TEFL, TESOL, EFL, CELTA…believe it or not this jumble of letters actually does mean something. If you’ve already had some experience with the TEFL world then you’ll probably know which is right for you. For the complete beginner however, the TEFL minefield can be rather daunting. I gained my TEFL qualification several months ago, completing one 150-hour online certificate, and one 20-hour classroom based certificate. Below is a short account of my experience for those thinking of taking on the TEFL challenge, whether as a short term graduate job, teaching experience, a long term career, or a means for travelling the world…
First off, I should mention that I refer to these courses as TEFL simply because this is the course that I studied myself. There are many other versions of the same qualification, and although they each have their own unique characteristics, all of them have the same key principle which is teaching English as a foreign language (A.K.A teaching English to speakers of other languages). It is of course recommended that you research each different qualification’s main features before deciding which is best suited for the kind of teaching that you want to pursue. This is something that I never did, and although I felt like I made the correct choice, having other options and an understanding of the TEFL world would have been an advantage.
I turned up at my first ever TEFL class early on a Saturday morning, with all of the print-outs that the company had sent me and enough enthusiasm to get me through the almost eleven hour day of intensive coursework ahead. I did my 20-hour weekend classroom TEFL certificate through a company called TEFL.org, and I must say I would absolutely recommend them. Not only was the tutor helpful and friendly, the lessons were clearly delivered and included a lot of interactivity and…fun, actually. Before attending the classroom-based workshop, I would not have had even the slightest clue how to explain to someone how I intended to teach English to children or adults, who could not as yet speak a word of the language. And of course with me not being able to speak in their native tongue either, it seemed like a bit of a deal breaker. How on earth would I communicate my ideas to them? How would I explain grammar rules and spelling and punctuation without them knowing what I am referring to in the first place? How do I communicate basic small talk? All of my questions were answered on the two-day course, with the answer being…you just don’t let them talk in their own language. It’s that simple. People learn a lot faster if they are forced to find other ways to communicate, and without the ability to revert to their native language your students will begin to remember new words and phrases as they use their second language in a more realistic way.
There are many books on this method of language instruction, however one that I recommend is ‘Fluent in 3 Months’ by Benny Lewis. With an accompanying website and online community, this book is excellent both for language learners and inadvertently for TEFL teachers. It is the method of total immersion in a language, and it is proven to be the best way for learners to begin speaking in their desired language from day one of their learning experience, side-stepping any confidence issues a student may have.
The classroom course consisted of ‘micro-lessons’, interactive games (showing us how to keep children engaged while also being fun for us) and a lesson planned and delivered by ourselves. This seemed highly intimidating at first, planning an interesting lesson and publicly speaking in front of a large group of peers. Throughout the day however, our minds were put at ease as we bonded with each other, participated in many group activities, cemented grammar rules in our heads for use in our lessons and discovered the best ways to engage a class, and get the best results from them. At the end of both days, we were split into groups of around three and given a grammar term to structure our lesson around. It was something many of us had never done before, and yet it was highly manageable after the TEFL.org training from the tutor. If you have no teaching experience at all, or are not sure that your teaching is up to scratch, the classroom-based course is a great way to learn some great lesson planning skills and execute them in front of a group of people who will provide you with an audience and great feedback to take on board.
My 150-hour online course was a lot more difficult to dedicate time to, but the flexibility of it is handy for those that are studying while working. Although TEFL.org provide many longer-term online courses to compliment the classroom course that I took part in, I did my online course through a website called LearnTEFL.com. The course was well structured in terms of modules, but the layout of each module consisted of a great deal of text that required extensive note-taking instead of including any interactive learning materials or videos. Having said that, the online course does come with a tutor available at all times via email, and I can confirm that he was very helpful and responded quickly to any queries that I had about the course content. In addition, the course included short multiple choice tests at the end of each module, and three assignments to complete which are graded by your tutor. The LearnTEFL.com online course is a good investment as something extra, or if like me, you are hoping to save money on your TEFL course (as some can be extremely expensive), however having also seen a friend’s TEFL.org online coursework I have to recommend TEFL.org once again, as their course structure and content is far superior to the course that I completed.
Upon completion of your course, you may be looking at jobs abroad to put your new skills to good use and gain a job in the TEFL industry. Many countries are desperate for native English speakers to work in their school and teach students, and there is no shortage of jobs for you to apply for. Most of the well-paid positions come up in Asia, but be careful which company you arrange a job through. There are many that pay well, provide accommodation and benefits and offer support throughout your time in the foreign country. There are however, many companies that request that you pay an upfront fee before they will organise your visa and look for a job on your behalf, and do not offer as much assistance as others. No company should ask for money from you before you arrive in a country, so try to avoid these.
When you have decided on a job and company that you would like to apply to, an interview will likely be the next stage. As these companies have bases abroad, most do interviews via phone or Skype, which may be new to you as it was for me. For a Skype interview make sure that you are still dressed smartly and as you would be for any other interview situation. Speak clearly and show your personality as much as is possible over a video call. You may be asked about your educational background, your TEFL qualification, and any work experience or teaching experience you may have. In addition, you may be asked questions about the country you are applying to work in, why you want to work there and any travelling experience you have. In some cases you may even be asked what kind of teaching style you use, methods of dealing with disruptive students and what textbooks you plan on using. I have yet to use my TEFL qualification for a job abroad, but have done several interviews so far that included many of the questions above. I found that the jobs were not what I was looking for based on questions that I asked the employers, so always ask what you need to at the end of the interview to find out as much about the job as you can – it’s not like you can go visit before you start!
If you are considering a TEFL related course and going abroad for work, there are quite literally hundreds of courses and jobs out there that are looking for people with a passion for teaching, learning about new cultures and travelling – it is a case of wading through to find the legitimate jobs that suit your needs. Join the ‘TEFL English Teachers Networking Group’ on Facebook for advice on courses, jobs and companies from like-minded teachers, and any other questions you have.
Good luck on your TEFL journey!