What’s the Difference Between TEFL and TESOL and CELTA?

In this article we examine the differences between common qualifications for ESL Teachers.
What's The Difference Between Tefl And Tesol And Celta?

Difference between TEFL and TESOL and CELTA and which is right for you

You’ve probably figured out that you need to have some kind of certification to teach English abroad or online. But which one?

Research brings up terms like CELTA, DELTA, TESOL, TEFL, TESL, DipTESOL, and others. After a bit of research, you know even less than when you started. We’re going to clear all of that up for you.

So, by the end of this post, you’re going to understand the difference between the TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA. Also, you will understand the exact certification you need and know the best places to get it.

What is the difference between TEFL and TESOL and CELTA?

Before we get into the finer points of each certification, let’s take a look at what each of these abbreviations means:

TEFL- Teaching English as a Foreign Language

TESOL- Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

CELTA- Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

They all seem to be the same, don’t they? But, the primary difference is who you will be teaching. One is directed for teachers who will be working with students learning English in an English speaking country, such as Canada or the United States. The others are directed to teachers who will be teaching students in their home countries, such as China or Thailand. 

To clarify which is which, Let’s break down each certification:

TEFL- this has gradually become the industry standard for teachers abroad. A TEFL certification is geared towards teaching students in their home country. This means they are learning English as a foreign language and won’t have the same motivations as students learning in a country where the primary language is English. 

Younger students will most likely be learning English for a test, such as Chinese students studying to take the Gaokao. This means the primary focus will be on grammar and other technical aspects of English as opposed to conversation.

Older students and adults will most likely be studying for business or studying abroad. So, these students will be focused on specific aspects of English such as business English or language relevant to their field of study. 

The TEFL is geared towards helping you as a teacher work with these types of students. You will be learning how to organize your classroom and create material to best benefit your class and taking into consideration their different levels and needs. Also, many TEFL providers offer assistance to students who plan on teaching abroad such as job placement or other benefits.

One last aspect of TEFL certifications is that many come with a practical component. You will be getting in-class practice as an addition to the theory portion of the course. This can be really helpful for getting you some in-class experience. 

TESOL- a TESOL certification is geared more towards teachers who want to work with students learning English in an English speaking country. These students are more likely to be learning English in order to assimilate into the country. Think immigrants, migrant workers, refugees, etc.

The primary focus will be on learning English for everyday living. Going to a restaurant, paying bills, finding jobs, and more. You as a teacher will be helping them with this and developing lessons with this in mind. 

CELTA- the CELTA is focused on adults. There is an extension that you can take which focuses on children. Like the TEFL, the primary focus is on working with students who are in their home country such as Saudi Arabia. 

In comparison to TEFL, it is quite a bit more intensive. Also, there is no practicum. Everything you are learning will be theory-based. 

In terms of price, this is going to be the most expensive option out of all three of these. Also, there is a significant time commitment as all of the training is done in-person. This is in contrast to the TEFL where the theory portion can be done either online or in-person.

Why do people seem to use TESOL and TEFL interchangeably?

Because people are generally talking about the same thing. Yes, there is a slight difference between the meaning of TESOL and TEFL. But, whether people are using the term TESOL or the term TEFL, they are talking about the same certification. 

In our modern-day, if you are looking to get certified to teach English as a second or foreign language, you will be getting a TEFL certification. You may notice many certification providers marketing their courses as a TEFL/TESOL course for this reason. 

Which certification is best for you?

Now that you know the differences between each of the certifications, it’s time we look at how this applies to you.

The main thing to take into consideration is what your reason for obtaining the certification is. Are you looking to work abroad or online? Do you have a bachelor’s, masters or Ph.D.? Also, where is it you want to teach?

The answer to these questions is going to dictate which certification is right for you. Despite what people may tell you, there is no one size fits all certification. You may commonly hear from older ESL teachers that you need to have a CELTA. Or, maybe you’ve been reading around, and everyone is saying if you don’t have a TEFL certification, you won’t find a job. 

Neither of these is completely true. What is true is that there are certain situations where you have to have a certification and others where having a certification will help but isn’t required.

For example, if you plan on teaching in East Asia (Japan, China, South Korea, etc.), then having a TEFL certification is almost certainly going to be a requirement to find a job. In some cases, a TEFL certification may even be required to obtain a visa. 

Whereas in the Middle East, the CELTA is the gold standard. But so is having a masters degree in most cases. So, if you don’t have that masters degree or higher it is probably not worth getting that CELTA as schools are going to take preference for teachers who do.

If you are planning on teaching in Latin America or South East Asia, however, there are no hard and fast rules. Generally speaking, a certification is not a requirement for getting a job. Some schools, especially more prestigious schools, may have individual requirements for a certification, usually a TEFL. But, having a TEFL certification, or even a CELTA if you already have one, will certainly help.

How to get your certification 

So, you know the differences, now how do you get your certification?

We’ve partnered with a few top TEFL providers to make the process easier.

If you want to teach English in Southeast Asia, Latin America, or online, then we recommend either Premier TEFL or i-to-i TEFL. Both companies provide excellent online courses perfect for new teachers.

Are you looking at East Asia or the middle east? Then we recommend the International TEFL Academy. They provide quality hybrid and in-person TEFL courses to prepare you for teaching abroad.

For information about getting a CELTA, you can visit Cambridge English directly.

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