Basic TEFL Qualifications

This page sets out to answer some of the most common questions about requirements and qualifications for anyone interested in a TEFL/TESL career.

Is there an age limit for TEFL?
People of all ages teach English. Indeed, many trainees in TEFL certificate courses have retired from their traditional professional lives. Schools often favour more mature teachers who can perhaps bring the benefit of business or professional experience to their lessons. Many people have started a second career in TEFL in middle age. Nevertheless, teachers over 50 and certainly over 60 will certainly find it more difficult to obtain employment.

Do I need to be qualified to teach EFL?
Qualifications are not always essential, especially in certain parts of the world and for certain schools. Increasingly, though, schools and countries worldwide are getting stricter in their requirements. There is no doubt that a recognised TEFL qualification will open more doors, more rapidly, in more countries and at higher salaries. It will also be of practical value to you personally - not to mention your students - in giving you the confidence, skills and experience that will put you at ease in a classroom.

Can I teach EFL if I am not a native speaker?
Everything depends on your level. If you are bilingual or of near-native level, you can enrol in TEFL courses and teach EFL just as any native speaker (albeit some schools and countries do discriminate). If your level is lower than this, you may be able to teach but only within your own country or in more remote parts of the world.

Can I do a TEFL course if I am not a graduate?
Yes. Although many centres require candidates to have a university degree in some discipline, it is equally possible to find others where the only requirements are a good command of English and a good educational background.

What qualifications are there for TEFL?
No single, standard international TEFL qualification currently exists. In North and Central America and much of the Far East, the most important qualification is a good first degree. In the European Union, the British Commonwealth and much of South America and Central Europe qualification means having passed a minimum 120-hour TEFL course (including observed teaching practice) and often, but not always, having a university degree in any discipline.

Although various TEFL courses exist, those that are validated by external bodies are usually preferred.

Cambridge CELTA

This certificate course is often considered to be the reference for TEFL qualifications and is widely respected internationally. The Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages places great emphasis on teaching practice and is one of the most popular TEFL course among teachers.

CELTA courses are usually 4-week intensive programmes although it is sometimes possible to take the course on a part-time basis. In all CELTA courses, observed teaching practice is an important and integral part of the programme.

Entry requirements for CELTA courses vary somewhat from centre to centre. Although the course is open to native and non-native speakers, all candidates must be interviewed and take a language awareness test. Some centres require candidates to be graduates while others accept candidates with a good general education and command of English.

There are more than 300 centres offering CELTA courses around the world.

Trinity Certificate in TESOL

About 4,000 candidates annually qualify for the Trinity College London Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. The Trinity syllabus is strictly controlled with basic requirements common to all validated centres. All trainees are, for example, expected to experience learning a foreign language.

The course may be full-time, usually following a 4- to 6-week intensive programme with 130 tuition hours, or part-time over a number of months. In many Trinity centres, it is possible to take a short, presessional course as an introduction, while some centres also offer a correspondence module in addition to the main programme.

Entry requirements vary between a good educational background and a university degree, with a good command of English obviously being a prime requirement. No distinction is made between native and non-native speakers.

Most Trinity Centres are in the UK although there are now a growing number overseas.

Other TEFL courses

There are various other TEFL-related courses, some of them preparatory, some specialised, some run by chain schools who wish to train teachers in their own particular methods. Short, introductory courses can be useful to help you decide whether TEFL is for you or in the event that you cannot afford a full certificate course. Specialised courses (eg business English or neuro-linguistic programming) are useful for experienced teachers who wish to develop their careers.

Where can I find details of TEFL courses?
For an online listing of TEFL and TEFL-type courses worldwide, try the TEFL Course Database or ESL World.

Where can I find work once I have a certificate?
For classified advertisements, you can look at jobs offered and jobs wanted at ESL Jobs and many other websites (search for "esl jobs" or "tefl jobs" etc). The EL Gazette has monthly listings in its paper journal. The Times Educational Supplement, the Guardian and many other newspapers carry announcements. For schools in individual countries, check out ESL World.