TEFL vs TESOL vs CELTA: What's the difference?

Issuing time:2016-04-11 09:20Author:Stuart AllenSource:ESL China

So you’re thinking about teaching English?   You want to travel the world, meet interesting people, help improve the lives of others or you simply have a passion to teach?   Yes?   Then you’ll need a recognised English language teaching qualification.   However, with lots to choose from, which one is right for you?

TEFL certificate

This is by far the most common acronym you’ll come across; that’s because TEFL refers to the industry, not a specific type of certificate.   A good course provider will train you to become a TEFL teacher and, once qualified, your 140 hour certification will be considered on par with the widely recognised CELTA and TESOL.   TEFL qualifications are the most commonly held qualifications by teachers living and teaching overseas.

There are lots of options, ranging from short intensive weekend courses to an advanced 140 hour online course.   TEFL courses are certainly the cheapest teaching qualification available today.   An intensive weekend TEFL course will give you around 20 hours of instruction and can cost anywhere between £90 and £300.  

Online courses vary in length, but a typical 140 hour course, the minimum required for overseas employment, costs between £150 and £450.   Taking up to 3 months to complete, these online courses allow you to study at your own pace, at a time that suits you.   Both courses provide you with a solid introduction to TEFL and give you the skills and techniques to begin working straightaway.   The weekend course has the added benefit of a practical element where you can teach the other trainees.


TESOL courses, like the CELTA, are standardised courses which often require four weeks of intensive, full-time study.   They are much more common in North America and Australia and differ from TEFL in that they are mostly for teachers who want to teach in an English speaking country, typically teaching immigrants or refugees.   These qualifications tend to be mid-priced between a TEFL course and a CELTA.


The Cambridge CELTA is a specific type of TEFL certificate.   It is standardised and courses are run in centres all over the world.   It is an incredibly intensive course, lasting four to five weeks, full-time, and costs between £1,500 and £4,000 plus expenses if the centre is not near your home –this makes the course a fairly expensive option.


Getting a teaching certificate is crucial to become a successful teacher and to hit the ground running. It also demonstrates to employers in China thatyou are serious about what you do.

For someone looking to gain new skills and have an adventure, a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language is the perfect starting point for an exciting future.

It is importat to note though, that most of your teaching skills are learnt actually in the classroom, rather than on your course. If you are reading this and thinking "from now on, I'll just take CELTA graduates", then you are making a serious mistake....

As always, the best teachers are the dedicated, fun and creative teachers who go the extra mile in their jobs to create awesome classes.

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