Are you hesitating between TEFL vs TESOL vs CELTA? If you’d like to get into teaching ESL as a profession and get certified, all these acronyms can quickly become confusing.
Some refer to the profession itself, while others refer to “branded” initial teacher training courses and others are a mixture of both.
Knowing which one to choose can be a minefield. And you’ll notice that there can be vast price and time-requirements of the different initial teacher training programs.
Ultimately, the one that you choose is going to come down to your specific circumstances including:
- In which country you want to teach, including at home vs abroad
- Whether you want to teach offline or online
- Who you want to work for, including working independently
- Whether or not you want to make ESL teaching your main career or a side gig
By the end of this post, TEFL vs TESOL vs CELTA will no longer be a mystery and you’ll know which ESL certification is right for you.
So let’s get into it!
TEFL vs TESOL vs CELTA – What Do These Acronyms Mean?
English language teaching is full of acronyms and initialisms. Three that you see the most are TEFL, TESOL and CELTA.
To keep things simple, you can think of TEFL and TESOL as acronyms that refer to the profession of English language teaching.
If you want to get more specific, know that TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language. Traditionally, that meant going abroad to teach in a country where English is not people’s first language.
TESOL or teaching English to speakers of other languages is an umbrella term that combines TESL, teaching English as a second language and TEFL. TESL refers to teaching that happens in an English-speaking country, such as teaching English to refugees.
CELTA is quite different in that it’s an acronym that refers to a teacher training course. The letters of the acronym originally stood for certificate in English language teaching to adults.
But since then, the course has been rebranded and stands for certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages, even if they didn’t update the letters!
In terms of initial teacher training, it’s the best-known “branded” English language teacher course. It’s awarded by Cambridge English Language Assessment, part of Cambridge University, and is well-known and well-respected by employers around the world.
But, where it gets complicated is that other certifications have TESOL and TEFL in the name! For example, a well-known CELTA equivalent is the CertTESOL. A CELTA equivalent is a certification that also includes at least 6 hours of observed and assessed teaching practice.
Other certifications have TEFL in the name, but they don’t always include the hours of teaching practice that you find on the CELTA or CertTESOL. This is why these types of certifications tend to be cheaper.
But beware, these certifications are not all equivalent! And you need to pay attention because that can have implications for your teaching career. In the next section, I’ll look at some of the considerations to make before choosing a particular teacher training course.
Do You Want To Teach ESL Abroad, In Your Country, Or Online?
If you want to teach abroad, the certification that you do matters. For instance, if you want to teach in the Middle East, you will need to take a CELTA or CertTESOL – an online TEFL course won’t cut it.
Other countries might not be so strict, but if you need a visa, check the requirements!
If you want to teach in a country where English is the first language then it’s also important to have a CELTA, CertTESOL or equivalent. In Europe and parts of Latin America these courses are also recommended.
If you want to teach in Asia, as a general rule, any online TEFL certificate should do, but this can vary according to employers so double check before you apply.
The biggest barrier to employment abroad is not having a degree as it’s often a visa requirement. In other places, a degree is required as a way to filter applications.
In fact many TEFL jobs require a degree as well as a English language teaching certificate. But you can teach English online without a degree.
Who Do You Want To Work For?
Some employers, especially those who offer CELTA training, will need you to have a CELTA or CertTESOL or equivalent.
You can check their requirements directly before applying. For example, here are the requirements for an International House, a famous language school chain. As you can see, they’ll only accept CELTA, CertTESOL or equivalent and most online TEFL courses are not acceptable.
Other employers, especially online teaching companies may only require a 120-hour TEFL certificate.
If you’re willing to work on a platform rather than for a company, the requirements may be even more flexible. For instance, if you want to be a community tutor on iTalki you don’t need a teaching certificate, the only requirement is to be a native speaker of the language you teach.
The downside is that where companies may offer you a set number of hours, platforms offer no guaranteed hours. It’s a question of signing up, putting together a good profile and hoping that students will want to work with you.
If you want to go fully independent and find your own online English students, then your qualifications are less important than the results you help them achieve.
Most of them will be interested in knowing how you can help them solve their problems such as getting the score they need on IELTS or TOEFL or succeeding in job interviews in English.
Do You Want To Make ESL Teaching Your Main Gig Or A Side One?
If you’re just doing some ESL teaching on the side to make a bit of money or to test out if it’s for you, then it’s probably enough to save yourself some money and do a 120-hour online TEFL course.
If you choose one with a decent provider (accredited, robust assessment – not just multiple choice quizzes, access to a tutor) then you’ll get a solid foundation in how languages are learned and how to plan ESL lessons and teach different types of learners.
However, if you’re in any way serious about this profession and are thinking of doing it for a while, then consider taking a CELTA, CertTESOL or equivalent course.
I advise this because the hours of observed and assessed teaching practice with real learners (not your peers!) mean that you’ll know more than just theory. You’ll actually have an idea of how to teach which you can then build on as you develop your career.
You can take both of these qualifications online too. That way your teaching practice hours will be online and therefore more relevant to you if you want to teach ESL online full time.
Also having a CELTA will open more doors for you for better positions, even more so if you have a CELTA and a degree.
In any case, I always advise people to take a teacher training qualification at some point. People learn English for a whole host of life-changing reasons such as better job opportunities, travel and relocation in a new country.
As an ESL teacher you can contribute to these dreams, but only if you know what you’re doing and treat your job as more than just talking to people.
TEFL vs TESOL vs CELTA: Which One Is For Me?
Thanks to this article, you now have a better understanding of the differences between TEFL vs TESOL vs CELTA.
As you’re aware, two of these acronyms refer to the profession of English language teaching while one is a “branded” (and the best-known and most widely accepted) initial teacher training qualification.
The CELTA, CertTESOL and other CELTA equivalents are a great choice if you’re in any way serious about English language teaching as a career.
(Although there is an even better option if you want to teach online. More on that in a moment…)
These courses are valuable because they're rigorous, intensive and demanding – you will get an excellent foundation in the mechanics of how languages are learned in 4 weeks.
And more importantly, you’ll get those all important hours of observed and assessed teaching practice. As intimidating as it sounds, it’s this teaching practice that will distinguish you from other candidates with generic TEFL courses with no practicum component.
However, if you're truly serious about teaching online, earning an income from home and design the life you want, there is one teaching certification which stands above even CELTA…
CeOLT: The Best Qualification for Teaching Languages Online
CeOLT (Certificate of Online Language Teaching) is a unique qualification designed specifically to prepare you for teaching languages online in the modern world.
If you want to train as an online language teacher and earn a living from home, I strongly recommend this programme ahead of CELTA, TESOL of TEFL.
Just like CELTA, the CeOLT programme includes live teaching practice, personalised feedback and observation sessions. In that sense, it's up there with the most comprehensive teacher training programmes in the world.
But CeOLT doesn't stop there.
In addition to training you to teach online, CeOLT also shows you how to build a business and find paying students so that you can truly earn an income online and design the life you want!
This is covered in an additional 40-hour “business component”, which builds on top of the 120-hour “teaching component” of the course.
The result is a truly transformative experience that allows you to transform your life and career by building a new online teaching business.
If you're interested, you can find out more about CeOLT here.
Do I Need An Online Teaching Certification?
Not everyone has the same plans for their ESL career.
If you plan to teach as a side-gig, especially as an online teacher, then it will be harder for you to make back your initial investment in a course such as the CELTA, or CertTESOL. In which case, it’s probably better to take an online TEFL course.
But if you're serious about teaching online and see it as a potential career shift or opportunity to change your life, then CELTA and CeOLT are definitely worth considering.
Whatever your case, unless you have a degree in education or similar then it’s always going to be better to have some kind of initial teacher training so that you know what you’re doing.
Being a native speaker of English is not enough and students pay good money for the life-changing opportunities learning English brings. So get a certification!