TEFL certificates are one of the most popular options available to would-be English teachers. The market for such programs is vast, however, and so too is the range of options. This section aims to clarify matters by providing an overview of the many programs students are likely to encounter in this growing market.

The demand for teachers of English as a foreign language has risen dramatically in recent years and, in response, so too has the demand (and supply) of certification programs that provide training and accreditation to would-be English educators. These programs are by no means one-size-fits-all affairs, however. Programs range in length from training courses that take a weekend to Master’s programs that take in excess of two years (and have a cost to match). Many master’s programs are lengthy and are by no means necessary (or even advisable) for first time teachers. Instead, those who are just starting out teaching English abroad are better suited for shorter TEFL certificates (as they are generically known) because, in essence, such certificates are ideally suited for first time teachers.

There are many reasons for this but they can best be summarized by one salient point: TEFL certificates are, by and large, are the easiest, cheapest ESL certification option available to would-be educators. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander, however, and this distinction can be something of a double-edged sword for a few reasons. Although they are widely popular they lack a a central authority or accreditation board that evaluates these programs. As a result, TEFL certification courses can vary widely in content and caliber. While all such programs are designed, at least in theory, to prepare would-be instructors to Teach English as a Foreign Language, this lack of standardization means that you can run the gamut from online, distance learning courses offered by private (profit-seeking) operators to intensive preparation courses designed by and offer through high quality universities.

With such variance in the marketplace would-be students should wary. The best TEFL certificate programs will invariably require 100 or 120 hours of study to be completed in person and will include at least some supervised classroom and/or teacher practice. Such programs have earned their reputation and, as such, are well-respected and widely acknowledged by potential employers as a good introduction to the field. They do, however, represent a significantly larger investment of personal resources than their less thorough counterparts. These less well run programs will, at worst, feature online-only instruction, no practicum, and little help when it comes to securing a job after the completion of the program. Their low cost, online platform, and rolling admissions process do, however, make them ideal for some students. Government programs in some countries, for example, award raises and promotions to students upon the successful completion of such programs regardless of their quality. In other countries – namely Cambodia – such programs are widely used by those interested in teaching English abroad without a degree in order to fulfill the country’s visa guidelines.

On the other hand, even those with a certificate from the best programs possible will find their domestic work options limited at best. ESL employers in most English-dominated societies are more selective than their international counterparts so anyone interested in applying their TEFL skills at home should investigate more comprehensive – and better accredited – options like an MA in TESOL. Nevertheless, those who take even the worst courses seriously will be better prepared once they begin teaching abroad and will be rewarded for their effort by increased standing during the application process or increased wages at the current position. In this way because TEFL certificates represent such a small investment of time, energy and effort, their return on investment can be quite high. Thus, if you are looking to teach abroad for a short period of time but have not yet decided that English teaching is the career for you a TEFL certification course may be the perfect fit for you!

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