TEFL – teaching English as a foreign language – certification is an excellent notch to add to your professional belt if you have serious plans to head overseas for ESL work.

Let’s explore what you can expect from a high-quality TEFL course and how it will help prepare you to thrive in any foreign classroom — whether in Spain, Vietnam, or Qatar.

What will you learn in a TEFL course?

Here are the key skills you’ll acquire in a comprehensive TEFL course:

  • Lesson-planning. You’ll find out soon enough once you start teaching that designing the optimal lesson plan to fill an entire class is much easier said than done. Lesson planning is a serious (and underrated) skill that you’ll be glad to have once you get started in the actual classroom.
  • How to teach the five skills. Your TEFL course will equip you with effective strategies to teach the five elemental English proficiencies — speaking, listening, reading, writing, and pronunciation.
  • Accommodating divergent learning styles. Students have different learning styles. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all ideal curriculum that’s universally applicable. Your TEFL course will train you to incorporate different techniques into your lessons to reach all your students by targeting their unique learning styles.
  • How to simplify and distill English grammar. It might come naturally to you as a native speaker, but English grammar is actually quite complicated to navigate as a non-native speaker just getting introduced to the language. Your TEFL course will provide you with strategies to boil down English grammar into digestible lesson plans that will stick.
  • Learning theories. In the more academic section of your TEFL course, you’ll take at least a cursory glance at the various learning theories that inform English instruction. These are more esoteric components of a TEFL course than the more practical parts, yet they do have important functional applications that you’ll find yourself drawing on in the field.
  • Resources for teachers. The web is absolutely brimming with excellent (free) materials to include in your lesson plans. Your TEFL course may train you to locate and utilize them effectively.

How long does a TEFL course take to complete from start to finish?

TEFL courses come packaged in different lengths as measured by hours; there are 40-hour, 100-hour, 120-hour, 150-hour, and 180-hour courses, generally.

To earn a certification that will serve you well into the future, you should aim for a 120-hour course because that length is generally regarded as the industry gold standard. Future employers may not recognize 40-hour or 100-hour certifications.

The “hour” designation is merely an estimate if you are taking an online, self-paced course. How much time it actually takes to complete the course depends on how fast you work through the material.

All those caveats aside, it’s safe to assume that a 120-hour TEFL course will probably take around 6-8 weeks to complete if you complete it on a part-time basis in between work and school and whatever other commitments you might have.

Lengthier, in-person TEFL courses may take up to a year to complete.

In-person vs online TEFL courses: Which one is right for you?

You will notice once you begin shopping around the web for TEFL courses that they are offered in two formats: online vs. in-person. So what are the relative advantages and drawbacks of each, and how can you select the right format to accommodate your busy schedule?

Online TEFL course pros:

  • Usually more flexible schedule-wise (depending on whether the course uses live instruction or a self-paced format)
  • Course materials are accessible anywhere you have internet
  • Ideal for learners who like to work at their own speed (for self-paced online courses)
  • Usually significantly more affordable than in-person courses
  • May offer online teacher support resources/professional networks

In-person TEFL course pros:

  • Generally more involved curricula
  • Better for learners who perform better in a physical classroom environment with more interpersonal interaction
  • More structured program that might be better suited for learners who struggle with self-discipline
  • May include teaching practicum (hands-on teaching training) to complement the course materials)

The bottom line on the in-person vs online TEFL debate is that I would recommend online over in-person courses for most new ESL teachers if you have a limited budget or a busy schedule or both. As a rule of thumb, in-person courses are better-suited to experienced teachers who already have established careers.

What happens after you finish a TEFL course?

The next course of action (no pun intended) after getting certified for most learners is to look for a teaching position. There are several tried-and-true methods to accomplish this, such as:

  • Online job boards. The web hosts a plethora of online ESL job boards – the most infamous of which is probably eslcafe.com. Most of the industry recruits teachers through these tools, and you’ll be stunned by the sheer volume of posted job advertisements. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that online job boards are a double-edged sword – they’re great tools to connect with recruiters but they’re also infiltrated with scammers. So do your due diligence by researching any schools or agencies before you sign anything.
  • Pounding the pavement. If you have the good fortune to already be on the ground in the foreign country of choice where you would like to teach and work, congratulations! You have a massive leg-up because you can pay physical visits to schools. This makes you more attractive because it shows you’re serious enough about making this happen to already be in-country, plus the school doesn’t have to worry about the logistical challenges of moving you from A to B.
  • Enrolling in a placement program. Far and away, the easiest way to get hired is to enroll in a program like RVF International that takes care of all the administrative hassle of moving abroad to work as an ESL teacher. If you’re a first-time traveler/teacher who’d like to take advantage of an already-built support network, I would especially recommend going this route.

How Will a TEFL course affect your job prospects?

Earning a TEFL certification is hands-down the single best ESL-specific credential to add to your resume. Increasingly, TEFL certification is now a baseline requirement for ESL employers across the globe.

TEFL certification is most valuable for individuals who:

  • Don’t have prior teaching experience
  • Haven’t earned a bachelor’s degree yet
  • Didn’t major in English or education
  • Don’t speak English as a native language

That said, though, even if you’re a fully qualified English major college graduate native speaker, you still benefit greatly by adding a TEFL certification to your CV.

TEFL Course Questions? Contact RVF International For Expert Guidance

We know that navigating the TEFL realm can be challenging for ESL novices. After all, there are a lot of acronyms to wade through!

We’re here to help you sort everything out, orient yourself, and make a plan to make your dreams of teaching English abroad come true. Contact RVF International to learn more.

Ben Bartee is a Bangkok-based American journalist, grant writer, political essayist, researcher, travel blogger, and amateur philosopher. Contact him on Linkedin and check out his Portfolio.