TEFL Certification Requirements

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a unique career choice for anybody who would like a career that involves world travel and learning about new cultures, all while helping people in other countries master the English language. Ultimately, anyone wanting to teach english abroad or online will need to obtain TEFL certification.

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TEFL certification programs help students learn:

  • The variety of conditions under which language is learned and acquired
  • Effective and meaningful ways to teach English language skills
  • How to create lesson plans for effectively teaching classes
  • How to conduct a class and create a productive learning environment

Students in a TEFL certificate program can expect to learn the basics of linguistics, second language acquisition, language pedagogy, materials development, and language methodology.

What is TEFL Certification?

To be hired on to teach at a US embassy school, international school, or reputable private TEFL provider overseas, you will need to earn TEFL certification through a reputable school.

Teaching in any capacity requires some sort of teaching credential that reflects both your subject-specific knowledge, and your proven ability to effectively teach that subject to a class full of students. As any ESL teacher can tell you, working in the public school system here in the U.S. requires both state-issued teacher certification and an endorsement in the ESL content area. Those credentials can only be issued by the state board of education in the state you’ll be teaching in, and are only granted after you’ve completed a student teaching rotation and passed state exams.

TEFL certification works a little differently. Rather than being offered under the auspices of a state licensing board that requires you to complete a state-approved teacher prep program, TEFL certification can be offered through privately-run proprietary schools, as well as major universities here and abroad. Becoming TEFL certified through a reputable school usually involves taking a series of courses and demonstrating proficiency through exams and informal student teaching exercises.

Some schools even require anybody enrolling in the TEFL training course to hold a four-year degree along with having some teaching experience under their belt. This makes TEFL certification a perfect fit for current ESL teachers interested in teaching abroad.

Understanding the Difference Between TEFL and TESL/TESOL

People interested in teaching English overseas tend to pursue TEFL education and training, while those interested in teaching English to non-native-speaking individuals within the U.S. generally pursue TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Within K-12 settings, TESOL teachers are required to possess a state teaching license and specific training and/or education in ESL.

TEFL, however, tends to be different, as it does not always require a specific degree, education, certification, or training. In fact, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers may come from any number of different backgrounds. For example, in the business field, EFL teachers may possess a degree in a specific field (e.g., engineering, science, mathematics, etc.) and a TEFL certificate to qualify for an overseas appointment.

English as a Foreign Language teachers in private schools often find that teaching certification supported by a graduate degree are standard requirements.

With that in mind, individuals interested in becoming EFL educators should check with a country’s department of ministry to learn about general education or training requirements for teaching English as a foreign language. TEFL job boards may also be a good place to begin researching requirements for TEFL jobs.

Undergraduate/Graduate TESL/TEFL Degree Programs

There are a number of undergraduate programs in TEFL available throughout the U.S.; however, the majority of programs are at the graduate level, as it is most common for individuals to first obtain an undergraduate degree in education or a specific field of study before going on to pursue a master’s degree in TEFL.

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Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and TEFL programs are often quite similar, and many graduate programs are actually a hybrid of the two. As such, both TESL and TEFL programs prepare students to teach in the U.S. and abroad.

Many master’s programs in TESL/TEFL are offered through a university or college’s Department of English, and some programs are actually designed as an M.A. in English with a concentration in TESL/TEFL. Many universities and colleges also house their TESL/TEFL programs in their Department of Foreign Languages.

An M.A. in TEFL is designed to provide students with practical, theoretical, and criticals knowledge of methods for teaching the English language in any number of academic, business, and social settings. As such, these programs often feature an integrated core through which general and skill-specific pedagogical theories and applications are combined with communicative functions of the English language.

Learned theory and practice are most often enhanced with a number of supervised teaching experiences, and most programs culminate in a portfolio or thesis.

Graduates of TEFL master’s programs are able to:

  • Effectively teach English as a foreign or second language
  • Evaluate the utility and validity of diverse teaching methodologies and testing procedures
  • Adapt and/or develop materials for any number of teaching situations
  • Evaluate current EFL research and its relevance to teaching

Core courses in a TEFL master’s program may include:

  • Syntax for EFL/ESL
  • Principles of linguistics
  • Teaching English as a foreign/second language
  • Cultures issues in the EFL classroom
  • Second language acquisition for EFL
  • EFL curriculum and materials design
  • Theories of foreign/second language learning
  • Phonology/morphology for EFL/ESL

Many programs require candidates to possess some experience with a foreign language or foreign culture for admission (particularly those who do not possess a bachelor’s degree in education), while some are designed specifically for state-licensed educators.

TEFL Certification Requirements

While TESL certification is generally reserved for licensed educators (PK-12) in the public school system and is earned through an appropriate state board of education following a specific course of study, TEFL certification is not as well-defined.

Specifically, there is no one certifying body or accreditation process for TEFL; instead, individuals may pursue TEFL certification through a number of programs, which are available through specific language institutes, colleges and universities, and online institutions.

While some TEFL certificate programs are just a couple weeks in duration and are designed primarily for individuals desiring work in for-profit overseas organizations that require very few prerequisites, many TEFL certification programs are designed as post-baccalaureate programs and are therefore typically offered through colleges and universities.

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Admission requirements for most post-baccalaureate certification programs in TEFL include a bachelor’s degree (many demand a minimum GPA) and evidence of the completion of coursework in the study of a foreign language.

Note: Although not all TEFL certification programs require the completion of a bachelor’s degree for admission, most overseas TEFL jobs require that candidates possess a four-year degree, as well as TEFL certification or graduate work in TEFL.

Common courses in a TEFL certification program include:

  • Linguistics for EFL teachers
  • Cultures and communication
  • Methods for teaching English as a foreign language
  • EFL and grammar
  • Practicum skills
  • Lesson planning and curriculum

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