Which is better, TESOL or CELTA?

The English teaching world is famous for its love of acronyms and TESOL and CELTA are two common ones that you are sure to have come across when researching English teaching overseas or online. Although these are both well known within the teaching community, they can still cause some confusion among new teachers in particular. So what do they stand for and which one is better?

What does TESOL mean?

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. The term is used to refer to any training course or certification that is aimed at English speakers who want to teach English in their own country, overseas, or online. It does not refer to any individual course or certificate. A quick bit of research will reveal there are many different TESOL course providers out there and they offer a wide range of course options, with a huge variety of lengths, prices, and levels of quality.

TESOL also has a closely related acronym: TEFL, which stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TESOL and TEFL essentially mean the same thing and are commonly used interchangeably to refer to training programs or certification that has been specifically designed for inexperienced teachers who are keen to teach English abroad or online. Although these two terms are used all over the world to mean the same thing, TESOL is typically more common in North America and TEFL is more common in the UK. However, no matter which one you have on your teaching certificate, it will be welcomed by international employers as long as it was gained from a reputable course provider.

What does CELTA mean?

CELTA is a similar term that originally stood for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. However, the name was changed in recent years to reflect the fact that it also includes content on teaching young learners. The new official title of CELTA is Cambridge English Level 5 Certificate In Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This qualification can be seen as an individual brand of TESOL certification that is provided and moderated by Cambridge English, as part of the famous UK University of Cambridge.

To complete the course trainees spend around a month on intensive teacher training at one of over 300 training centers that run the course in 70 different countries across the world. As with other TESOL courses, the CELTA is aimed at first-time teachers who are looking to break into the world of ESL teaching, as well as teachers with some experience who lack any formal teaching qualifications. The course is open to native and non-native English speakers. Non-natives need to prove their English skills via a minimum of a C1 rating on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) or an IELTS score of 7, before enrolling.

Which is better, TESOL or CELTA?

The most important thing to remember is that the acronym on your teaching certificate is not that important, whether it is TESOL, CELTA, or even TEFL, they are all acceptable to employers. What does matter is that the specific course you chose to take actually meets the widely accepted international standard for English language teaching. Schools and language centers typically look for the following standards in a teacher training qualification:

  • 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 is 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.

If the course you take matches the criteria above then it really shouldn’t matter which acronym you have on your certificate when applying for the majority of ESL teaching jobs.

What if a course doesn't meet this criteria?

A quick look online will reveal that there are a large number of short-format TESOL courses available, some at very low prices. Unfortunately, most of these will fall well short of the criteria expected by many employers. If you choose your course based on its low price or short study time you might find that your options in the job market, at home and abroad, are seriously restricted. In contrast, any training course that matches up to the above criteria, regardless of its acronym, should give you all the knowledge and skills you need to get your new teaching career off the ground.

Does the location of the course affect its quality?

The CELTA course and the in-class version of a TESOL course are run by a huge number of different schools and training centers in countries all over the world. Because of this, it is unsurprising to find that there are some variations in the overall quality of the courses on offer. If you look online you might find some people suggesting that the CELTA course is superior to the TESOL, but this should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. The reality is that the CELTA course is run by many different providers, some of which are inevitably better than others.

Although it might have been true many years ago that the CELTA was seen as a step up from a TESOL certificate, that is no longer the case as many TESOL course providers have upped their game and are now seen to be on a par or even slightly above the standard set by the University of Cambridge for its CELTA certification. The bottom line is that the quality and effectiveness of a teacher training course is never set by the acronym on the certificate you receive at the end of the training. It is the overall standard of the individual training center that is the most important thing to consider when choosing a teacher training course to get your teaching career started.

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