Cactus TEFL: Answering all your TEFL queries

The Cactus TEFL website contains lots of information about the different courses that are available, the different capacities in which you can teach EFL, and where in the world you can work. This information has been gathered from various sources over the years – from industry bodies, from partner schools and from teachers who have applied for a course through us and kept in touch after gaining a qualification.

All of the Cactus TEFL team have worked within the TEFL industry, and our former colleague Jenny Johnson – highly experienced and respected in the TEFL world – represented Cactus TEFL at regular TEFL Q&A sessions with The Guardian, which you can find links to below:

Live Q&A: A beginner’s guide to TEFL, Mar 23 2011

TEFL careers — A graduate guide, 21 July 2010

Teaching English Abroad, Oct 7 2009

We have chosen five of the most frequently asked questions to post below, but would encourage anyone with another TEFL-related question to leave us a comment below. One of our specialist advisers will get back to you with an answer or some advice.

1. What is the difference between TEFL, CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL?

TEFL is the name of the industry you would be working in – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. In order to gain access to this industry, there are two key qualifications which stand out as being quite special in their international recognition – the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) and the Trinity College CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Both the CELTA and CertTESOL courses are types of TEFL courses.

2. Will a 2-day/online TEFL course give me a certificate in teaching EFL?

Courses such as these do award a certificate of completion. However, it is important to recognise that it is not the TEFL qualification that a lot of employers will require. When prospective employers ask, ‘have you got a TEFL certificate?’ what they are usually referring to is the Trinity Certificate TESOL, the Cambridge CELTA or a certificate gained from doing a course of equivalent length and value as these two.

The short courses, however, are ideal if you want a basic introduction to TEFL. If you are looking to teach on an informal basis, or if the kind of teaching that you are planning to do is voluntary or temporary, these courses are perfect. They are particularly beneficial to anyone who is looking to do a few months travelling, and perhaps pick up some casual work along the way.

There are some schools that will employ teachers permanently who have done a short or online course, but in Europe they tend to be smaller, locally-run schools or schools that are in locations slightly off the beaten track. In countries like China where there is a huge demand for teachers, it’s more common to be able to find work with a shorter course behind you – it’s sometimes more important in Asian countries for teachers to have a university degree than a four-week TEFL course certificate.

3. What are the requirements to get on a CELTA/Trinity CertTESOL course?

For native speakers of English, ideally you need to have the qualifications which would allow you to access a degree course – i.e. A-Levels or an equivalent. Having said that, certain schools may require you to hold a degree, whilst others will consider your application if you just have relevant life experience.

If you are a non native speaker, you will also need to be able to demonstrate your ability to use English to a very high standard – ideally you will need to hold something like Cambridge Advanced English (CAE), Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or IELTS level 7. If you don’t have an external qualification, the school will be able to test the level of your English, often by providing you with an additional language task to complete.

You need to be at least 18 years old, though some schools prefer you to be at least 20. There is no upper age limit for these courses.

4. Which countries have the most TEFL jobs?

You could, visa permitting, arrive anywhere your heart desires and offer your services as a TEFL teacher. Whether or not people wanted, or needed to learn English though, is another matter! In general, Asia tends to be the region with the most demand for English teachers – particularly China, Thailand and Vietnam.  The Middle East is another region where there are lots of jobs to be found, and also European countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. Russia is also a plentiful source of work, as is Australia, although the regulations and qualifications required there can be stringent. South America is another area of the world where it is relatively easy to find TEFL work, with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Chile seemingly top of the list for jobs. The hardest places to find paid EFL work tend to be Africa and North America, where unless you have a green card it’s almost impossible to get work. Opportunities in the UK mainly exist within summer schools – competition for year-round TEFL jobs can be very high, and opportunities for paid ESOL work are now also relatively few and far between.


5. What happens if I’m a mature applicant? Can I still do the course/get work?

The impression given by the industry websites and many forums which discuss TEFL issues is that TEFL is an industry designed for the younger generation. There will of course be specific situations where schools will prefer younger staff, for example during summer residential programmes where students tend to be in their teens. There are also certain countries where you are unfortunately quite likely to encounter discrimination on account of your age.

However, if you are flexible and open-minded, and you’re not intent on earning a fortune, then TEFL is arguably more suited to more mature teachers. As far as employers are concerned your wealth of experience will probably mean that you are more at ease with groups and individuals from diverse walks of life, and you will better relate to, for example, the life issues that students face.

Also, a more senior teacher may have the business experience and knowledge which comes in very handy for a school’s company clients, who will not take too kindly to a very young teacher without much life experience.

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