Teaching English Abroad: TEFL vs CELTA

More and more English-speaking young people are traveling the world teaching English. With a variety of English teaching qualifications, it can get a bit overwhelming to decide which certification to choose and to study with. In this article, we are going to cover the two main qualifications, TEFL and CELTA, and see which one will be a better fit for you as an English teacher.

TEFL Course

It is a general term used to describe a course that one takes in order to acquire skills and knowledge in English teaching. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is used synonymously with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), EFL (English as a Foreign Language), ESL (English as a Second Language), and so on. As there are many companies which offer TESOL/TEFL/ESL/EFL courses, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to all of them as “TEFL”.

TEFL training is a qualification which gives you a pass to teach English around the world.
TEFL courses are widely available both online and offline. They focus on the role of the teacher and the teaching methodology. Although different courses differ in content, the main components of all teaching courses focus on listening, speaking, writing, reading, grammar, and vocabulary, and may or may not contain the practical component.

There are no uniform rules that all providers of TEFL courses obey when it comes to content, therefore,  one needs to put extra time and thought into choosing a TEFL course.


CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. This course is provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment, and all authorized centres which train for CELTA must follow very strict guidelines.

CELTA is different from TEFL in that no matter where you take the course, you can expect the same quality and contents of the course. Due to this, some hiring organisations prefer CELTA over TEFL. However, in order to decide which qualification will fit you better, you need to compare the difference between these two programs.

CELTA vs TEFL: duration of course

The standard duration of a CELTA course is 120 hours of classes and six hours of practice teaching. There are three modes for the CELTA course: full-time, part-time, and the online blended course.  The full-time course is an intensive four-week course that requires full immersion into the curriculum with eight-hour days plus homework.  The full-time course is always offline. The part-time course allows for more flexibility as it implies two days of training per week over a period of a few months. For the online blended course, it is typical to receive the theory online and have offline sessions at the rate of one per week (usually on Saturdays).

In contrast, TEFL courses vary drastically and come in all shapes and forms. They can be offline or online and with or without the practical component. Depending on the provider, the content will vary in depth, so it is the student’s responsibility to decide which course would be a better fit.

Prices for TEFL and CELTA

The plethora of TEFL courses also means a greater variety of prices to choose from. As TEFL courses differ in the number of contact hours, some TEFL courses can be as cheap as $200 or less. Some educational platforms such as Coursera allow you to enroll and complete TEFL courses for free so you will only need to pay a fee to receive your certificate.

On the other hand, as CELTA almost always requires you to attend the course in person, the prices for the course start from $1,500 and can go up to $3,000+. In addition to that, you also need to take into consideration the cost associated with living expenses and the fact that you probably won’t be able to work even part-time during the CELTA course.

Whom do you want to teach?

Another determining factor in choosing between CELTA and TEFL is whom you want to work with. As CELTA is a certification aimed at preparing teachers to work with adults, it may not be a good fit for you if what you want to do is to work with kids in Vietnam or China. In this case it might turn out to be an unnecessary expense, so you’ll be much better off searching for a TEFL course that will specifically focus on teaching kids in a big class or learning child psychology.

Similarly, if you are aiming to work at an educational institution with older students, and maybe prepare them for international examinations, i.e. IELTS, CELTA will make you a more eligible candidate for the job.

Requirements for the course

While TEFL courses are more flexible and, in most cases, don’t have strict requirements to access the course, CELTA is more picky when in comes to selecting students. Not only do you need to have at least a high school diploma, you also need to have a 7.5 or more on your IELTS exam unless you are a native speaker. And that is an additional expense as to sit for an IELTS exam will cost you an additional $200.

All in all, the best way to decide on the qualification is to do research on organisations you’d like to work with and compare the criteria for the position. Remember that a good course will have an average of 100 hours of training.


Photo: Shutterstock / edit: Martina Advaney


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