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Which course?

June 29, 2009

Hello again,

The most frequently asked question from those wishing to embark on an ELT career is: which course should I take? Such is the question raised recently by somebody wanting to know if he should take a TEFL or a TESOL course .

The simple answer is...

...that it really doesn’t matter. What is important is that the certifying body is well recognised in the profession and that the teaching institution can offer you high-quality training, value for money and is convenient for you.

So what is the difference? It really is just a question of a rose by any other name. Cambridge University, which, I suspect, has the major market share in teacher training courses, defines the acronyms thus:
'TEFL' or 'TESOL' are terms often used to describe qualifications for English Language teachers. CELTA, the best known and most widely taken initial TESOL/TEFL qualification of its kind in the world, was previously known as CTEFLA and the 'RSA certificate'.

So why the two acronyms? TEFL was the earlier term, standing for ‘teaching English as a foreign language.’ It was used by the RSA when it launched its early teacher training qualifications. Some people felt that this description somehow made English sound a bit arbitrary as a language choice: just one among many possible foreign languages. TESOL, standing for ‘teaching English to speakers of other languages’ seemed to give English a higher status. But, as you can see, there is no important semantic distinction. This is not the situation with TESL, which refers to teaching English as a second language. here the difference is important in that it implies learners will be living in an English-speaking country and will need to understand about that country’s systems, institutions and culture as well as language.

to answer the original question: you will probably find a good range of reputable courses calling themselves either TEFL or TESOL, although the trend is to refer to all as TESOL courses now. Before choosing your course, check that the certifying body has standing within the profession. Then make sure the training will be of the quality you need. A four-week intensive course is the minimum you should expect for an initial qualification. Ask for testimonials form past students, ask about pass rates, job-finding success. Compare prices to ensure you will have good value and then choose the course that best suits your circumstances.

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  1. Drew Ward Says:

    Hi again Brenda,

    Sadly I fear that none of the primary certificate programs out there are really worth their salt. Considering what is actually taught, all of them are grossly overpriced. They are often focused more on confidence building and lesson plan writing than they are on actually training the teacher in effective ways of teaching the language.

    Primarily, they all lack teaching the most important tool for an ESL instructor -- a self-awareness of the language itself. English is a very straightforward logical language yet if the teacher is never trained to himself understand what is really happening in the structures and meanings of the language, then they can never expect to be able to effectively train students to recognize and use these patterns themselves.

    Sadly most native speakers who are teachers cannot effectively explain when to use given aspects or tenses -- whether something should be in the simple past or present perfect or past perfect, or simple versus progressive, etc. They themselves don't understand the purposes and effects of these structures and can thus never be expected to be able to teach them to students.

    I'm afraid our training system really requires a complete overhaul from the ground up rather than a furthering of the current system which is more about making money for Cambridge, ETS, and the IH chain.

  1. Dele Ashade Says:

    It remains simply patronising for any one intitution or individual seeking English Language teachers, to insist on "Native Speakers".Does it mean they are better teachers than non-native speakers?I think 'not'.

    My belief is that native speakers especially, but also everyone aspiring to teach any language---and in this case, English---should know the structure of the language, inside-out.Grammar is the structural skeleton of a language and without it, the 'body' slouches. This is reason why Asia is at sixes and sevens at the moment. Asia is infested with native English teachers, 98% of whom do not know anything about grammar.Everyone is now asking: why is Thailand not developing in English - Language learning in spite of alarming Western presence in that beautiful, touristy country?

    Native speakers, as a cover-up technique now preach Communicative Language Teaching.This in not helpful without grammar knowledge.Nor is it demonstrable through teachers who do not know about the best-kept secret of English: GRAMMAR.I mean, productive, not the theoretical one.

    Communicative Language Teaching has failed Asia and Asians.Time for institutions and employers to re-think their employment policies of ESL teachers. I will always prefer non - native speakers of English who may have gone through proper professional training and who demonstrate evidence of knowledge of grammar, to greenhorn Canadian of American (no harm meant!) teachers just because they are native speakers.I agree that , since the Critical Period Hypothesis experimentations have shown that non-native English speakers may lose phonological expertise (of English) forever if they did not live among natives in the first 12 years of life,native speakers may be preferred over non-native speakers for teaching "Conversation English" Even then, such should have received adequate professional training to be able to do this.Beyond this, trained non-native speakers (who also demonstrate infallible ability in speaking and writing should be given teaching chances.

    Non -native speakers know a lot of grammar and thousands of its valuable rules--- and its application for both accuracy and fluency, as grammar on its own is mere jargon, otiose and redundant.Non-native teachers also, from experiencial involvement, know many 'secret' areas of weaknesses of their learners,(which, to say the truth, native speakers do not) because, the teacher himself has passed that way, before.If employers would like to be fair and sagacious, they should stop what someone called "mad worship" of theoretical 'native' speakers.I advise that, to determine if a non -native speaker - teacher would be a good teacher, they may be required to take either the IELTS or TOEFL and ask for a minimum of say, 7.0 average in IELTS.This may be in addition to basic professional teaching qualifications rather than the grossly annoying mantra: "Native speakers only". At least, this is an international exam, measuring English communication ability for use internationally and should be sufficient evidence of practical ability, except we want to say we do not believe in the validity of these examinations.Whether CELTA, DELTA TEFL---or even MATESOL, it is the teacher's practical ability that is needed.For more discussions on this, interested readers may wish to contact me through my email address.

  1. Eileen Yeager Says:

    Interesting, Drew! I don't know if you're currently teaching or if this is new to you, but I earned my California teacher credential in 1995 (at the ripe old age of 55!) and not once did the program provide ANY guidance in how to keep a grade book, how to handle the day-to-day "business" of teaching, etc. I learned all of that from other teachers.

    I've enforced consistent tense through writing - students must choose past or present and keep their writing consistent. I think that the use of a basic grammar book, which you can get at many used book sales, would help immensely. I think that native speakers - of any language - tend to use terms that they've known forever without actually knowing WHY. At least grammar, itself, is consistent. It doesn't change from year to year and, once you have things down, they're much easier to explain. I remember learning about past participles - for instance, when you'd say "eaten" rather than "ate." If you use has, have or had - you'd say "eaten."

    When you, as a teacher, see it explained it makes a lot of sense and is easier to share.

    Hope this helps! I remember from a very intersting language acquisition class I took how fascinated I was with the actual learning of language and how we, as native speakers, can appply the rules and constructs without even thinking about them.


  1. Bob Toomey Says:

    I agree with Drew Ward. If all these language teaching courses are so wonderful, how come nobody learning to speak and understand English never learns correctly? The first thing anyone should do is to go through a real teaching certification course (two years at a university), and, perhaps, one of those ESL courses.

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