What's the difference between TEFL, TESL, TESOL and CELTA?

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ESL instructors help English language learners become fluent in the English language. 

Starting your career as an ESL teacher is a beautiful endeavor that will lead to many new adventures, experiences, and connections. 

And there is certainly no shortage of ESL jobs, with English teachers being in higher demand than ever before.

Countless countries are on the lookout to hire new teachers, including Spain, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

Before you book your plane ticket and jet off to your next destination, you will need to take a closer look at the requirements for getting hired.

Most domestic and international schools require a certification.

But the English teaching world is full of acronyms! 

With 4 major ones to choose from, it’s understandable that you may not know where to start or even which one is the best option for your career path. 

Well, you’ve come to the right place! 

TEFL, TESL, TESOL, and CELTA will all certify you to teach English, in slightly different contexts. 

Do you want to teach domestically? What about internationally? 

Choosing the right certificate for your needs will depend on where you want to teach and who you plan on teaching. 

Here is everything you need to know to understand the key differences between TEFL, TESL, TESOL, and CELTA. 

  1. Teach English as a foreign language with an internationally recognized TEFL
  2. Teach English as a second language in English-speaking countries with a TESL
  3. Teach English as a second language in English-speaking and select other countries with a TESOL
  4. Teach English to adults in English-speaking and select other countries with a CELTA

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1. Teach English as a foreign language in a non-English speaking country with an internationally recognized TEFL

What is TEFL? 

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. 

Teachers will be certified to teach English to students whose first language is not English. 

The students have next to no opportunity for English immersion in their home countries, which is where you come in.

TEFL is one of the most acclaimed certificates around the world, equipping teachers with the courses and training that are typically required by language schools around the world that seek to employ English teachers. 

Countries that are often seeking such help include China, Japan, Brazil, Korea, among countless others. 

That is why the course may also offer specific lessons that will help you get your first job teaching abroad, such as modules on resume preparation. 

While TEFL certification can be easily obtained online, it's a myth that you can only use TEFL to teach online! 

If you so desire, you can immerse yourself in another country and teach in-classroom. 

Of course, going abroad in 2021 will require you to follow all of the COVID-19 protocols set in place. 

The minimum TEFL requirement is to complete a 100-hour course, but it’s highly recommended to do the 120-hour TEFL training, which will help you get hired for the highest salary teaching positions available. 

The great news is that TEFL can be completed by individuals from varying backgrounds and experience levels!

Now, note that there is no single governing body, company, or school that can accredit you with a TEFL certification. 

That's why it’s important you do your research and choose a TEFL course that is reputable and recognized by the international employers you will be applying with. 

Upon completion, teachers can apply for paid or volunteer positions around the world, including ESL instructor, certified teacher, and administrative roles. 

2. Teach English as a second language in English-speaking countries with a TESL

What is TESL?

TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language. 

If you wish to teach ESL in countries such as the United States or Canada, or in other countries where English is still widely spoken, then TESL is the right certificate for you. 

With the TESL you will be qualified to teach ESL students whose first language is not English. 

Teachers who complete their TESL certification will often find themselves working as a language support teacher or teaching in private schools where English is the first language.

You will be teaching recent immigrants, students, and workers in countries such as the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia. 

Should you choose this option, the TESL certification is a highly recognized and respected course by TESL Canada! 

In other words, this training program meets the national Canadian standards for ESL teaching.

So, the distinguishing factor between TEFL and TESL is where you will be teaching. 

If you wish to travel and teach abroad, the TEFL certificate is the way to go.

But, if you wish to teach domestically in native-English speaking countries, TESL is for you. 

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3. Teach English as a second language in English-speaking and select other countries with a TESOL

What is TESOL?

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 

So, why complete a TESOL versus a TEFL certification

TESOL offers you the flexibility to teach in English and non-English speaking countries.

You can travel abroad or choose to stay in your home country. 

As one of the more recent certifications, TESOL offers you a broader overview of a wide range of topics. 

The downside to this is that you will study each topic in less depth, and TESOL courses are not as widely recognized. 

You will need to do some preliminary research on your teaching destination of choice, as TESOL will sometimes be incompatible with certain curriculum plans. 

The number of hours you complete on your certification is equally important. 

A 120-hour TESOL is suitable for teaching online and abroad, but if you wish to teach ESL in Canada you will be required to complete 250 hours. 

The details are key.

With TESOL, you will gain language teaching strategies that are useful for EFL and ESL classrooms. 

Those who complete their TESOL certificate will have a competitive advantage when applying for domestic English teaching jobs, similar to TESL.

As you are applying for this program, please note that TESOL International and other universities refer to their graduate degree programs as the Master of Arts in TESOL. 

So, if you wish to earn a Master’s degree in teaching ESL, it will likely be TESOL. 

Similar to TESL, TESOL is regulated by governments in English-speaking countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia. 

Many Canadian, Australian and British training centers commonly issue local TESOL certificates, which are regulated by local governments. 

However, the US does not have domestic regulations for teaching ESL in private language schools, and so most US and European training centers would use TEFL terminology for teaching abroad. 

Read more on the differences between TEFL and TESOL on our blog. Find out which certification is for you!

4. Teach English to adults in English-speaking countries and select other countries with a CELTA

What is CELTA?

CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. 

It is now more commonly known as the certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. 

This certificate is specifically completed through the University of Cambridge’s non-profit assessment organization, Cambridge English Assessment. 

It is a brand of the TEFL certificate that requires students to complete 120 hours of class time mixed in with 6 hours of in-classroom experience with ESL learners (practicum).

It is an intensive and full-time course that takes four weeks to complete and equips you with the skills you need in order to teach English to only adults. 

However, the option for part-time may be available in some schools, the duration for which would take up to three months. 

As a result of the affiliation with Cambridge University, CELTA does hold a reputation in the teaching abroad industry. 

And bonus—CELTA is 120-hours of in-class work PLUS you have all sorts of homework, whereas for TEFL and some TESOL, 120-hours represents your work in and out of class! So although you come away with the same certificate, there's a lot less work involved in TEFL!

Not to mention gaining the knowledge of teaching both young and adult learners.

However, do not make the mistake of assuming that CELTA will be more advantageous for applying to schools abroad. 

It will be helpful, but make note of where and who you want to be teaching before you jump into the course load. 

One of the downsides of CELTA is that they offer limited job placement assistance if any at all. 

Those who pursue CELTA typically want to teach English for a longer period of time, two years or more, either abroad or domestically. 

Choosing the best certification for your needs 

Becoming an ESL teacher, part-time or full-time, is an exciting time in your life! 

Take some time to think about everything you are hoping to get out of this experience, and you will find your answer when it comes to which certificate is best for you. 

If you wish to stay domestically and teach in a fluent English-speaking country, TESL or TESOL will be your best bet.

Whether staying local or going abroad, CELTA is a great choice for a long-term career path of teaching adults. 

And if your main focus is life overseas, then TEFL comes highly acclaimed and recommended.