the schools of your choice assuming you meet any other requirements that school or country may have.

What will I learn in the TEFL certification program?

At the end of the TEFL program you will be able to create your own lesson plans for your classes, understand various methods of classroom management, various methods of teaching and theories of child development so you can better understand how to communicate with your students, and you will have 20 or more hours of experience putting all of this into practice in front of real ESL students. This is why schools place such value on teachers with a TEFL certification. Recruiters know when they see that you have a TEFL certification that you have the understanding and experience to teach ESL students.

During the academic portion of the certification program, you will begin by learning various theories of childhood development such as the experiential learning theory, multiple intelligences theory, and early childhood development theory. You will learn the history of all of the theories and how they came to be as well as how this relates to the students in your classroom and how they learn. From there you will start to learn different teaching methodologies such as the direct approach, aural-oral approach, the natural approach, and others. These different approaches will help you to develop a foundation with which to approach teaching your own students once you have a classroom of your own. From there you will learn how to manage the classroom, how to develop a lesson plan, how to conduct tests, and in some courses how to use technology in your classroom. Lastly, you are going to go through different ways of teaching such as using songs, telling stories, using flashcards, different whiteboard activities, and ESL games to help round out your teaching toolbox.

How do I get a TEFL certification?

There are many companies out there that offer a variety of TEFL certifications. In order to obtain your TEFL certification, you will need to sign up with one of these companies. For the purpose of this article, I will be talking about a hybrid online and offline 120-hour TEFL certification. There are complete in-class programs which you can take should you have the time and ability to attend, however, I am making the assumption that most people won’t have the ability to do the complete academic section in class and will instead be taking the academic portion of the class online then traveling to the country of their choice or a location within their own country to conduct the teaching portion.

While there won’t be much difference between each company and each program as far as content and how everything in the academic portion is taught, there will be differences as far as services that are offered by each company. An example of this is that many companies will offer job placement services for students after the completion of the full 120-hour course. Some of these companies will only offer this service to students who complete the entire course with them. Some of these companies will have relationships with certain schools in certain countries. Some of these companies will rely on outside recruiters for help in placing teachers in jobs in countries they wish to work in. These are some of the various aspects you are going to have to look into when selecting the company you wish to go with when obtaining your TEFL certification.

Do I need to get a TEFL certification?

As I mentioned in the introduction there is no one size fits all answer to this question. A short answer to this is that no matter who you are or what your situation is, getting a 120 hour blended learning TEFL certification is guaranteed to improve your odds of landing the job you want. There are however specific situations which I will discuss that getting a TEFL certification is necessary.

Example of a job that requires a TEFL certification.
Just one of many examples of a job that requires a TEFL certification recently posted on the job search site Indeed.

No Degree And Looking To Teach Abroad

If you do not have a university degree and are looking to teach ESL abroad then it is necessary for you to have a 120 hour blended learning TEFL certification from an accredited program. There are very few countries that hire teachers with no university degree and without some kind of certification. Even in the countries that you can find jobs without a certification or degree the jobs, you are going to get will not pay well enough to support yourself beyond the most basic of levels if that. Having a TEFL certification will allow you to apply for higher quality jobs in countries like Cambodia and Mexico among others that will pay a bit better. It is imperative that you go for the 120 hours blended learning as mentioned. Getting a basic and cheap online TEFL course because you are trying to save the money will end up working against you when applying for jobs. Just remember that this is an investment and one that will pay for itself if you get a better paying job than you would have gotten had you not had the certification.

Working In A Country That Requires A TEFL Certificate

Some schools in countries such as China or the United Arab Emirates require teachers to hold a TEFL certification from an accredited program. This is in conjunction with your university degree. These countries have established strict guidelines for teachers in order to ensure that each teacher hired by schools in their country have the right qualifications, experience, and knowledge to properly teach students. Before you apply for schools in any country it would be wise to look over the specific qualifications that will be required by not just the school but also the countries government in order to obtain the proper working permits and documentation.

Working For A High Quality And High Paying School

Each school is going to have different requirements that teachers will have to meet in order to get hired. Even if the school is located in a country that doesn’t have rules about teachers holding a TEFL certification some of the higher end private schools and universities will be looking specifically for teachers that hold a TEFL certificate from an accredited program. Especially if you do not have a degree in English or a teaching certification the TEFL certification is their standard for whether you have the right knowledge to teach students. For many schools, this will be a selling point to wealthy parents that their students are being taught by only the most qualified of teachers. Always make sure to look at each school’s individual requirements, especially if you are looking to work at a higher paying institution.

An example of job that requires a TEFL certification.
An example of a higher paying job that requires a TEFL certificate. This candidate profile was listed in a recent ad on the job site Indeed.

No Teaching Certificate And Looking For Training And Experience

Having the ability to fall back on knowledge and experience when you are in the middle of teaching a class can provide a certain level of comfort. However, if you have never taught before and you do not have any qualifications relating to teaching then you might not feel comfortable with the idea of being in a classroom full of students that you are responsible for teaching. If you have any doubt about your abilities to work with students or to teach a class comfortably then getting a TEFL certification can help give you the confidence you need. The theory and methodology you will learn will give you the right foundation to fall back on if you are ever struggling to teach or manage a class. On top of this, if you are unsure about finding a job, many TEFL programs will help you to secure a job in the country of your choice upon successful graduation from the full 120-hour course. This can make things significantly easier if you have little or no experience or understanding of the ESL teaching industry.

Bringing it all together

As mentioned above, anyone who wishes to work teaching ESL will find some benefit from completing a TEFL certification program. Aside from the value, it will add to your résumé the experience and knowledge you are going to obtain will be of immeasurable benefit as you go on to educate children and adults in the English language. If you find yourself in one of the categories of people who absolutely need a TEFL certification, getting ahead of the game and enrolling in a TEFL certification program as soon as possible will set you on the path to securing the job you want in the country you wish to teach in. Remember that obtaining your TEFL certification is an investment in your future and an investment in increasing your future earnings potential so the upfront cost of the certification will more than pay for itself, potentially within the first month or two, after you are hired for the exact job you want.

If after reading this you decide you need to get a TEFL certification, read this article to find the best certification for your individual needs.