Differences between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA



This article is a guide for teachers who are researching ESL teaching certificates and want some advice. Holding a recognized ESL qualification is more important than ever for online teachers seeking jobs with Chinese companies.

Trusted teaching certificates demonstrate knowledge, competence and aptitude, and thus increase your chance of landing a well-paid job. More importantly, perhaps, the Chinese government has made it illegal for companies to hire unqualified teachers. The days of teaching Chinese students online without an ESL teaching certificate are over.

It’s time to tackle that all-important question: what are the differences between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA?


TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This is (unsurprisingly) a certificate for people who want to teach English as a foreign language – i.e. in countries where English is not the native tongue. TEFL courses come in all shapes and sizes. Because no two courses are the same, it’s not easy to give a clear overview of TEFL certification. Some TEFL programmes are rigorous training courses that involve lesson observations and detailed feedback. But others are low intensity online courses that won’t have a big impact on your skill as a teacher. No regulatory body exists for online or offline TEFL courses, which means that the standard of TEFL training varies widely.

That said, if you are confident in your teaching ability and just need the certification to pass the job interview with an online company, then one of the cheaper online courses may be for you. Cheaper online course may also suit people who want to teach online for a short time before taking their career in a different direction. What new ESL teachers will gain from a TEFL course is a greater understanding of teaching English to non-native language learners. What you won’t get in an online course is a grounding in the art of teaching that sets you up for a career as a teacher.


TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This certificate is for people who want to teach English to people for whom English is not their first language. To confuse mattters, TEFL and TESOL are interchangeable. Many TESOL-certified teachers give lessons to students in English-speaking countries, although schools accept the certificate worldwide. If you want to teach English to Chinese students online, getting a TESOL qualification (along with a bachelor’s degree) will make you a great candidate.

English-speaking teachers who want to work as an ESL instructor in their native country will often choose the TESOL certificate. Like TEFL, there is no regulatory body for TESOL. Inevitably, this means that some courses are more rigorous than others. Make sure you check as many customer reviews as possible before sending a school your $. If you are serious about a career as an ESL teacher, you can even study for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in TESOL at university.


CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Unlike TEFL and TESOL, CELTA is a brand name of a course offered by Cambridge English. CELTA has a reputation for being rigorous, and for this reason it is often chosen by people who want to teach ESL as a full-time career. Since Cambridge English standardize the course, CELTA is trusted around the world. As a result, many consider it an excellent option for teachers who want to prove to future employers that they are competent and well-trained teachers. Of the three certificates, CELTA is usually the most expensive. But many would argue that the extra cost is worth it. On a CELTA course you will receive comprehensive feedback from lesson observations. The full-time course is famous for being demanding, but you can also choose to study part-time and online.

Summary If you are already an experienced teacher and need to gain certification to enter the online teaching industry, purchasing a cheaper online TEFL certificate may be a good option. You might not learn much, but you can pick up an online TEFL certificate for around £40 (on Groupon, for example). These cheaper certificates will allow you to get started as an online teacher in the Chinese market. If you want to learn about different teaching methodologies, classroom management, and other key aspects of teaching ESL, then paying more for a well-respected TESOL or CELTA course is the smartest move. But make sure you fully research the training school before you part with your cash. Labby Education also offers free online teaching training to all candidates who apply with us. Once you have obtained your ESL certificate, get in touch and we will arrange your FREE training with one of our senior training consultants.

(Copyright © 2019 Labby Education LTD)

Reasonably priced online TEFL course (US)

Reasonably priced online TEFL course (UK)

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