What is the difference between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA?

The world of English language teaching is well known for its love of acronyms and unfortunately this can lead to a large amount of confusion amongst potential teachers, as well as those with plenty of experience in the field. Websites for course providers, job boards, recruitment programs, and any other teaching related information you might look at are likely to be littered with acronyms, including TEFL, tesol, and CELTA. So what is the difference between these terms?

What does TEFL mean?

Short for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, TEFL is probably the most common acronym you will come across when conducting research for teaching English abroad. TEFL does not refer to a single training program, certification, or program provider but is simply a catch-all term for training courses and certification aimed at those looking to head overseas to teach English. There are a huge number of providers offering TEFL certification, with a variety of courses available that differ in length, cost, and overall quality.

What does tesol mean?

Short for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, tesol in this context is used in much the same way as TEFL is used above. The two terms are generally used interchangeably to refer to a training program or certification for teaching English abroad. The term tesol is typically more common in North America, while TEFL is often preferred in the UK. In regard to training programs and certification, courses that are titled TEFL or tesol will essentially be the same thing and neither will have any adverse effect on your job prospects.

What does CELTA mean?

Short for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, CELTA is essentially an individual brand of TEFL certification that is awarded by Cambridge English Language Assessment which is a part of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. The course is an intensive 4-week program that is offered by a variety of schools and training centers in countries all over the world. As the name suggests it is primarily aimed at those looking to teach adult students. If you plan to teach young learners of any age then you may want to reconsider this option.

Which type of course should I choose?

When it comes to choosing the right course you should not be too concerned about which acronym you end up with on your certificate. Whether it is TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA is not the most important factor, what matters is whether the course meets the accepted international standard for English language teaching. These standards require:

  • A minimum course length of 120 hours (4-week in-class course or equivalent)
  • A minimum of six hours of observed teaching practice (OTP) with genuine ESL students
  • The course should be conducted by instructors who possess a high level of relevant qualifications and extensive teaching experience
  • The curriculum should be externally accredited and monitored by an independent body

What if a course doesn't meet this criteria?

There are many short-format/low priced TEFL course options on the market that do not meet the above criteria. If you are looking for a professional certification that is welcomed by employers all over the world then these are best avoided. Any course that does meet the criteria, whether TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA, should give you the skills, knowledge and confidence you need to start your new career as an ESL teacher.

Does the quality of a training course vary by location?

When making a final decision on which course to take it is worth remembering that the quality of each course may vary from one training center to the next. You might read on blogs or forums that the CELTA course is superior to any other TEFL course. This is simply not true as the course is operated by a wide array of training centers in different parts of the world, some of which are good and some not so good. It is also worth considering that many TEFL or TESOL certificate courses are now equal to or exceeding the standards set by the University of Cambridge for CELTA certification. The bottom line is that the quality and effectiveness of any teacher training course is not set by the acronym on the certificate, but the overall standard of the individual training center that provides it.