What are TEFL courses?
Alistair Stafford

What are TEFL courses?


First published date November 25 2013 Amended date October 05 2015

We’ve all looked out of the window at the miserable British weather and wondered what it would be like to live and work overseas. One of the most common ways for people to take that plunge and get a job abroad is through teaching English, in which case a TEFL course is for you.

TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language and involves teaching students whose native language isn’t English. Still not entirely sure how a TEFL course works? Sound like a qualification you’d be interested in gaining? Our TEFL FAQs will help answer those questions...


Do I need to already be a teacher?

No you don’t! In fact, there are not any specific qualifications that are asked for before enrolling on a TEFL course. Once you have completed the course though, some teaching jobs abroad may require that you already have a degree or have a specialist subject, but that is far from widespread.


Are there any age restrictions?

As long as you’re over 16, you can take your TEFL qualification at any age. For using your TEFL course in a teaching job abroad, age restrictions will vary depending on the country you’re working in. In Asia, there are no set regulations but there tends to be a trend against hiring mature teachers.


How long does a TEFL course take?

That depends on what type of TEFL course you take. A basic TEFL programme can be completed in just 20 hours over one weekend, while the recommended course takes between 120 and 150 hours, which often includes hands-on classroom teaching experience.


Where can I work with a TEFL qualification?

With the majority of countries recognising the TEFL qualification worldwide, there are plenty of opportunities for you to teach students all around the world. From China to Columbia and Turkey to Thailand, you’ll have a wide range of nations to choose from when looking for a teaching position. If the idea of globetrotting or emigrating doesn’t appeal to you, then you can always use the TEFL qualification closer to home by teaching here in the UK.


Do all TEFL courses give you the same qualification?

Although every course gives you a TEFL qualification, many countries require you to have taken one of the TEFL ‘recommended’ courses, which are those over 120 hours long. According to the British Council, a TEFL qualification should be at least 100 hours long, with at least six hours of supervised teaching practice and also be externally moderated.  While you’ll find TEFL paid or voluntary work in some countries with just the weekend programme, you’ll have a much better chance of finding employment having taken the longer course.   


How is TEFL different from TESL, TESOL and TEAL?

Although they all have different acronyms, they all have almost identical meanings. TESOL is a term typically used in America in the US and Australia and means ‘teaching English to speakers of other languages’,  so effectively the same as TEFL. Traditionally, a TEFL qualification referred to teaching English in countries where English was not the language such as South East Asia, but is now used as a general term for teaching English as a foreign language.


I don’t speak a foreign language. Does it matter?

Not really, as usually when teaching a class you’ll only need to speak in English. With many classes, you’ll have pupils of several nationalities, so even if you know the native language of the country you’re working in, it doesn’t mean you can understand everyone. Speaking a foreign language can be useful though as you look to settle and live in a different country. Not only that, having the experience of learning a foreign language (even if it’s that long forgotten French A Level) will help you relate to the students you’re teaching.


Can I take a TEFL course even if I’m not English?

Even if English isn’t your native language, providing you are able to write and speak English fluently then it doesn’t matter. The course will give you the same qualification as somebody who is native English, so it won’t impact your job prospects once you’ve completed the course.  If your mother tongue isn’t English then it doesn’t completely rule you out of a TEFL course, it just may limit which countries you’ll be able to use your new qualification to teach.


Alistair Stafford

With a BA in Journalism, Alistair has a passion for writing, especially if it's got anything to do with football or other sports. In his spare time, he's big on exercise and he once completed the London Marathon.