Before I go into the details on TEFL course hours I'll try to answer some quick questions you may have and then go into details later.
What do these TEFL course hours mean?
Well, as you will soon see below they don't mean anything - online. These are asynchronous online courses which means you can work on them when you want and there are no scheduled class times.
So why is it that people are recommending a 120 hour course or more? That's because reputable courses like CELTA were originally 120 hours in the classroom which was 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for a month.
And then you have a whole lot of courses that copied that model to varying degrees.
How many TEFL course hours do I need?
First, you don't necessarily need a TEFL course to teach abroad. Based on my experience teaching in East Asia unlike your degree a TEFL certificate is rarely required for a visa. But some schools may prefer it. Many TEFL course providers will tell you that you need a "120 hour" course, but is that the truth? And what is so special about this number?
In the end it depends on the school.
Maybe you're wondering...
How long does it take to complete a 120 hour online TEFL course?
Well, it depends on the course, but many people that you will soon see completed so-called "120 hour" online TEFL courses in less than 2 days. These are pseudo "hours" not real hours. It's a little industry lie.
"I finished a 150 hour course in about 20ish hours. And I actually read/did most of the stuff. If you just rushed through one it might take you 10 hours, maybe less." - Zoidburg747
"That's exactly why I doubt it has any relevance... it took me, maybe, 10 hours! I got in on a wowchr deal as well. Almost not even worth mentioning here I would imagine..." - atmospheric_slug
How long does it take to get TEFL certification?
It depends on the course. Some may issue a download when you complete the course or others like one I took may make you wait 10 days just for a download. An actual certificate may take longer and cost more money.
Is a 120 hour TEFL enough?
You may be pulling your hair out thinking...
"Should I go with the 60 hour course? That's cheaper and shorter, but then again maybe I should go with the 120 hour course as I heard that was more reputable...
But wait I see there is even a 150 hour course. Holy cow! If I had that then I would top the other applicants with a 120 hour course...
Or would I?"
Stop pulling your hair out.
I wouldn't stress this.
In my experience teaching in Asia the amount of hours in a TEFL course doesn't matter most of the time. It actually matters far less in the real world (to employers) than some TEFL providers say it does.
And since I mentioned the "real world" let's consider online courses for a moment.
How can you measure "hours" online? And are these hour claims even accurate?
Most online TEFL courses are "asynchronous". What that means is that there are no set class times or hours. There are also "synchronous" online courses out there, but I have never heard of this with TEFL.
So in TEFL these hour claims are not accurate.
I am not dissing on online courses because you can learn a lot online with the right materials. I learned mostly by watching other teachers, but also online and from books.
The problem is with the lies and misinformation.
How long does a 120 or 140 hour online TEFL course take?
The fact is that many TEFL courses out there won't take nearly as long as they say. That is especially true of online courses.
So then an in-class course would be more accurate, eh?
Well, it wasn't for me.
I took a TESOL course before I started teaching English in Taiwan. It was also called a 120 course. I spent a $1000 on it which was like 2 days in a classroom and the rest of the course for take home. At the end of the 2 days they gave me what they called a 60 hour certificate, but it didn't say anything about the hours on it.
That was my first experience with TEFL/TESOL.
But it turns out that it is pretty common at least in the online course world. And it was an accredited course too which is funny because a lot of people are searching Google for "reputable" and accredited courses like it really means something.
But it doesn't for like 90% of TEFL courses out there. To me it looks like most courses just copy CELTA or try to sound like it. Perhaps this is part of the reason why some say online courses aren't worth it.
CELTA is standardized and as far as I know provides 120 actual contact hours, however they do also have a hybrid course that is partially online.
Anyways it turns out I am not the only one who had that experience. I did some Googling and this is what I found.
In regards to the claimed "hours" in online TEFL/TESOL courses
Here are some more quotes that I found on the web about TEFL courses on Groupon.
"I did an online Groupon tefl course for a teaching job in China. Was mad easy. Gave me a 120 hour certificate for maybe 5 hours of work." - Fuckjer
"Even though it said it was a 120 hour certification I managed to finish it in less than 25 hours. Now of course that is a testament to the poor quality of the course that I could fly through it that quickly but thing is, it didn't matter.
I can promise you no hagwon will bother to check up on the accreditation and quality of the course you took. They will just see that you have the certificate and maybe then place your resume at the top of the pile." - Guyforbes
"I believe the course I'm taking is considered a 120 hour course, but I feel like I'm FLYING through it. I've been at it for 3 days in my free time, maybe for a maximum of 7 or 8 hours, and I'm supposedly already 60% finished. Note that this course has no in-person classroom component." - curryo
"I took that same course back when I was going to need it (just for appearances, obviously), and I similarly finished it in a couple hours." - Jeyoc
"I can’t recall the exact number of hours put in, but it was far less than 160. I put in a few 2-3 hour sessions over the span of 7-10 days." - wjfitzy
"It said 150 hours, but it didn't take that long." - 2canucksabroad
"All you needed was a degree and an online TEFL course that I had completed in 6 hours..." - Alex McQuaid
"Don't be intimidated by the amount of time that online TEFL courses claim you'll need. These courses can easily be breezed through and completed well below the hours they claim." - Adorabro
I was curious about those Groupon courses so I tried one and I completed it in less than 8 hours. I didn't read everything and I suspect if I did it would have taken maybe twice as long.
Is it just the courses on Groupon?
For example, that picture above about the 168 hour course is by TEFL Academy and that is supposedly some highly "accredited level 5" certificate (so they say).
It's all for show: those "hours", the "accreditation" and that "Level 5" jargon.
It's to make you think you'll get a better job.
With a little more research I found these comments about course hours and non-Groupon providers. Both of these providers are fairly popular.
"Not quite that many. When they said 120 hours they actually mean 120 lessons some of which actually take an hour and some that take 10-15 minutes. I think it would depend on the person." - throwaway10 (Referring to the university of Toronto's course)
"I did i-to-i 120 hour TEFL about 2 years ago. It was a while ago so I can't say exactly how long it took but it was definitely not 120hrs. I think most reasonably smart people could easily finish it in half that if you get stuck into it." - victoriamagin
"Sorry, I was talking about the time it took us to finish it, not the hours, obviously. There is no way it actually took a full 120 hours." - _Lao_Why_
"While everybody certainly learns at a different pace, it didn't take me anywhere near 168h to complete the courses. Maybe 16.8 at best..." - godless-life
So what do these TEFL course hours mean?
They are supposed to refer to actual contact hours of training. However, as you can now see that's pretty hard to measure online. These aren't credit hours and you are not in college anymore.
How many hours does a TEFL course need to be?
"The number of hours in a course really doesn't matter." - Chinadonkey
In my experience teaching in Asia it also doesn't matter. Out of all the schools that I applied to in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan I had only one employer ask me: "How many hours was the course?" I spent 6+ years in Asia and I applied to A LOT of schools.
You may be thinking...
But wait I searched Google and found that 120 hours is more reputable?
So is 120 hour TEFL enough?
Amongst TEFL providers it is said that 100-120 hours or more is considered more "reputable", but online these "hours" are fake as you saw above and...
- They are marketing their own courses. More hours means more money for them and hopefully better training for you.
- I think that is because of CELTA which actually provides courses with 120 hours (8 hours a day for 4 weeks). Many courses say they are what they aren't as you can see from above perhaps to sound or look more official like CELTA.
Previously I was trying to fit in with that mold, but it was one thing that didn't fit with my conscience so I changed the name of this course.
Why label a course by "hours" if there aren't any hours?
Will a 130 hour course beat out someone with a 100 hour course?
I suppose it's possible somewhere, but highly unlikely. Assumming everything else is equal it may be possible, but things are rarely equal. Employers take into account your looks, age, experience, and personality.
So WHO is telling you that you need a 120+ hour course?
Marketing can be part of this too.
Another reason why people, TEFL providers or recruiters may say that you need a "120 hour" or more course is because they are making money from it. A longer more "intensive" course is going to cost more money. It might be better, but they'll still make more money from it.
So who is telling you that you need a 120+ hour course?
- Are they a TEFL course provider? Then consider the fact that they have something to sell.
- Are they a recruiter? Then consider the fact that they may be making a commission by selling a course for the provider.
- Are they a blogger? Then consider the fact that may also be making an affiliate commission by selling that course.
The bottom line
For most schools in Asia the amount of hours in a course is not going to matter as most certificates are taken at face value. However, there is a small percentage of schools in Asia that might care about them like: some universities, international schools, some private & public schools like EPIK in Korea.
Some schools have higher standards which means they're probably not going to hire a first time teacher with just a "120 hour" course whether it was online or not or even a CELTA course. They are going to prefer someone with experience.
Every school is different.
If you can't get into one school then try another. There is no certificate that guarantees a job anywhere or everywhere. It's just a little something you can put on your resume and more importantly it should help you to do your job, but quality varies.