Brian posing with a statue of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Brian posing with a statue of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

TeachingTraveling.com: A looming question for folks aiming to teach ESL abroad is whether its worth it to complete a TEFL course and become officially certified.

To help shed light on this query, let’s welcome Brian, a friendly English chap who I first met on a ruckus island in Southern Thailand.

Brian has just completed his TEFL certification and has some words of wisdom for us. Brian, first off, why did you decide to get TEFL certified?

Brian: I see the TEFL certification as my route to a life of traveling, or at least a way to give me the means to live anywhere I wish in the world.

TT: Nice! Which programs did you look at and where, and how did you decide on a particular one?

B: I looked at various courses on the Internet, and the i to i TEFL certification (click for details and pricing) caught my eye because it was primarily an online course, but also gave me some classroom experience, even if I was only teaching to my peers. I didn’t have the flexibility to be tied to a classroom for x amount of time, so the online nature of the course was perfect for me. As it cost about $800, it was great value financially as well. I chose to take the course while based in Australia.

One of the many beautiful beaches of Brian's travels.

A beach from Brian’s travels: Double Island Point, Australia. Wow!

TT: Interesting that you did a combination of online and in-person coursework! In the TEFL course I completed (all in-person) they emphasized the importance of having as much practical, in-person experience as possible, both for practice and for employability.

That said, I’m sure you were able to get real value out of some of your online coursework. What were some details of your TEFL certification program?

B: Basically the course was broken down into modules as follows:

Brian in Kuala Lumpur, Malayasia

Brian in Kuala Lumpur, Malayasia

– Nuts and Bolts of English Grammar

– Teaching One to One

– Teaching to Young Learners

– Teaching to Large Groups

– Teaching with Limited Resources

– Weekend Classroom Module

The first five modules were done online, and I probably spent about sixty or seventy hours completing them. The names are self-explanatory.

The classroom module was done over the course of a weekend with other i to i students in the Brisbane area. The weekend part of the course was about looking at what you had learned online and honing your own skills in teaching.

We all had to take part of the class and were given pointers on how to go about doing things to make the classes more fun and interactive for our future students. We were also given feedback, in both real time and after we had done our “segment,” regarding areas that perhaps needed a bit of work. I was told, as I am so often in life, to slow down.

TT: Ha! So did you have time to hang out in the city where the course was based during off time?

Fun with friends and four-wheel drive!

Fun with friends and four-wheel drive!

B: I had a limited amount of time in Brisbane, Australia when I traveled there for the classroom part of the course, but not much. However, I have since returned and have been living in Brisbane for a short time. It’s a great place: a must if you go to Oz.

TT: For myself, my month-long TEFL course in Costa Rica was so intense that I had very limited time to sightsee around the country, though I did poke around a bit… and heaven knows I got a ton out of the course. Now, I know you haven’t started officially teaching yet, but do you think it was worth it to do the whole TEFL training?

B: Even though I haven’t yet started teaching, I know the course was the best way to go for the following reasons:

First, it was good to get a refresher on the nuts and bolts of English grammar, it’s like playing a game you have known how to play for years, but suddenly looking at the rule book and realising why you play it in the way you do. Knowledge of the rulebook is crucial if you want to teach someone else the game.

These photos are making me jealous...

These Double Point Island photos are making me jealous…

Once the grammar section of the course was complete, the course was all about learning how to go about teaching English. This was definitely what I found most useful and interesting in my studies. Before doing the course, I wouldn’t have really known where to start.

I know from speaking to English teachers all over Asia that having the TEFL certification will get you more money from an employer. It is possible to get jobs without one, but the pay will be less if you just walk in off the street without a TEFL qualification. With TEFL certification, you’ll also feel more prepared.

TT: Thanks so much, Brian! I know that for myself, the month-long TEFL course I took in Costa Rica at Maximo Nivel with Natalie (profiled in this TeachingTraveling.com article, here) was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken in my life, education-related or not. I use the techniques and frameworks I learned in that course on a daily, if not hourly basis! I would echo you that anyone considering teaching abroad for longer than a few weeks of volunteer work could get a great deal out of TEFL training.

Readers, what is your experience? What are your questions? Chime in!

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Posted by Lillie

Lillie started TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share the infinite ways to combine education and world exploration. Lillie has been a Boston teacher since 2003, and chronicles her own travels at AroundTheWorldL.com.

29 Comments

  1. What’s Brian natoonality? Is the certificate suitable for teachers from non-english speaking country? I am Polish, currently teaching in Taiwan. I haven’t graduated from any subject related to English, thats why I am cosidering taking an online course. I think that along with my teaching experience this certificate could be useful. Any recommendations / opinions here?

    Reply

    1. Brian is British. I’m not sure about answers to your questions, but maybe others can chime in. Good luck!

      Reply

  2. In my experience teaching in Korea, Taiwan and China I would say that studying grammar for TEFL is not very useful most of the time. I took a course like that before I started.

    The reason why it is not very useful is because you don’t stand in front of a class and start reciting and defining grammar rules in front of your students. Another reason why it’s not useful is if you are teaching children or beginners. Kids or beginners of any age could care less about the difference between the past perfect and the present continuous.

    You need to teach them how to use the language. I’d say studying grammar for TEFL is only somewhat useful for teaching advanced levels of English learners which most people do not teach to.

    Think of it like this: Can you define what a modal verb is or a determiner? If your answer is no then ask yourself another question: Can you speak English properly? If your answer is yes to that last question then how did you learn?

    You learned by being surrounded by people who speak the same language as you not by studying grammar rules in a book.

    Here’s a comment from a video on Youtube about grammar and TEFL.

    “The problem is that the majority of teachers (Korean) have a great working knowledge of grammar but it has taken them years and years to perfect, but it is largely useless when it comes to actually helping students to speak and write and communicate in English.”

    Reply

  3. I am interested in getting my TEFL certification, but it will need to be strictly online due to my current work schedule. I have a hard time discerning what is a legitimate school where I would receive my TEFL certification to teach ESL and not just a certificate of completing the course. Can anyone provide any guidance please?

    Thank you!!

    Reply

    1. Hi Kelley,

      Regarding a TEFL school and online classes:

      # 1: The TEFL school :
      1) should be externally accredited, have pre-enrollment advice so you know where you can work and how their job assistance will be provided,

      2) the course:
      should have 100 hours or classwork and taught but a university level instructor (not just someone who has a 4 week TEFL class and a year teaching). There needs to be a live student teaching component of at least 6 hours (some jobs require 20). If you do not have a required student teaching component you will not have experience behind you when starting a job. You will also be asked for that experience on your resume and in an interview.

      There should be interaction between you and the instructor, preferably with your fellow classmates, live webinars (or videos), there should be the same rigorous homework, papers, projects, lesson plans as a 4 week in person class (not just automated multiple choice). The instructor should be giving feedback throughout the course that is constructive critique and criticism.

      Here’s a few articles on choosing a TEFL school and online classes
      http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/blog/bid/47541/7-Key-Tips-to-Evaluating-a-TEFL-TESOL-Training-School

      http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/faq/bid/109035/5-Key-Tips-to-Help-You-Pick-the-Right-TEFL-Certification-Course-and-Not-Get-Ripped-Off

      http://www.gooverseas.com/blog/should-I-get-tefl-certified-online-or-in-a-classroom

      Reply

      1. Sounds more like an opinion to me.

        Reply

        1. Hi Joe,
          Thanks for your comment. All interviews and comments on this site are opinions, as each person has a different “best path” for them individually. Do what works for you!

          Reply

  4. The information shared on this site has helped me decide just how to move forward in my pursuit to teach English abroad. I do have an ESL certification of 21 years with 21 years teaching experience with 2nd language learners. However, I believe additional CELTA TEFL would make me even more marketable in Europe. What to you think? Since I do have experience teaching 2nd language learners, I’m wondering if I the online course would be sufficient? Thank you for your thoughts.

    Reply

    1. So glad you’re moving forward! You make a good point that you already have rich experience, so maybe the quickest possible certification would be the best. Regarding CELTA, I encourage you to read this new article: https://www.teachingtraveling.com/2014/03/02/celta-certification/ and reach out to Tasha to discuss. Best of luck!

      Reply

  5. I did a month long TEFL certification (in person) in my hometown of London, and even after my university degree, it was the most intense thing I’ve ever done…but so valuable! It opens up a whole world of employment possibilities, and since it’s internationally recongised, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in teaching and travelling!

    Reply

  6. What are your thoughts about TEFL for veteran teachers thinking about teaching internationally? I have taught elementary and middle school for 18 years. My middle school experience is in humanities and history. I would appreciate your thoughts since much of the discussion seems to be aimed at newer teachers.

    Reply

    1. As a professional teacher since 2003, I would be shocked if TEFL were valued more than my Master’s Degree and experience! My advice would be to write out and explain those qualifications as clearly as possible, as paired with recommendations, they should lead to jobs!

      Reply

      1. I agree. Experience is the best qualification most of the time granted you have what you need for a legal visa such as a degree and you are a native speaker.

        Reply

    2. Hi Arlis,
      One thing to consider is that teaching languages, including the English language, is very different from teaching other subjects. The techniques are very different and based around facilitating communication and experimentation more than imparting a body of information. And it is different again if you are teaching adults than if you are teaching children, though there are some skills that transfer between each.

      As a CELTA TEFL Teacher Trainer, I get a lot of experienced teachers who come onto the CELTA course and many of them struggle to shift their teaching techniques to be relevant to the language classroom. It takes time, and many teachers of other subjects don’t realize how different the techniques and approaches are when they first come on the course. But they eventually see how valuable specialized training in TEFL can be to their whole approach to teaching, not just teaching English. And most of them grow to become excellent language teachers.

      I would recommend doing a quality TEFL course that includes in-classroom teaching practice, like the Cambridge CELTA or the Trinity CertTESOL, even though you have a great deal of experience already. You will find the course extremely valuable and I would be surprised if it didn’t make you a much better teacher in all areas of education.

      Also, keep in mind the best English language schools out there won’t be interested in hiring teachers who don’t have TEFL training, even if you have training in other areas of teaching. For example, I own two International House English language schools – one in New York and one in Boston – and I won’t hire teachers who don’t have TEFL training. Because the skill of teaching a second language is different from the skill of teaching elementary or middle school.

      I hope that helps.

      Reply

  7. Ho,
    I loved ths interview.. It’s encouraging..

    I’d like to get everyone’s opinion on this just depressing article called the slavery of teaching tefl…do a google search….
    I just think its such a harsh article…surly people do it and enjoy it as a career…
    I’d be intersted in south America…as I’ve been there.

    Regards..and thankyou for your comment.

    Reply

  8. There are lots of questions people have on TEFL classes, lengths of training, in person vs online, accreditation or not, what is a good school and what is fly by night, etc.

    Here is an aritcle 7 Key Tips to Evaluating a TEFL / TESOL Training School
    http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/blog/bid/47541/7-Key-Tips-to-Evaluating-a-TEFL-TESOL-Training-School

    What are the advantages of Online TEFL courses compared to in-person courses?
    http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/faq/bid/102527/What-are-the-advantages-of-Online-TEFL-courses-compared-to-in-person-courses

    Knowing what the questions to ask will help show you the answers you need to evaluate a school, certification and if teaching Engish abroad is for you.

    Reply

  9. Coincidentally, I was just inquiring about TEFL. This interview was great – answered a lot of questions I had. Will definitely look into it.

    Reply

  10. What is TEFL? I have no clue what that is or means.

    Reply

    1. A TEFL certification means you have been trained in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and you know techniques and English Grammar to help non-native speakers learn English.

      Reply

  11. Thanks for the more detailed info Brian. I’m definitely not an employee of i-to-i! I actually was close to signing up for their online course and then decided to do more research and changed my mind. So when I came across this article, I was really interested. I’ve been looking at other course websites now and reading reviews on sites like teflcoursereview.com and message boards on other sites geared toward ESL teachers. I should clarify, I did get the impression that pretty much anything went if you’re looking to teach in Asia, which is not what I am interested in. It seemed that if you wanted to teach in Europe or the Middle East (which would be my focus), a 4 week in-person CELTA or Trinity course would be the only way to go.

    Reply

    1. I would agree with that assessment, Katie. And by the way: word on the street is that the Middle East is where the big money is, in teaching ESL! Keep us posted on your journey!

      – Lillie, TeachingTraveling.com

      Reply

  12. Hullo Brian? I am grateful to learn about the TEFL course offered on line,how and when could i enlist for this course?

    Reply

    1. Richard, thanks for your comment. There are LOADS of online TEFL training courses offered, some of which have in-person components. A simple Google search for “online tefl couse” will yield you a bunch, though bear in mind that quality and reputation varies widely, and that the best preparation is as much in-person practice as possible. Good luck and let us know what you go with!

      – Lillie, TeachingTraveling.com

      Reply

  13. Dawson aka "Brian" December 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Hi Katie,

    No job as I’m not yet in the market (still traveling Oz), I intend to go back to Asia and then get a job in Hanoi. i to i (or any other TEFL company) can line you up with jobs but I’m sure going through them will only involve some kind of backhander type scenario where the school gets a cheaper teacher then they normally would had you sourced the job yourself. I would advise finding a place you wish to travel and looking for available jobs on a website such as ESLcafe.com, there are a few of these websites and they offer loads of good advice about jobs in different areas, where to find work and reviews on the schools and experiences other teacher travelers have had.

    With regards to the main point of your email regarding i to i and other on line courses not being “real” TEFL courses this is rubbish. The TEFL course market is very very competitive and this kind of disinformation comes up all the time (perhaps you work for an i to i competitor…?!) with lots of reports of different TEFL companies going on to each other websites and falsely reviewing their competitors. I would ignore this kind of disinformation and go with what is right for you.

    A bit thin so far but from a practical point of view this is what I can tell you for sure –

    I have met a LOT of teachers on my travels, people with TEFL qualifications and people without. EVERYONE I have met (across Asia, other parts of the world may be a bit different) has told me that getting a job teaching abroad is not a problem as long as you don’t have two heads. People without TEFL qualifications generally get paid slightly less than people with and those without university degrees (college education) will find it harder to get jobs in the bigger (usually state run) schools in Thailand. However there are lots of small language schools all over the world crying out for people with half a brain to teach their students. Any language school worth its salt will be placing you into some form of teacher training of it’s own before letting you loose on their students so you won’t just be dropped in at the deep end. I have also met a few owners of language schools (large and small) both in China and Laos and none of them pointed out that i to i wasn’t “real TEFL” and all would have been willing to give me a job.

    Final note, Jerry Springer style. A course, online or not does not make you a good teacher. How you approach the people you are teaching and use the information and skills you have gained from your course/experiences – be that one month in a full on classroom based TEFL, 60 hours online or all the good bits you soaked up from being on the receiving end of your own teachers throughout your life – is what makes you a good or bad teacher. Do what is right for you regarding the course you choose. You CAN get a job without a TEFL qualification, I know people who have them, but it does limit your options. I personally would not feel confident about teaching without my TEFL cert.

    I hope this helps, sorry for any mistakes but I was supposed to have left the house thirty minutes ago and I’m in a bit of a rush!!

    If you need any further information feel free to ask.

    Cheers and good luck.

    Dawson aka “Brian”

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the input, Brian! Hope we didn’t make you too late 🙂 My two cents, as a US Teacher with a Masters in Teaching, who went on to get a month long TEFL cert (in person), then an ESL teaching job, before returning to classroom teaching:

      – From every single account I’ve heard, you WILL be able to find SOME English teaching job in the region of your dreams (particularly if that region is Asia!), with or without a cert. as long as you are not horrific.

      – You WILL be a better teacher if you do TEFL training, and the more of it that’s in person (and gives you critiqued practice with actual ESL students) the better.

      – Do not expect your TEFL school to help you find a teaching job any time after the month following your course. I loved my TEFL school, but when I asked for help and connections to get a job abroad a year after I did the course, they just directed me to several of the most popular ESL job posting sites.

      – There are soooo many ways to get yourself hired in the many jobs out there, and a simple Google search will reveal a treasure trove of useful job posting sites. That said, I also really recommend just going to a country and exploring options in person. It works!

      Good luck and keep us posted!

      – Lillie Marshall, TeachingTraveling.com

      Reply

  14. Have you lined up a job teaching English yet? If so, did you go through i-to-i to get it? Curious because I’ve been researching classes and came across a few sites reviewing TEFL courses. The verdict on i-to-i was almost unanimous that is was not recognized as a real TEFL certification. The sentiment seemed fairly common that online courses in general don’t really “count.”

    So if you have found it well received, that would be really good to know.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Reply

  15. Dawson aka "Brian" December 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Same, sameish…

    Reply

  16. Can you speak on the difference between TEFL and TESOL training? Same same?

    Reply

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