THERE’S MORE TO TEFL CERTIFICATION THAN A FOUR LETTER ACRONYM

Publish by permission of the writer:

Peter Goudge, the Managing Director of AVSE-TESOL ( Australia, Vietnam and Cambodia)

Let’s deal with the ‘TEFL’ part first. TEFL is an acronym for ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’. You may have heard about or know someone who is a TEFL Teacher. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is what TEFL Teachers do for a job. ‘Certification’ in the context of the term ‘TEFL Certification’ is essentially an ‘official’ document. When the acronym TEFL is coupled with the word certification, we’re referring to an official document that confirms a person has met the knowledge and skill requirements for employment as a TEFL Teacher. TEFL certification serves the same purpose as certification in other professions. It’s about knowledge and skills being independently validated, upholding standards, and more.

An accredited tefl course vs a tefl course.

Who should obtain TEFL Certification?

Anyone who aspires to work as a professional TEFL Teacher in their home country or abroad should obtain TEFL Certification. Obtaining the certification involves completing an in-class or online study programme that typically comes with a time commitment of no less than 120 hours over four weeks. There’s a lot of theory and skills-related work to get through in a short space of time. For example, how do people learn new things? Almost certainly, you’ve never had a reason to reflect on this question. Fair enough, but if you plan to teach people new things, it makes sense to turn your mind to how people learn things.

Pathways for TEFL Certification

People new to ‘teaching English abroad’ can be excused for thinking all TEFL programmes are the same. I often hear newcomers, like Barry from Perth last week, say things like:

“120 hours with course provider ‘X’ (who charges a token sum) can’t be much different than 120 hours with course provider ‘Y’ (who charges a sum that’s consistent with what you’d expect to pay for vocational ‘qualification’) – I’ll get the same certification at the end of either programme”.

While Barry’s take on TEFL Certification programmes is understandable, it couldn’t be further from the truth. TEFL programmes worldwide fit into one of two categories; there’s no middle ground: 1. government-regulated and 2. non-government regulated. So, let’s examine these two categories.

Government-regulated TEFL programmes

TEFL Certification, that’s a product of nationally-recognised training (government-regulated) in the country of origin, is a legitimate vocational qualification under the relevant country’s ‘Qualifications Framework’. For instance, the AQF is the national qualifications framework in Australia. In South Africa, the SAQA is the national qualifications framework. If your TEFL certificate is a product of a government-regulated programme, not only is it recognised in the country of origin, but you have every reason to believe it will be recognised in other countries. Sure, you might have to jump through a few hoops, but it’s manageable, and you’ll have legitimacy on your side. Qualified lawyers, doctors, architects, musicians, accountants, bankers, engineers and the like who choose to work abroad have been navigating the qualifications-related bureaucratic processes for eternity. It’s not a new thing.

The logos for the national qualifications framework and nqf certification.

Non-government regulated TEFL certification

Certification that’s not a product of nationally recognised training (government-regulated) in the country of origin, at best, carries personal development (PD) value. It follows that when a ‘qualification’ is not recognised in the country it comes from, it can’t (or shouldn’t) be recognised in other countries. TEFL Certification that originates from the United Kingdom (UK), for example, that isn’t a product of nationally recognised training in the UK, can’t somehow morph from being a PD certificate to a legitimate ESL teaching qualification enroute from London to Ho Chi Minh City. You might be surprised, perhaps even saddened, to learn that this ‘morphing thing’ happens daily. If I was a fee-paying student and became aware that my TEFL Teacher was unqualified to do the job, I’d be more than peeved – and if my old mum was around, she’d be insisting on washing my mouth out with soap! How the ‘morphing’ happens will be the subject of a future article.

Study modes for TEFL Certification

Like every other area of study, there are TEFL programmes available via in-class and online study modes. These days, employers (schools) aren’t particularly bothered if your TEFL Certification comes from an in-class or an online course. However, employers attuned to what is a legitimate TEFL Teaching qualification and what’s not, government-regulated versus non-government regulated, will be bothered if you present a dud certificate.

There are pros and cons to both the in-class and online study modes. In-class pros include – all over in a matter of weeks, often in an actual school environment and immediate access to support. The cons include – higher costs, a set schedule, and being stuck in a classroom for hours on end. Online pros include – studying at a time that’s good for you, at a location of choice, and at a lower cost. Online cons include – isolation, taking much longer to complete and being less ‘hands-on’. Personal preference will dictate which study mode is best for you. 

Career options with TEFL Certification

Career wise, where can a legitimate TEFL Certificate take you? As the age-old expression goes, ‘how long is a piece of string’. The career options available to people with government-regulated TEFL Certification are limited only by their imagination.

Throughout my journey in the TEFL Industry, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing TEFL-certified people who have: volunteered abroad as TEFL Teachers, worked as professional TEFL Teachers abroad in English Language Centres, Government Schools, Private Schools and universities, taught English online, used their knowledge and skills to create and sell ESL resources, opened their own English language school abroad, worked as an industry consultant, advised governments on ESL policy, made a decent living developing policies for the ESL industry, specialised in exam preparation classes – TOEIC, IELTS, TOEFL, found a niche teaching English to company employees, set themselves up as a recruiter – and a lot more. To draw on another age-old expression, with quality TEFL Certification, ‘the world is your oyster’.  

Conclusion

I covered a lot of ground in this relatively short document. I defined the term ‘TEFL Certification’ and then discussed who should obtain this certification, pathways to certification, study modes and career options. Almost certainly, the existence of two pathways to TEFL Certification, ‘legit’ versus ‘non-legit’, will be news to many people.

This article was largely directed at piquing interest in a subject that barely rates a mention – anywhere. If there was more discussion about TEFL Certification, presumably, there would be fewer opportunities for bogus TEFL certificates to morph into legitimate ESL Teaching qualifications, somewhere between ‘developed country X’ and a developing country.

It’s abundantly clear to me that there’s a lot more to TEFL Certification than a four-letter acronym – and a single sheet of coloured paper with a nice emboss and flags from the four corners of the world. Do you agree or disagree?

Peter Goudge, the Managing Director (and founder) of AVSE-TESOL in Australia, Vietnam and Cambodia has written an insightful and comprehensive article on the TEFL certification.  Peter was kind enough to allow the International TESOL College (ITC) to share his article.   AVSE-TESOL has worked with ITC for many years and boy…. does Peter know his stuff.   Peter has written similar, straight-talking articles on the AVSE-TESOL blog. Check out this link. https://www.avse.edu.vn/teaching-english-in-vietnam-blog/

A logo featuring text and symbols for an English Teacher.

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