Do You Really Need TEFL to Teach English Abroad?

TEFL or “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” is often used as an acronym for the qualification or certificate itself. TEFL is not one single qualification but is a term used to describe courses normally similar in length and depth, most notably CELTA and Trinity. They are designed as entry level courses although experienced teachers often take them to improve their career prospects. Being TEFL certified is by far the most useful qualification for new teachers. This is now widely regarded as the industry standard.

From the employers’ point of view, the most respected, for new teachers is a certified course lasting between 100-130 hours which includes some (usually 6 hours) actual teaching. These courses typically take place over an intensive 4 weeks. Some centres have a part-time option, spreading the programme over a number of months.


A lot is crammed into a tight schedule. TEFL courses will cover language analysis, teaching methodology, observations of experienced teachers and actual teaching practice, amongst other things. Some find it hard going but almost all come away feeling it was well worth the time, effort and money and are ready to teach English abroad.

There is no escaping the fact that TEFL is expensive. Courses range from $1300 to $2000. Inevitably this puts many people off. There are cheaper options but they will not be as comprehensive and will not help your prospects of finding a good job nearly as much.

The standard 100-130 hour intensive TEFL course is also sometimes distinguished from shorter ones by being referred to as “full TEFL”. This is the area most covered in this chapter.

What has become the standard for teaching English Abroad, the 4-week training course, was originally designed by the founder of International House, John Haycraft. Before its introduction, in the late sixties, there was little in the way of formal training for those starting out teaching English abroad. The original TEFL course format was adopted by “equivalent” courses and soon became widely recognised and respected the world over.

The Benefits

A respectable course will give you a sound grounding in teaching skills and knowledge of the English language. Many educated people think they know their own language well but in the UK, for example, the details and workings of English grammar are rarely taught in schools. Teachers need to know the technical terms (intransitive/transitive, active/passive, present perfect etc). Students can often be more knowledgeable about theses terms than a new teacher who is meant to be instructing them. A good Teaching English as a Foreign Language programme will give you the theoretical and practical basis and knowledge you need to become a successful teacher.

A recognised qualification will provide you with many more opportunities as most of the best employers ask for TEFL qualifications and won’t look at an application from those without it. All the big chains, like International House or The British Council, will insist on it. Pay for qualified teachers tends to be higher, so making a one-time investment of a month’s pay or so can be well worth it.

Doing a course and getting a universally recognised qualification is a huge step in the right direction for teachers, especially the inexperienced. A good qualification shows a potential employer commitment and gives the trainee some background and knowledge of the subject. The best courses provide invaluable first-hand teaching practice. This will give you the best indication of what to expect on the job.

Many courses or the centres that provide them will have resources and contacts for finding work once you are qualified. This is an easy and effective way to get oriented quickly and land yourself with a job from a reliable employer without having to conduct your job search on your own.