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7 Critical Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing the Best TEFL Course

7 Critical Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing the Best TEFL Course
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How can I avoid choosing the wrong TEFL Course?

Choosing the right TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification course will play a critical role in providing you with the training, qualifications and job placement assistance you need to get hired to teach English abroad and online.

If you're wondering 'Which TEFL Course Should I Take? ' to realize your goals of living and teaching English overseas, here are 7 critical mistakes to avoid:


1. Taking a TEFL Course that is Not Accredited & Does Not Meet International Standards

Some training is better than no training but if you want to earn a TEFL certification that provides you with the training you need to become a quality teacher with a recognized qualification that thousands of employers around the world seek, then you need to make sure that you take a class that meets at least the following criteria:

  • 100 hours of academic coursework and training (equal to a full-time, intensive 4-week in-person course, or the equivalent part-time or online);
  • 6-20 Hours of live practice teaching (practicum) to actual ESL students (not role-playing with other teachers-in-training);
  • Employs a curriculum accredited by a recognized, independent body within the field;
  • Instruction is provided by a highly qualified, university-level instructor.

These standards are recognized by language schools and other institutions that employ foreign English teachers as well as major bodies within the field.

What is the best TEFL certification?

A world-class TEFL certificate will provide you with the skills, qualifications, and job search guidance you need to reach my goals of teaching English abroad or online. TEFL course quality, accreditation, and staff support are all key elements for a top TEFL class.

Read more: What is Accreditation for TEFL Certification Really All About?

TEFL Practicum Practice Live Teaching

2. Taking a TEFL Course with No Live Practice Teaching (Practicum)

Taking a course that incorporates live practice teaching with actual ESL students is critical for two reasons:

  • First, it will provide you experience working with actual ESL students, and this is critical for gaining the skills and comfort level you need to become a successful teacher. 

  • Second, thousands of language schools around the world do not recognize TEFL certifications that do not incorporate a practicum.

A practicum should incorporate practice teaching and observation in a live setting with actual ESL students who are learning English as a second language.  While role-playing with other teachers-in-training can be valuable, it is no substitute for practice teaching with actual ESL students.

3. Going Cheap (really cheap) and Taking a $68 Groupon TEFL Class

Let's be honest here. Do you think you can actually gain a recognized certification to teach English professionally in Germany, Japan or Dubai, or that you will receive the job placement assistance you need to get a job in Chile or South Korea, by taking a cheap course from a discount website that doesn't include live practice teaching?  

Ask yourself the following: How can a university-level course cost less than a textbook? Keep in mind that Groupon gets 50% of the fee so, in this example, the TEFL school is making $34.50. 

How can a university professor be paid on that? How can there be someone to advise you on finding English teaching jobs on that fee? The math doesn't add up. If you're looking for a diploma mill to just fool a prospective employer then that's what you will get.

Again, some training is better than no training and you want to earn an affordable TEFL certification in the most cost-efficient manner possible. However, TEFL courses are like anything else in that you will get what you pay for and if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you take such a course simply to save money, you will pay for it in the end when you realize that the inexpensive "super-deal" TEFL program that you took won’t qualify you for the teaching positions that you want. 

Taking the right TEFL course is crucial is you want to give yourself the best opportunities to go abroad to teach English and enjoy the international adventure of a lifetime.  Moving to another country to live and work is not a light decision and it’s simply not worth skimping on critical parts of the process just to save a few hundreds of dollars here and there. It's just not worth it.
Compared to studying abroad for a semester (typically costs at least $3000 - $5000 per semester), or even going to vacation in Europe for a couple of weeks (also typically costing $2000 - $5000 at least), investing $1200-$2000 for a quality TEFL certification that will enable you to get paid to live and work in foreign countries like China, Spain and Argentina for a year or more is the bargain of the century. It literally pays for itself within just a couple of months of work.

In summary:

Reputable TEFL Courses:

  • Are internationally accredited & meet or exceed international standards
  • Are taught by University-level instructors who provide valuable feedback & guidance
  • Include lifetime job search assistance and support from experienced advisors who have been in your shoes
  • Provide a professional-level training that will qualify you to teach online or in a classroom 
  • Include tuition that ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 (College-level courses are not cheap)
  • Will get you the best paid teaching job you can get

Cheap, Groupon TEFL Courses:

  • Do not meet the international standards recognized by employers worldwide
  • Are not taught by University-level professors
  • Do not provide any job search placement assistance & valuable support to help you navigate the international English teaching job market online and worldwide
  • Do not include any live practice teaching with real students
  • Won't prepare you to be a teacher which will result in an awful classroom experience for both yourself and your students
  • Will get you shady teaching jobs, at shady organizations


4. Assuming That You Need to Take an In-person TEFL Course rather than an Online Course

Some people will assume that TEFL certification courses taken in-person are automatically better or more valid than any online TEFL course. This is simply not the case.  Online TEFL courses that meet international standards (such as incorporating 100 hours of coursework, 6 hours of live practice teaching or practicum, accredited curriculum, university level professors, etc.) can and will provide you with the level of certification you need to gain the skills and qualification required for you to qualify for thousands of teaching opportunities around the world.  

Additionally, an online TEFL course offers the flexibility of taking your class from the comfort of your home, or remotely from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. For instance, International TEFL Academy offers two online TEFL courses:

At ITA, we train and certify 6,000 people a year and 70% of our graduates take their TEFL course online. Those graduates go on to gain employment in top job markets around the world from Spain, Germany and Chile, to Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea. 

On the flip side there are plenty of onsite in-person classes that do not meet international standards and will not provide you with the level of certification and training you need to gain employment. Whether you take your class in-person or online, the key is to make sure that it meets the aforementioned criteria for an accredited TEFL certification course.

Read more: Is ITA's Online TEFL Certification Course Valid and Accredited? 

International TEFL Academy offers Lifetime Job Search Guidance

5. Signing Up for a TEFL Course that Does Not Include Adequate Job Placement Assistance

You can take the best TEFL course in the world, or even get a PhD in teaching English as a foreign language, but if you are not provided with the guidance, resources and contacts you need to actually find jobs and navigate the hiring and interviewing process, your job search process will be very difficult, and you risk not being able to get hired where you want to teach.  

Hiring seasons, interview procedures, and visa regulations are all matters that you will need guidance for, in addition to access to job listings, referrals to top recruiters and contact information for schools.  You should be able to work with a qualified advisor who will be there to pick up the phone to assist you with questions, give you tips for getting hired, and even personal guidance on your resume and cover letter.   

At International TEFL Academy, we receive more than 5,000 calls and emails each year from people who have already taken a TEFL certification course, but who are looking for job placement assistance. This is because the school that trained them did not provide them with the resources and guidance they needed to get a job teaching English abroad and now they need help.

Be careful of "guaranteed job placements" or TEFL courses that sell job placements.

It’s natural to want the security of knowing that you will have a job waiting for you when you complete your TEFL course, but guaranteed placements often come with strings attached and limitations when it comes to the jobs that will be available to you when you complete your certification. For instance, you will be limited to accepting the position(s) that the program offers (take it or leave it).

A typical English speaker, with or without a college degree who holds an accredited TEFL certification is literally qualified for tens of thousands of jobs teaching English abroad, and there is no need to pay somebody $1,000 - $2,000 to "place you" in a job. The majority of "placements" are in government programs that are free to apply to anyhow. If you are getting a job in Asia or the Middle East, many of the schools are paying the recruiters a month's salary to find a good teacher, and you should not be paying a recruiter.

Fine print on those TEFL companies with a "guarantee":

  • Are they going to fulfill their guarantee that you get a job by sending you to a school in the backwoods of China who will take anyone with a pulse and speaks English?
  • Do you have to take the job they "place you in" or the "money back guarantee is null and void"?
  • If you are a felon, a jerk during an interview, smell like you haven't showered in a month or look like someone people would not trust their children with, how can a company "guarantee" a job?
  • Are they going to give you your money back if you don't get a job in the country of your choice or where they stipulate you must go for a refund?

Remember that a "guarantee" is often a marketing tactic. The realities are there are over 100,000 English teaching jobs in Asia alone. If you are American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealand or South African with a 4-year degree and speak English, there are tens of thousands of jobs that you can find in Asia within a week of looking anytime a year, it's easy to lure you in with the promise of a "guarantee".

Make sure that you will receive comprehensive job search guidance that is free and will not expire.

Before enrolling for any TEFL certification course, ask if you will receive the following:

  • Real live staff to speak to, in person or on the phone, to guide you and answer your questions;
  • Personal assistance with resume and cover letter development;
  • Coaching on how to interview for English teaching jobs across the globe;
  • Access to listings of thousands of job opportunities around the world;
  • Guidance regarding hiring seasons, visas, hiring requirements and salaries;
  • Referrals and contact information for top-level recruiters; government programs in countries like France, Spain, and Japan; and individual schools and language institutes.

If you will not receive this level of job search guidance, then whatever you will pay for that TEFL course simply will not be worth it.

Read more: Job Search Guidance at International TEFL Academy

International TEFL Academy offers one-on-one tefl job assistance

6. Signing Up for TEFL Course Without Speaking to a Representative of that TEFL Certification School First

If you’re going to trust your time, money and dreams of living and teaching English abroad to the outcome of a TEFL course, you owe it to yourself to call the training school offering the course and to make sure that they know their stuff. You need to find out firsthand from them if their TEFL course is going to provide you with the training, qualifications, and job placement assistance you need to get hired as an English teacher abroad.

Critical questions include:

  • Training Hours: Does your TEFL course meet international standards (at least 100 hours of training) and is it accredited – if so, by whom?
    • *Hint*: Google search the name of the accrediting body and decide for yourself whether it is truly independent and well established.  Check out how long the accrediting body has existed and what other professional-level courses and certifications it has accredited.
  • Course Instructors: Who will teach my TEFL course?
    • If you want to become a professional English teacher, should you accept anything less than top-level instruction from experienced professors with advanced degrees (MA, PhD or Delta) and qualifications? Many cheaper courses are either self-taught or provide assistance from a "tutor" who simply took a four-week TEFL certification course and perhaps taught a year or two abroad.
  • Student Teaching Hours: Do your courses incorporate live practice teaching with actual ESL students (not role-playing with other teachers-in-training)?
    • Note that the majority of schools around the world hiring English teachers do not recognize TEFL courses that do not incorporate at least 6-20 hours of live practicum.
  • Job Search Assistance: What is the quality of job placement that is provided and what resources and personalized assistance are provided?

You should also ask about job markets and the process of getting hired once you have taken a TEFL class. Your ability to obtain a paid teaching position based on your citizenship, age, educational level, gender, ethnicity and more is something you really want to enquire about:

  • Where can I teach with this certification, given my personal background?
    • Where in the world can I teach abroad with your certification? The majority of language schools worldwide require a professional level course consisting of 100 hours of classwork and 6 hours of practicum. A way to find out is simply go to an ESL board, contact a school in a country and ask what that employer requires.
  • If I want to teach in a specific country, what is the process? 
  • What is a realistic estimate of my start-up costs in addition to TEFL certification to teach in different countries?
  • What’s the deal with visas and hiring seasons?
  • How and where will you help me find a job and how much will that cost in addition to my course tuition? Are there "extra" costs involved in this? (This is called an "up-sell" whereby a TEFL school will offer you a very low tuition and then charge you later for services such as job placement assistance).
  • Are there any hidden costs such as book fees, registration fees, or fees for job placement assistance?
    • When considering international courses, be sure to ask about housing costs and extra features such as language classes and sightseeing.
  • What is a realistic timeline for getting my certification, getting hired and going abroad to teach? Is it a four-week, in-person class (as is typical)? If it's an online class does it have a reasonable and expected end date?
    • If it's open-ended there is a good possibility you won't finish it as most people need deadlines.

If a TEFL training organization cannot answer these questions over the phone or in person in a manner that inspires confidence, then you don’t need to waste your time or money taking their TEFL course. They are not going to provide you with the level of service and guidance that you need to actually get a job in Spain, Thailand or wherever else it is that you might be interested in teaching English abroad. Look for another TEFL school.

Read more: Why You Need to Speak with a Professional TEFL Admission Advisors if You Want to Teach English Abroad (and do it right)

Read more: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Any TEFL School Before Enrolling in a TEFL Class

7. Assuming that all TEFL Courses and TEFL Certification schools are the same (and then signing up for the wrong course!)

Are all TEFL courses the same?

No. There are a wide variety of different TEFL training courses that you may encounter while researching online – don’t assume that they are all the same organization or that they meet the same standards or provide the same services just because they have the word “TEFL” or “TESOL” in the name.

Also, if you plan to enroll online for a particular TEFL course, make sure that you sign up for the right course on the right website with the program that you intended!

Ultimately the questions that you need to ask and answer before investing in any TEFL certification program are:

  1. Will this TEFL certification and school provide me with the skills, qualification and job search guidance I need to live my dream of living abroad and traveling the world as an English teacher?

  2. Am I receiving the value I deserve for my financial investment?

If you have any questions, call the organization you intend to enroll with and ask for a representative to enroll you over the phone or to guide through the registration process. If you don’t feel like the organization you’ve contacted is able to answer all of your questions or provide you with the kind of support you need, keep looking and call other TEFL Certification providers for comparison.

Read more: 7 Key Tips to Choosing the Best TEFL School


Additional TEFL Certification FAQs

Is TEFL Certification worth it?

Yes. If you want to get a good teaching job and be an effective teacher for your students, then it is definitely worth it. Remember, most schools worldwide require a TEFL certification; and once you're certified you can the ball rolling on applying and interviewing for jobs.

Which TEFL certificate do I need?

Look for TEFL certification courses that meet or exceed international standards (100 hours coursework & six hours of practicum) and that are externally accredited. You should also consider which courses include services like job guidance that enable you to get a great job teaching abroad.


Posted In: Job Search Guidance, TEFL Certification, Accreditation

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