Q&A: The Importance of TESOL, CELTA, and Teacher Certifications

A follow up another Q&A topic dealing with what major is best for teaching English abroad?

What Certification is best?

The topic of certifications is a vast array of choices. There are acronyms like TESOL, TESL, TEFL, CELTA, etc. that can be difficult to navigate if you’re still unfamiliar with the whole lay of the land.  In short, TESOL/TESL/TEFL are generally interchangeable. They are ESL certifications that offer 50, 100, 120 hour courses.

  • TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language

CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), is similar to the certifications above in that it equips an individual with some of the essential understanding of grammar and teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).

In addition, there is the all mighty teaching certificate from your home country. This certifies you to teach in the public school system back home.  In other words, you’re an employable teacher back in your home country. Not that you can’t work as an ESL instructor with TESOL and CELTA certifications, but the teaching certificate is what permits one to teach in public schools.

Confused yet?  I am.

Again, certifications earned online are slowly being disregarded by some of the larger employers. Quite simply, if you have a TESOL certificate earned online, it won’t be recognized in the Middle East with almost 100% certainty.  Also, the EPIK program, at least in Busan, no longer accepts certificates earned online. This is something to keep in mind as you peruse the relentless selection of certificate companies out there.

My advice, do it in-class. It’s more expensive, but you will never have an issue.

That said, there are countless employers who do accept online certifications. They are not completely useless. I earned mine online. It’s still a certification and an indication of a meaningful effort to improve myself in the teaching profession.

More and more employers are looking for ways to confirm that the people they are recruiting are adequate professionals to be teaching in their classroom. he TESOL, CELTA, and Teaching certificate help to do this. It ensures at least a baseline understanding of the subject matter and teaching profession so they don’t flounder when they start at the school.

The most involved certification, in general, is the teaching certificate from your home country. In America, one generally needs to take a preparatory course that meets minimum educational requirements of the Office of Education of that given state.  Additionally, each candidate must sit for 3 state-level exams at the end of it all. In order to obtain the teaching license, all 3 exams must be passed.

I think all certifications are good as they help equip you to be a better teacher. Also, they give employers a better gauge of your abilities and what you can potentially bring to the classroom. In the end, however, the teaching certificate or license from your home country will carry the most weight. My license, for example, is a concentration in TESOL K-12. This will likely be a greater qualifying detail than the TESOL or CELTA. If you are certified, but in a subject area other than English, and the employer is seeking English-specific teachers, then it may not be better. In some cases, it may come into play with universities as well.

The long and short of it is each employer is different. Their opportunities are different, and the requirements they establish differ as well.  Getting certified in any of the three I mentioned will only help you in your search for employment as an ESL instructor.


  1. Hi Tom,

    First off, thanks for sharing all this information! I found your site through the post on KoreaBridge, and glad I did. I’ve had a mini freak out with wanting to teach in Korean in the new year, but…the stuff you have posted has helped to keep most of that at bay.

    Anyway, though I wanted to stick with Hakwons for the first year, I didn’t want to limit myself to just them in the next few years. So I thought of taking the TEFL course offered at the University of Toronto. The catch? Well the part you mentioned that some are cracking down on the online certificates seems like a problem as UT only offers it online. OTL. I can’t just rely on the fact that they are reputable…so looks like I’m back to researching about certifications again…that will offer it in my city in the timeline needed.

    In any case, once I get some sort of certification for this, and maybe my F4, I will be applying for some of the jobs you have posted now/near future.

    Thanks for sharing and helping us all 😀

    – Esther

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