Studying TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) will lead to one of the most useful and flexible qualifications you will ever have. For many folks, the joy of TEFL is that it’s a passport in your hand – you can use it to live and work almost anywhere in the world, as everyone wants to learn English.
Best of all, you don’t need any prior experience of teaching before taking a TEFL course, nor do you need to speak the language of your students. In fact, many TEFL lessons are conducted entirely in English.
Other terms you’ll hear are TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), TEAL (Teaching English as an Additional Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language). But they all refer to teaching the English language to someone who is not a native speaker.
Why TEFL works
You might assume that just being a native speaker of English is enough to teach the subject. Wrong! A TEFL course teaches you how to look at your native language with the eyes of an outsider, enabling you to understand the challenges it presents and how to help learners overcome them.
There’s so much we know subconsciously about our language, yet we’d be stumped to explain the rules to a non-native speaker. For example, could you explain why a phrase like, ‘I have been to the cinema last night’ sounds wrong? And why ‘a cute little kitten’ is correct, but, ‘a little cute kitten’ sounds subtly…well, un-English.
A TEFL course will teach you how to explain problems like this to students who may be completely baffled by them. Many practical TEFL courses teach you the classroom skills and techniques to help you be a good teacher full stop, regardless of subject. Being able to convey a subject to someone else is a useful, transferable skill in any area of professional life.
Reasons to study TEFL
You may be looking for a new professional challenge, or want to find a role that allows you to interact with people a bit more. Perhaps you fancy the idea of teaching, but are not a qualified teacher. The beauty of most TEFL courses is that they allow you to achieve a qualification or some competency in the subject quickly, so you can get on with your plans, armed with your new skillset.
Oh, and did we mention the chance to travel?? Teaching English is popular with gap year students, graduates and people taking sabbaticals – in fact, anyone who wishes to escape to live and work abroad for a while.
Pick a country you’ve always wanted to visit, take a course and research what teaching opportunities exist there. Many students find it to be a viable way to explore another country and culture, supported by the security of a salary and (in many cases) accommodation provided.
To infinity, and beyond!
According to STA Travel, the most popular destinations for EFL teachers are:
4. South Korea
…but there’s a whole world out there.
What to expect
TEFL courses range from online courses to classroom-based, practical courses where you’ll gain classroom experience. Courses can be full or part-time; some are less intense than others and are only appropriate for those who wish to use their TEFL skills in the short term.
There’s great scope for creativity in TEFL. You’ll be encouraged to create your own materials for learners (which can include videos, podcasts and social media). You’ll learn about classroom management, the particular challenges that learners of English are likely to face and how to adapt lessons to serve different levels of ability.
If you’re looking to teach in a specific language school, make sure that the TEFL qualification you’re working towards is accepted by the school. Some UK and overseas English language schools only accept certain qualifications, such as the Cambridge CELTA.
Bear in mind that if you go for an online course, you’ll probably want to gain some classroom experience separately. Some employers will even specify it. You can also specialise in teaching adult learners or children, or move between the two. Some TEFL qualifications are geared specifically towards teaching either young people or adults.
Careers using TEFL
TEFL can be the route to several fulfilling careers. If travel’s not for you, there are plenty of TEFL jobs that don’t require you to leave the country at all. In almost every town and city you’ll find English language schools in need of qualified teachers to serve a never-ending stream of students seeking to improve their English.
You might wish to work with adult learners seeking to improve their business English. Some companies employ in-house English language teachers and trainers, but freelance positions are also available.
Interested in publishing? Some educational publishers (such as Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Macmillan) have large divisions devoted to producing multimedia English Language Teaching (ELT) materials. They prefer their editors and marketing staff to have a recognised TEFL qualification – so your experience could count here, too.
By Kate Wilkins