What's the Difference TEFL vs CELTA vs TESOL

By: Lena Llis
TEFL, CELTA, and TESOL certifications may look the same, but there are some subtle differences to be aware of.

When searching for a teaching qualification, you will come across various types, which come with various abbreviations, and can be all together very confusing.

Different courses will also come with different price tags, so it is important to have a good idea of what each certification means, and how much money is worth spending on them.

Here is a breakdown of the most common certifications:

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language

TEFL is a generic term you are likely to see a lot of when you search for qualifications. This is the most common certification for those taking their course overseas. If you took a sampling of teachers living abroad who hold qualifications, a large majority would be in possession of a TEFL certificate. It is especially prevalent in Asia and Latin America.

As TEFL does not refer to a specific type of certificate, you will need to look at these courses individually, and ask some important questions.

You should make sure your course covers these points:

• It should be taught on site, ideally with some hands-on teaching experience involved

• The course should be at least 4 weeks in length, with ideally 120 contact hours or more

• Previous graduates of the course should have found jobs using their certificate – ask the center for job placement statistics

• The course should cover both teaching methodology, and English grammar.

If your TEFL certification abides by the guidelines above, and most do nowadays, then your TEFL certification will be considered on par with the CELTA and TESOL. TEFL certificates are excellent for teachers looking to live and work overseas.

Costs of TEFL programs vary wildly depending on structure and location. But in general, they are typically cheaper than a CELTA or TESOL.

*Online TEFL Courses*

Some TEFL courses will be online only, and as such they will be cheaper than other options. However, the online course does not carry nearly as much weight as an in-person training program, and many schools in competitive countries may not accept teachers with only this type of certificate. You may save yourself money to begin with, but you’ll have a harder time finding a job.

That’s not to say an online TEFL course isn’t helpful. It’s an excellent program for those looking to touch up on their teaching skills. It’s common for those planning to teach in Korea (which doesn’t require certification) to take an online course in preparation for life as an ESL teacher.

CELTA - Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

A CELTA is a specific type of TEFL certification, which has a very reputable background and is recognized as a solid English Teaching qualification, especially in Europe. It is a standardized certificate. If you have a CELTA, you can expect any school to know what it is, and to see that you have been fully trained.

You can get a CELTA from many different training centres around the world. It will require undertaking a 4 week full-time course, during which you will attend classes on teaching techniques, and language and grammar components. Ideally you will also teach sample classes, and be assessed and advised on them. There are also part-time and weekend options for gaining a CELTA.

CELTA certifications tend to be the most expensive on average.

TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

TESOL qualifications are globally recognized and respected. All schools will know the TESOL, and will understand that it reflects a thorough level of training. They are generally considered equivalent to CELTA courses and 4 week TEFL courses, and are especially prevalent in North America. It is a standardized certificate.

Just like the CELTA and many TEFL programs, it will require 4 weeks of training, involving classes on teaching methodology and English language and grammar. You should also have the opportunity to teach sample classes and receive feedback on them. Alternatively, there are part time and weekend versions of the TESOL.

The cost of a TESOL certification will vary somewhat from center to center, but in general, costs are low to moderate.

Regardless of which teaching certification you choose, a reputable teaching certificate will show your potential employer that you are serious about becoming a teacher, and that you have already invested time, money, and effort in pursuing this career. It also lets them know that you have been exposed to the major teaching techniques, and that you will be familiar with lesson planning, structure, and classroom activities. It also shows that you have learned English grammar and nuances of the language, which even native speakers are often unaware of.

You’ll find that some schools will only accept teachers with a certain certification. You may even see some schools clearly indicate that they only want teachers with a CELTA, TESOL, or TEFL certification. This is really just a personal preference. If you do see such a job offer, and you have the other certificate than what they are asking for, apply anyway and note that your qualification is based on the same type of training and assessment. If you make it clear to that employer that you undertook thorough training on the right areas, they should consider you.

A great thing about these qualifications is that they do not lose their value over time. Once you have a TEFL, TESOL or a CELTA, you are certified for life. Even if you do not immediately take up English teaching after you complete the course, it is a good qualification to have as a backup plan. You never know when you might feel like a career change, or get the itch to move to a new country, and being a fully certified teacher makes those options much easier. We can’t stress enough the importance of being qualified. Bottom line, it is worth your time and money.

1 comment


What is the prevance or desirability/hireability of older certificate holders ? Specifically a retired teacher with an M.A and other certifications ...

Reply ⋅ September 30 at 1:54 pm