For the uninitiated, the English as a Second Language industry is rife with a dazzling array of similar sounding acronyms. Even the name of the industry itself – ESL – is frequently rendered as EFL (where the ‘F’ is for foreign) and course instructors variously as Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), English Language Instructor (ELI), and English Language Teacher (ELT). Students are not the only ones who stand to be bewildered, however; teachers, too, are often confronted with a number of competing English teaching certificates. Fortunately, we are here to help!

In essence, time is the key to understanding the different teaching English certifications available. Roughly speaking, the industry as a whole is basically comprised of two different paths whose target market either a) has little exposure to the industry or b) has determined that teaching English abroad is a long-term career plan.


Short-term TEFL certifications programs have proliferated wildly in recent years and now come in a variety of styles and mediums. Indeed, from online, distance learning courses to weekend intensive courses and part-time classroom instruction at local universities, TEFL certification courses are designed, as the name suggestions, to prepare would-be instructors to Teach English as a Foreign Language. They are targeted primarily at students who are new to the industry and are interested in seeing if teaching English abroad is a good fit for them. As a result, those who are looking to teach abroad for a short period of time but have not yet decided that English teaching is the career for them often find these shorter courses appealing. Their popularity is also the due to the fact that TEFL certificate programs are well regarded by overseas employers.

That having been said, it is important to recognize that some Internet-based TEFL courses vary in quality and recognition. While many are well-respected and widely acknowledged by potential employers as a good introduction to the field, high-quality institutions with require 100 or 120 certificate completed in person that includes supervised classroom and/or teacher practice.


The CELTA, or Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults, is the next rung up the ladder in English teaching certificates. Widely viewed as the most prestigious TEFL certificate available, its courses are backed by the University of Cambridge and is widely respected throughout the world. Courses, which can be completed in as little as one month at centers around the world, emphasize practical training in proven classroom techniques and are required to include supervised classroom teaching practicums. As a result of this rigor – and full-time CELTA courses can be very challenging – the CELTA is the most widely accepted TEFL certification in the world and is well regarded by overseas employers.


A DELTA certification and an MA in TESOL, though quite different, each represent the highest level of teaching English certification. The DELTA – which unlike the CELTA certificate offers a Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults – is often seen as a continuation of CELTA, and is most often pursued by teachers who have made a long-term commitment to a career in English language instruction.

Similarly, a MA in TESOL is a post-graduate degree program offered by many North American universities that is designed to provide students with the a formal understanding of TEFL theory and practice.

Given their advanced natures, both the DELTA and the MA in TESOL are relatively lengthy and expensive but are the industry standard for US colleges and universities (and will doubtless give international applications a leg up).

So, in the end, you can see that there is indeed a method to the madness. With the many options available, however, there is no one-size-fits-all English teaching certificate – only you can say which one is right for you!

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