Are TEFL/TESOL courses worth it? If TEFL certification is worth it or not for you I don't know. There are definitely reasons why getting some training and taking a course is a great idea, but in this article I will be playing the role of devil's advocate and sharing a little of my experience.

Don't waste your money on TEFL

This article was inspired from a couple of things:

  1. The B.S. I see some TEFL course providers tell to get you to buy. And...
  2. I spent a $1000 on a course, went abroad, started teaching and realized I wasted my money.

Know that you can teach English abroad without certification and if you're thinking of teaching English in Asia and taking a TEFL or TESOL course, you should be able to separate the facts from the fiction. 

Know these facts about TEFL/TESOL/CELTA courses:

  1. They are usually not a legal requirement to teach English in Eastern Asia and other places
  2. They are usually just a preference
  3. There are other preferences
  4. Experience and education degrees are more valuable
  5. They do not replace degrees
  6. They can't guarantee a better job
  7. They can't guarantee more money
  8. Pretty much everything that you would learn from one you can find online for FREE
  9. Conclusion - Why I wasted my money

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1. They are not a legal requirement to teach English in many places

Have you been told that you need to be TEFL/TESOL certified to teach in Northeast Asia? Well, that's lie number one and the person who told you that is probably working for a TEFL/TESOL certification provider or they are just misinformed.

Let's take for example Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. Have you thought about teaching in any of these places? Well you should know that the basic requirement for teaching English in these places is:

  • Be a native English speaker
  • Hold a university degree in any discipline

I'd say in Taiwan, Korea and Japan that the schools that require one are less than 5% of the total job pool. So what about the 95%? Well the 95% or let's just say the majority doesn't care and is just looking for the basic qualifications.

"Wait! I thought you said the requirement to teach in Northeast Asia was a degree and...?" Yes, that's right it's a legal requirement. Without it the school cannot process your visa in order for you to stay and work in the country.

"But you just said that some schools require TEFL or TESOL certificates?" Yes, that's right, but they are not a legal requirement. An individual school can set its own requirements and those may be different from the national requirements. But know that these requirements are basically just a preference.

TEFL requirements are more commonly seen in China than the other countries. Different provinces can have slightly different requirements. In most situations a degree and native English speaking is required to get a Z visa.

2. They are just a preference

Some schools may prefer TESOL/TEFL/CELTA qualifications. However, it's just a preference and by the way if you encounter this you should still apply. Know that come time to process your paperwork for your visa for your new full time job that your TEFL/TESOL certificate will be left on some desk or in some folder (probably yours) because it is not essential.

3. There are other preferences

You should know that there are other ESL employer preferences as well. And that while some schools may prefer TEFL/TESOL certification, that preference usually takes a backseat to the preferences and biases below.

Like for example:

  • Likability - aside from the basic qualifications this is the single most important factor that determines who gets the job, pretty much anywhere
  • Age - they would prefer that you are young
  • Sex - some schools prefer females over males and a fewer percentage vice versa
  • Looks - they prefer that they find you attractive
  • Nationality - many will prefer US citizens or Canadians over other native English speakers
  • Race - many prefer Caucasians

For example, let's take a hypothetical situation. Amy is Canadian. She's 25 years old. She's tall thin and attractive and she has a degree in Biology. Jed is 35 years old. He's not especially attractive and he has a CELTA certificate and a year of teaching experience.

Jed's more qualified (from our standpoint), but who will get the job? Of course it depends on the school and situation, but unfortunately in many cases Amy will get the job. Many employers just care about how things appear. And it's not just them it's the culture.

4. They do not replace degrees

Well, one might help you to get a job in China - if you don't have a degree, but they are not going to replace a degree and help you to find a job legally teaching in Taiwan, Korea or Japan.

5. Education degrees and experience are more valuable

Know that most schools value experience teaching (especially in their country) and education degrees more than TEFL/TESOL certificates.

For example in Taiwan, to teach in a public school you will need to be a certified teacher in your home country. Just a degree in any discipline won't cut it. A TEFL/TESOL certificate won't help. A degree and a TEFL/TESOL certificate won't suffice. Here you need to be a certified teacher to teach English in a public school. This is also the case for teaching in many international schools and in UAE.

As soon as you start looking for a job you will see that almost all schools prefer experienced teachers.

If you don't have your degree yet you might like to read more on advice for becoming an ESL teacher.

6. They can't guarantee a better job

Have you been told that being TESOL/TEFL certified will help you to get a better or more prestigious job? Well, that's probably lie number two. Know that the most prestigious schools (e.g. international schools and some universities) will require higher qualifications and experience.

A reputable CELTA course might help you here, although there's more competition for these kinds of jobs. Competition that has years of teaching experience and/or that may have a background in teaching. A background in teaching means that they probably studied education and that they are likely a certified teacher in their home country.

In all honestly for these schools with or without a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA and no experience, you could get lucky, but you probably won't stand a chance. But don't worry because they are less than 10% of the job pool.

But will a TEFL course help you to get a job? Here's a hypothetical situation. Let's say you and the next guy have nearly identical qualifications for the job. You are both 29 years old, have a degree in a unrelated field and are not especially attractive. And let's say you have a TEFL certificate then you'll probably get the job. 

Check this link out and "The Best Answer". Here's someone who took a CELTA course and taught in Korea. If you didn't know, CELTA courses are considered one of the best when it comes to English language teaching qualifications. Basically he says that he felt that it only made him "slightly" more marketable and that "you" might be paid only "very slightly" more.

7. They can't guarantee more money or a higher salary

Have you been told that you will make a higher salary if you are TESOL/TEFL certified? Possibly, but that's probably lie number three. You're probably not going to make more money just because you have a TEFL certificate. There are exceptions to the rule, like for example EPIK in Korea, but many schools won't care about your certificate or offer you any more money because of it.

I have worked in a total of at least 20 (documented) private and public schools as either a full-time, part-time, temporary, or substitute teacher in China, Korea and Taiwan. I have also applied to an estimated 200+ positions and interviewed at about 40 schools. And only one of those distinctly offered me more money because of my certification.

So it's not a guarantee, but I guess you could use it as a negotiating point. Experience is usually the best point for negotiation. Read more about money and TEFL/TESOL certification.

8. You can get most of this information for FREE online

Are there any other reasons why you might want to take one? Well, of course, you might want to take one for the teacher training. Well you should know that the information that they would teach in one including the usually pseudo classroom training is already available online for FREE.

It will probably take you time, to find what you're looking for and to sift through all the info available. And you probably don't know what to look for. So that's what a course is for - to teach you, but don't assume that they will explicitly train you for your job. The course I took was just general, had a lot of grammar study and lacked practical applications.

Conclusion - I wasted my money on that TEFL course, but that's because I took one that didn't prepare me to teach who I taught

I taught mostly kids in Asia aged 6-13. You need practical tools to teach this age group. You need to know how to organize them, have fun, educate them AND deal with classroom management problems that will happen. That's why I highly recommend the 120 hour course.

If you are reading this article and if you made it this far then I'd say that you are considering or at least wondering whether you should take a course and get certified. Since you are probably just on the fence then my advice is this:

Don't spend much (like a $1000 or more) if you are going to get one. You can always take another more intensive course like CELTA in the future if you decide this is something you want to do long term.

Is getting TEFL/TESOL certified for the training worth it?

You are going to be spending a lot of time in the classroom. So if you are savvy then you can teach yourself online, with books, video, etc. But if you are not then you might want to take a course.

Either way they are probably just going to throw you into a classroom and tell you to teach. Few employers provide sufficient training.

So you can teach yourself how to teach, but if you are not sure about how to do that then I created some streamlined courses that are way cheaper AND better than the course I spent a $1000 on.

You know most jobs in Asia are for teaching kids from about 6-14 years old. If you are going to be teaching children primarily in that age group then I recommend this course. It's very practical, it includes a lot of video on how to orchestrate classes, keep your students happy, interested and under control.

Yes, I want to learn more.

When you log in to this free mini course here are some things that you will get:

  • Advice from teachers in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan on video.
  • How to choose "your" best place teaching English abroad.
  • A super detailed look at salaries for teachers in Eastern Asia.
  • A look at the different kinds of schools that you can work in.
  • Fun quizzes to see if these courses are for you and if your English is good enough to teach abroad.

I bet you'll learn something and you'll probably enjoy it too. If you don't then you can send me an email.

"I just completed the 120 hour online TEFL course. I am an experienced teacher, having taught Science and Gifted Education in the US for ten years prior to coming to Taiwan. Although teacher prep programs will help, many aspects of teaching EFL are unique.

I wish I would have taken this course BEFORE I started teaching here three years ago. The methods and insights given in ESL Insider's 120 hour TEFL course could have saved me a lot of grief and disappointment. Now I am optimistic about starting a new school year armed with better lessons and a realigned perspective. Thank you, ESL Insider!" - Dolly's review

Some other resources you might be interested in

The Lazy Teacher's Guide To TEFL

If I knew everything in this book when I started, my first year would have been way easier. But best of all is that this book isn't that in-depth, in fact it's pretty simple. It is a less is more practical guide to TEFL. 

You won't be over loaded with info - which can happen if you take a course, so you'll probably retain it better. It's often better to start small.

Lazy TEFL Guide

The Lazy Teacher's Guide To TEFL is about the price of a cup of coffee - $3.99. Or you might also be interested in this book Summary of How to Teach English.


#15 Grant Stewart 2016-12-09
Quoting Ian:
Quoting Grant Stewart:
It should read "I wasted my money on that TEFL course"...
Not sure I understand. What do you mean?

OK, there is a paragraph above which reads in bold, "I waste my money.." Which should read "I wasted.." Basically I am being cheeky and correcting a typo. Unless it doesn't show on your web page? ;)
And then the joke (which obviously failed ;() was give me s discount for my editing..;)
Ah well, I'm still interested in the course. :)
#14 Ian 2016-12-09
Quoting Grant Stewart:
It should read "I wasted my money on that TEFL course"...
Not sure I understand. What do you mean?
#13 Grant Stewart 2016-12-08
It should read "I wasted my money on that TEFL course". You're welcome, do I get a discount? ;)
#12 Ian 2016-09-13
Quoting James:
Would you send your kid to a class...
I understand your point. Parents definitely want their children to have a good teacher. I don't think that they care about whether or not the teacher has been observed, assessed or not. That's just something in-class TEFL/TESOL/CELTA providers argue over online courses.
#11 James 2016-09-13
Would you send your kid to a class where the teacher had no initial teacher training or hadn't been observed and assessed by an experienced trainer?

Neither would I.

How in the world is teaching a language any different?

Just because you aural it doesn't entitle you to teach it.
#10 ian 2016-06-30
Quoting Jay:
Totally agree. Tefl learning doesn't make you a good teacher, just the ability to cram a ton of boring grammatical facts.

I really despise the whole attitude we have to language learning in the west.

Yeah, there are definitely TEFL courses out there that focus on studying grammar which isn't really useful most of the time.
#9 ian 2016-06-16
IDK dude. I never thought of doing that. I think you could get some opinions over on

I see threads like that there sometimes. I'd say it depends on what your plans are and where you want to teach and for how long.

Being a licensed teacher has some perks. You could always go back home and teach if you want. A master's might get you into a university in some places like Japan or in Korea.

A CELTA is just a 4 week course. Might help you in Europe.
#8 Chris 2016-06-15
I notice towards the end, you mention how a CELTA may be considered if one is planning to teach long-term. Technically, CELTA is a certification too. Is there a reason you pointed that out? What would be better in your opinion, an MA in ESL Ed or a CELTA certification? I already have a 120 hr certification and have been teaching in Korea through EPIK for the past few months, but am wondering what would be a better direction to go in long-term regardless if I stayed in Korea to teach or wanted to teach ESL elsewhere.
#7 Teacher 2016-02-11
They can guarantee a better job and more money and some schools won't even consider you without one.
#6 Ian 2015-07-28
Quoting DeAndre Woods-Walker:

I am wanting to teach abroad in East Asia upon my graduation in December. I am willing to take a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course and/or not taking a course. However, I am wanting to do so online because I am temporarily moving to England in the late summer.

A lot of these certificates say that jobs would highly prefer (and in some cases require) that you have at least 120 hours through your certification. How true and necessary is that?

It depends on where you want to teach.

In Asia a school that requires a 120 hour certificate is pretty "rare" since certificates are rarely "required". The only case I can think of that will require a certificate of that many hours with 20 hours in class is for a pay raise in the EPIK program.

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