Which Certificate is Best?

The TEFL or CELTA question almost always comes up for anyone considering obtaining a TESOL certificate.

Many people spend hours online trying to figure out which is best, and still feel lost at the end of their search.

The CELTA vs. TEFL debate is simply not clear cut and you will never find complete agreement in the TESOL community.

Hopefully, I can help you make this important decision by giving you some information about TEFL and CELTA certification, and also about the factors to consider and steps you can take to make the best decision for yourself.

Terminology for CELTA and TEFL

Both CELTA and TEFL courses prepare you to teach English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).

The broader term "TESOL certification" includes three different types of certificates:

  1. CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults),

  2. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and

  3. TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language).

These names can be a little misleading in their terminology and specificity. CELTA courses not only prepare you to teach adults, but also prepare you to teach children; and TEFL courses not only prepare you to teach English as a Foreign Language, but also prepare you to teach English as a Second Language and vice versa.

Differences and Considerations for TEFL or CELTA

About Celta

CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. It is supposed to be for people with little or no previous teaching experience, although many posters in online forums have stated that they think it would have been better to have some teaching experience before taking the course.

The certificate is awarded by Cambridge ESOL, which is part of the University of Cambridge. Only programs approved by Cambridge can offer the Cambridge CELTA certificate.

A full-time CELTA course will take four to five weeks, while a part-time course can take from a few months to over a year. There are nearly 300 CELTA course locations throughout over 50 countries world-wide.

Cambridge now offers online CELTA certification, however, the teaching practicum must be done at an approved center. Currently (as of February 2012), there are no centers in the U.S. that offer online certification.

The CELTA course syllabus and assessment criteria should be the same at every teaching center. The amount of work you have to do should also be the same. Although the syllabus and other criteria are the same, individual teaching centers are permitted some leeway in how the material is organized and taught.

Because course locations can vary in their approach, I highly recommended that you sit in on a class, if possible. If you cannot sit in on a class, do whatever you can to get information about the particular center you are thinking of attending. Google the specific center, check online forums, even ask the center for a list of past students (although this may not be an objective test as the school will most likely give you a list of "happy" students).

Of course, these research recommendations also apply to TESOL/TEFL/TESL courses.

You can get more detailed information about CELTA by visiting the Cambridge website.

About TESOL, TEFL and TESL Certificates

There are tons of independent TESOL, TEFL or TESL certificate courses all over the world. There is little to no distinction between TESOL, TEFL or TESL certification per se; and you should consider programs with any of these designations if you are looking for something other than CELTA.

These certificates are also for people with little or no previous teaching experience. Unlike CELTA, there is no single body that determines the syllabus or what is to be taught in these independent programs.

Finding the best course may be a little more challenging since there is no single proscribed syllabus. One objective criterion is to find a course with at least 100 hours of instruction as well as six hours of teaching practice (this is similar to CELTA).

Otherwise, research the specific school you are interested in the same way you would research a CELTA center: Google the specific school, research the online forums, visit the school and sit in on a class, if possible, and ask for references from past students. Also ask the school if and how much they help with job placement; many independent schools offer such a service.

See my TESOL certificate page for more factors to consider when choosing a course.

Minimum Criterion for All TEFL or CELTA Courses

The best TESOL, TESL, TEFL or CELTA courses will have at least 100 hours of training and have a teaching practice component. This criterion is automatically met by all CELTA courses.

Be sure to ask non-CELTA schools how many hours of instruction they offer.

Online Certification Courses

The one objective fact in the TEFL or CELTA debate is that a person can obtain TEFL certification completely online, which cannot be done with CELTA.

Although Cambridge starting offering online CELTA courses in September 2011, the practicum still must be done at an official center. According to Cambridge, "The teaching practice and related preparation, feedback and self-evaluation will continue to take place at the centre through face-to-face contact." As of February 2012, there are 42 centers that offer CELTA online. None of them are in the United States.

If you need to study for and obtain your certification completely through distance learning, you will need to take a TEFL certificate course online.

Online certification courses used to be criticized as not providing adequate instruction; however, now that Cambridge is offering CELTA online, this criticism may not hold up. You will have to decide how important the "face-to-face contact" for the practicum component is to you and to your potential future employers.

However, if you already have some teaching experience (even volunteer experience), potential employers will most likely consider this factor in deciding whether to hire you.

So Which is Best? TEFL or CELTA?

Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer to the TEFL or CELTA question. It is true that CELTA is probably the most widely recognized TESOL teaching certificate, especially in Europe. However, this does not mean that it is the best for all circumstances.

Many people in the ESL/EFL teaching field will have an opinion and preference for one or the other. In my personal opinion, one certificate is not objectively better than the other.

Only you can determine which is the best course for you. The question is not CELTA or TEFL, which is better? But rather, which is better for you based on where you want to teach and who you want to teach; in other words, What is the best certification for what you want to do?

The quality of the education you receive will vary from institution to institution, even from CELTA center to CELTA center. Once you have determined which certificate to pursue, then start researching particular centers or schools.

The cost, convenience, job placement assistance, etc., are all factors that I would also consider when deciding between TEFL or CELTA.

If you think it may matter to future employers whether you have a CELTA or other TESOL certificate, contact the potential employers to ask them directly.

Otherwise, the designation of CELTA or TEFL is only one factor to consider. Whichever course you take, if you have done your homework about the specific center or school, you will get an education that will prepare you to teach English to speakers of other languages.

From TEFL or CELTA to Teaching ESL to Adults home

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