How To Become A Certified TESL Or TEFL


Two things are evident about the globalized, Internet-connected, boundary-pushing world that we live in: nomad is the new black and English is the new Latin.

Many situations arise in which the knowledge of another language is useful and sometimes critical to your future success. That is why millions of people around the world – from fishers to business people to every kid in a developing country – want to learn the English language.

As a student or recent grad in Canada, being a native English speaker (or at least being proficient in the English language) may help you in landing your next job teaching English to new Canadians or teaching English abroad.

You may be suited for a career teaching English as a second or foreign language (TESL/TEFL) if you:

  • want to travel
  • want to be or are a certified teacher
  • want to travel without worrying about money
  • like teaching but aren’t sure if you want it as a career yet
  • are looking for a new experience
  • want to earn money
  • need training in patience and/or understanding

Do your research on TESL and TEFL certificate programs

In Canada, there are several levels of English language certification that you can attain, but different certifications approved by TESL Canada will require ever-increasing hours of teaching experience, which is why you upgrade your certification step by step.

TESL Canada is where you apply to be a licensed teacher of English as a second or foreign language, but each province has its own TESL Bureau, like TESL Ontario. These websites are critical to understanding TESL certification because they list all of the accredited institutions that can provide you with the basics of TESOL, and all the criteria to meet the official standards.

These certificate programs all have varying price ranges, which is an important part to take into account as some can climb as high as normal university tuition fees!

Also, some of these programs have practicum hours and some are just theoretical – which is important to keep in mind because you can’t get certified as an English teacher without teaching experience. It’s a lot harder to find teaching experiences by yourself than if you’re already in a certificate program that has connections.

The difference between TEFL, TESL, TESOL and CELTA

There are several names for an almost identical certification:

  1. TEFL: Teaching English as a foreign language means that your students have few immersion opportunities and they’re not surrounded by English speakers.
  2. TESL or TESOL: Teaching English as a second language or teaching English to speakers of other languages means that your students have plentiful immersion opportunities in an environment where English language speakers surround them.
  3. CELTA: Certificate in English Language Training for Adults is another way of saying TESOL, but the program originates from the British system. Both Canadian/American and British certifications are equally acceptable overseas.

Professionally speaking, while some of these courses are condensed or feature online classes in order to get you out the door quicker, the fact that they are accredited means you’re still getting the same information, just in a shorter period of time.

Knowing your reasons for getting certified and your learning style will help you choose between a condensed program, a year-long one, and all the options in between. Most programs don’t extend past one year of in-class learning and teaching, unless you’re pursuing a Master’s in Applied Linguistics or TESOL.

What matters most for teaching jobs?

The summer before graduating with a Bachelor of Psychology and Education, Nancy Zhu volunteered in a community centre in China, which led her to pursue her current job as kindergarten teacher in South Korea.

“I only had my Bachelor of Education when I applied for teaching jobs in Asia,” she explains. “The recruiting agencies and schools didn’t demand additional certifications. Generally speaking, if you are applying for English teaching jobs in the public school and private institution sectors, a three- or four-year bachelor degree should be sufficient. However, many public schools prefer TESL or TEFL applicants. Also, if you are considering special schools like international schools, private schools or universities, then other credentials may be required.”

Also, with just a Bachelor of Education – which has limited interaction with ESL opportunities – Nancy felt unprepared to teach in such an involved, language-based setting. “Since every kid and every class is different, it’s hard to be well prepared. I learned mostly through trial and error. I did a lot of charades for the first few months, but some schools do provide professional development seminars.”

Which TESL or TEFL certificate program should you choose?

Places like Oxford Seminars and Global are cheap (about $1000), quick (three weekends, or two weeks plus night classes) and effective for those who want to teach in the short term so they can travel. But many higher-level job postings specifically say that those certificate programs are not accepted as legitimate degrees for teaching English, excluding you from many great overseas teaching jobs.

If you think that you want to continue on this path, investing in a serious (albeit more expensive) teaching English as a second language education is worthwhile, but the most important thing is to open yourself up to the experience and learn from your students as much as you’re teaching them.

Are you pursuing a career as a TESL/TESOL or TEFL? Share your stories with us in the comments below!


Photo credit: 100819-N-7478G-463.jpg by Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet on Flickr


About the author

Arina Kharlamova is a budding writer of mainly poetry, and sometimes things that can be understood at first glance. She is an Assistant Editor-turned-Contributor at TalentEgg and an undergrad at York University, working on a specialized Honours Bachelor's degree in English and Professional writing. She can be found bouncing all over the internet in a tweeterific, face-friendly, blogosized fit of energy.