Mar1920096:24 am

Getting accredited to teach English abroad

I was talking yesterday with Nancy Gilboy, president of the International Visitors Council of Philadelphia, and she mentioned that a young family friend was looking for an abroad experience teaching English in South America, hopefully Peru. He wanted to know how and where he could find a program that would provide him with TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification and then place him abroad, so Nancy asked me for some guidance.

I’m certainly not an expert on the topic, but I know that many English teaching positions abroad (both volunteer and paid, but especially volunteer) do not require any kind of certification. But, from what I’ve heard anecdotally, having a TEFL certificate does make you more marketable for paid positions (not to mention that it actually trains you to be an English teacher, which is not as easy as it sounds—after being plopped down in a classroom in a small town in northeast China with only a pat on the back as my training, I realized a little more guidance as to what the hell I was doing would have been nice; teaching English is not as easy as being able to speak it…but I digress).

None of this is to put forth an opinion about whether a certificate is the way to go—I’m not qualified enough to say yes, get one, or no, you don’t need one. It also needs to be pointed out that TEFL certificates cost—in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. This might be a determining factor for some (I know I wouldn’t have been able to spend this money just out of college, but perhaps it’s a solid investment if it leads to a good, paid gig). I’d be very interested to hear opinions on this from those more in the know than me.

Even so, I do have a few resources that should prove useful for Nancy’s friend and others looking into teaching abroad/TEFL certification:

  • Start with the incomparable Dave’s ESL Cafe. This site has been around for awhile—it was the go-to resource for expats teaching abroad even six years ago when I was teaching in China. Since then it has only gotten better, and bigger. A slew of English teaching positions worldwide are posted daily. More information about TEFL certificate courses can be found, and the message boards might be a great place for some further research on whether a TEFL certificate is needed or recommended.
  • Then go to Transitions Abroad, which has a voluminous list of programs offering the four-week TEFL certificate course and either direct placement in a teaching position or at least placement assistance.

In addition:

After the jump, a few quick definitions for those who get confused about the different between TEFL and TESL and TESOL (like me).

What is a TEFL / TESL / TESOL certificate?: A TEFL / TESL / TESOL (Teaching English as a Foreign / Second / to Speakers of Other Language) is an internationally recognized qualification that enables people/English teachers to Teach English as a Foreign or Second Language.

  • TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language – a term that refers to teacher training programs in EFL.
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language, Canada – national federation of teachers and providers in Canada.
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language – a term that refers to teacher training programs in ESL.
  • TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – a term that is used to distinguish English language teaching as a professional activity that requires specialized training. Also refers to the teacher examinations developed by Trinity College London (Cert.TESOL and LTCL.Dip.TESOL).
  • TESOL: U.S.-based international association of teachers of English as a second or foreign language. There are regional affiliates and many countries have their own affiliated associations.

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2 Responses to “Getting accredited to teach English abroad”

  1. Joanne says:

    I gotta add that unless you’re white and from an anglo-saxon country (ie. ‘native’), it’s better to have a TESOL/TOEFL certification. An Asian-Australian friend had trouble finding a job abroad because of his ethnicity, even though English is the language he is most proficient in. I mean, he grew up thinking, reading and writing in English! Not all schools discriminate that way, but the colonialist mentality still exists in some quarters. Shame.

  2. Debbie says:

    Hi Mark,
    I’m a friend of Lauren Jacobs’ and a huge fan of your blog!
    I spent a year teaching English in Prague (after getting my TEFL certification there), and have just a few more pieces of advice: has a lot of information about teaching abroad and lists hundreds of programs. It can be a bit overwhelming, but if you poke around for a bit, you can find really useful info. Also, if you have an idea of the country/countries you’d like to teach in, you can search by country or city.

    -Through Dave’s ESL Cafe or just by searching around the blogosphere, try to find someone who is already teaching English in a country or region you’re interested in. Getting info straight up from someone who’s there is key. Helped me immensely. If you find a school or program you like, email them and ask if you can contact some of their alumni to get more unbiased info.

    -If you don’t have connections in your desired city/country, it may be worth it to search for a program that promises/offers/aims to help you find a job. Very helpful!

    -”not to mention that it actually trains you to be an English teacher, which is not as easy as it sounds”– I couldn’t agree more! The TEFL course is rather intense; not only are you expected to pick up skills like classroom management, error correction, time management and lesson-planning in four short weeks but you’re also overloaded with the basics and complexities of English grammar–which is a lot harder than it sounds! My university educated classmates and I couldn’t have labelled an auxiliary verb or diagrammed a sentence in the present perfect tense before the course, and it took many months of teaching to actually feel comfortable explaining grammar.

    Of course- teaching English isn’t all grammar and technicalities. But the ‘easier’ stuff (vocabulary, slang, pronunciation etc) comes more naturally. If you’re serious about teaching English, I’d highly recommend it. TEFL etc is intense, but definitely worth the time and money.


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