What is the difference between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA?

English language teaching is awash with acronyms and unfortunately this can lead to a fair amount of confusion amongst new and experienced teachers. Anywhere you look for information regarding teaching English abroad you will find acronyms such as TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA. So what is the difference between these terms?

What does TEFL mean?

This common term stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TEFL does not apply to any one singular program, certification, or provider, but is just a catch-all term used for training courses and certification aimed at people who plan to teach English overseas. There are many TEFL course providers that offer a wide range of TEFL certification that vary in length, price, and overall quality.

What does TESOL mean?

This is another common term that stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and is used in much the same way as TEFL is used above. TEFL and TESOL are often used interchangeably to refer to a specific type of training program or certification that is designed for those looking to teach English abroad. Generally, TESOL is more commonly used in North America, while TEFL is more common in the UK. When used in regard to teacher training programs and certification, TEFL and TESOL essentially mean the same thing and either course/certificate name is acceptable to international employers.

What does CELTA mean?

This term stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. CELTA is essentially an individual brand of TEFL certification that is awarded by Cambridge English Language Assessment which is a part of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. The CELTA course is an intensive 4-week program that is run by over 300 individual schools and training centers in 70 different countries around the world. As the title of the certification suggests, this qualification is mainly aimed at people who plan to teach adult students, rather than young learners.

Which type of course should I choose?

The first thing to remember is that it really doesn't matter which acronym you have on the certificate you end up with as TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA are all perfectly acceptable when looking for teaching jobs. What really matters is that your chosen course meets the accepted international standard for English language teaching. These standards require:

  • A minimum course length of 120 hours (4-week in-class course or equivalent)
  • A minimum of six hours of observed teaching practice (OTP) with genuine ESL students
  • The course should be conducted by instructors who possess a high level of relevant qualifications and extensive teaching experience
  • The curriculum should be externally accredited and monitored by an independent body

What if a course doesn't meet this criteria?

If you look online you will find a wide array of short-format/low priced TESOL course options that fail to meet the above criteria. While these might be acceptable to some employers, by choosing one you will seriously restrict your worldwide employment options. In contrast, any course that does meet the criteria, regardless of its acronym, should provide all the teaching skills, necessary knowledge, and overall confidence required to get your teaching career started.

Does the quality of a training course vary by location?

As these courses are available in countless different schools and training centres around the world, it is inevitable that there are some variations in overall quality. It is often said that the CELTA course is superior to any other TEFL course out there, however, this is not the case as the course is operated by hundreds of different training centers, some of which do a better job than others. In recent years, many TEFL and TESOL certificate courses have caught and even now exceed the standards set by the University of Cambridge for its CELTA certification. The simple truth is that the quality and effectiveness of any teacher training course is not down to the individual acronym on the final certificate it awards, but it is the overall standard of the individual training center that is most important.