Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated July 22, 2020
By Kim Ooi

CELTA vs TEFL

Are you tossing up between a CELTA or TEFL course?

For those wishing to teach English in China, choosing the right teacher training course can be challenging.

At one end of the spectrum, we have the ‘gold standard’ of teacher training courses – the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity CertTESOL.

At the other end, we have a myriad of online TEFL courses to choose from.

So, which one should you choose, CELTA or TEFL? As someone who has done both, here’s my take.

Commercially available TEFL courses

There are so many of them around that it would be way beyond the scope of this blog to analyze each and every one.

Instead, I’m going to compare CELTA with the TEFL course I completed. This is the Diploma in TESOL offered by London Teacher Training College (LTTC).

In case you’re wondering, TESOL is another way of saying TEFL.

My TEFL course

My TEFL course was 180 hours long. This is a lot more than the minimum TEFL requirement for China, which is 120 hours.

My course consisted of the following modules:

  • Language theory
  • Language teaching methodology
  • Classroom planning and organization
  • Linguistics and language teaching.

To be accepted on the course, you must have a degree and be fluent in English. The course fee is £345 (US$435).

TEFL certification is all you need for China

If you're TEFL certified you can work in China (there are other requirements too).

I completed the course at a leisurely pace over six months.

Upon completion of the course, I did a practical teaching module at their sister school, the Hartsdown Institute in Margate. This is where I had the chance to observe experienced teachers at work.

My CELTA course

Everyone seems to have heard about CELTA before.

These courses are administered by Cambridge English, part of the University of Cambridge.

Together with the Trinity CertTESOL, it’s the gold standard of TEFL courses.

To be accepted on the course, you must have a degree, attend an interview and complete a pre-interview task. This assesses your attitudes and knowledge of the following:

  • Learning and teaching requirements
  • Knowledge of grammar
  • Knowledge of forms of English and meanings
  • Synonyms
  • Syllable stress
  • Vowels.

Candidates must also write a 300-word essay and attend an interview before being offered a place on the course.

CELTA vs TEFL

Me and my fellow CELTA course classmates.

The course fee, at £1,401 (US$1,768), is significantly more expensive than your regular online TEFL course.

The course content includes the following:

  • Awareness of the teaching and learning context
  • Language analysis and awareness
  • Language skills
  • Planning and use of resources
  • Development of teaching skills and professionalism.

My experience with the TEFL course

When I enrolled on the DipTESOL course, I had virtually no teaching experience.

In my younger days I had been a windsurfing instructor and was occasionally the ‘demo’ guy at ballroom dance classes. I had also designed a training manual at work but that was about it.

I was highly dubious therefore, when every single assignment that I submitted for this course was awarded an ‘A’ grade.

Had a previously unknown talent suddenly been awakened in me? I doubted it.

On the other hand, the opportunity to do a practical teaching module after the course enabled me to learn many of the ‘trade secrets’ of the TEFL profession.

My experience with the CELTA course

To say that the CELTA course was tough is an understatement.

It was, quite frankly, the toughest four weeks I had ever experienced in my life. Even my Master’s degree course wasn’t anywhere near as tough!

During the course, we were taught to break down our lessons into the following stages:

  • Lead-in
  • Pre-teach vocabulary
  • Set the context by asking students to read the text
  • Check that students understand new concepts by eliciting model sentences
  • Ask concept-checking questions to ensure that students understand the meaning, pronunciation and form of new vocabulary
  • Controlled practice (usually via comprehension questions)
  • Free practice – in pairs, discuss the topic for five minutes with your partner.

It’s not difficult to see the immense amount of work that would need to be completed to deliver such a lesson.

You would have to go through the reading text and pick out any words that the students might not know.

Clean modern classroom with pencils in foreground

A CELTA course is typically run in a classroom-based environment.

Then you would need to try to anticipate any difficulties learners might have from three perspectives – meaning, pronunciation and form – and formulate the appropriate concept-checking questions.

You’d need to plan your lead-in. In particular, how you're going to get the students to warm up before you start teaching the topic in more detail.

You’d need to plan the timing of each stage so that you complete the lesson on time.

You’d need to decide how and to what detail you’re going to write your lesson plan. Are you going to use a notepad, exercise book or index cards?

Finally, you’d need to think about monitoring your students, developing rapport and eye contact. And you'd need to have a plan for what to do if some students finish a task ahead of the others.

Phew!

You really need to know your stuff. You can fail the entire teaching practice session if you get caught out by a grammar question from a student.

Delivering a CELTA lesson is really a bit like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.

So, which is better, CELTA or TEFL?

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of both courses.

Advantages and disadvantages of TEFL

Advantages

  • It’s cheaper than a CELTA
  • The pressure is much less
  • It’s easier
  • It gives you a wide range of teaching methods.

Disadvantages

  • It’s a lot less rigorous
  • It doesn’t really prepare you for the sheer hard work that a teacher sometimes needs to put in to get the job done
  • Unless you follow it up with a practical teaching module, it doesn’t give you any practical teaching experience
  • Does not give you lecturing skills which are essential for China.

Advantages and disadvantages of CELTA

Advantages

  • It’s a highly prestigious qualification that is widely recognized throughout the world
  • It ensures that you actually know English at a very deep level
  • It teaches you how to work under immense pressure
  • The trainers, fellow trainees and students you work with will be among the best friends you could ever make
  • You get a very deep understanding of teaching pedagogy
  • You get practical experience teaching real students.

CELTA classmates in London

I made friends with a lot of people on my course.

Disadvantages

  • It’s a very tough course and bloody hard work
  • It doesn’t give you many teaching methodologies
  • It’s much more expensive than a TEFL
  • It’s not much use for teaching abroad if you’re not a native English speaker
  • It doesn’t train you on how to teach reading, writing or listening
  • It makes a lot of assumptions regarding your prior knowledge of teaching
  • Puts a lot of emphasis on eliciting, which doesn’t work in China.

CELTA or TEFL – my advice

The course you choose should depend on how much experience you have.

If you’re new to teaching, I’d advise you to do an online TEFL course first before you attempt the CELTA.

This will lay the foundations for an overseas teaching job and you’ll very quickly find out whether teaching is for you or not.

No matter which course you choose, you can rest assured you’ll learn valuable skills that will hold you in good stead for China or anywhere else abroad.

Finally, bear in mind that EFL teaching has different specialisms. Depending on the work that you find yourself doing, it might be beneficial for you to do more than one course.

For example, if you decide to teach young learners, there is specialized training available for this.

Teaching really is a lifelong journey!

So, CELTA vs TEFL - which one do you think is better? Have your say below.

NEXT READ: WHAT IS THE BEST ONLINE TEFL COURSE?


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