How to become an English language teacher

So you’re interested in becoming an English language teacher? Great! Teaching English can be a fantastic way to see the world, live in different countries and earn a salary at the same time! In this post, I will explain the different teaching qualifications you can get in order to teach overseas. It can be confusing with the different acronyms that get thrown around. TEFL? CELTA? TESOL? What the…..?

How important is it to get qualified?

In my opinion, very. Teaching is a profession; it requires training, personal development and lots of practice. There’s lots of learning on the job, but I believe that a course can lay the foundation and help you to understand the different elements of teaching. For me, just being an English native speaker (or at a very high level) is not sufficient. When I was at school in the UK, we didn’t learn  the ins and outs of English grammar. I had no idea how many tenses there were, what the active and passive voices mean and the difference between a verb, adverb, adjective and conjunction. I needed to train; to understand my language in order to teach it, correct mistakes and explain why the mistakes are wrong.

Some people take the chance of finding work without any form of teaching qualification, hoping that being an English native speaker is enough. Sometimes it is. Some schools are veeeeery relaxed about qualifications. It’s good that they put value in other qualities like your work ethic, enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. However, the cynical side of me wonders if they prefer unqualified, ‘fresh out the box’ teachers because they might not challenge misbehaviour as much. They may accept lower teaching rates, antisocial working hours and unpaid overtime.

What are the different teacher training courses?

Some of the acronyms you’ll see on the internet are CELTA, TEFL and TESOL.

  • CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

TESOL is mostly used in North America, Canada and Australia. There’s no real difference between the TEFL and TESOL. The price, duration and status are the same. The CELTA is longer, more expensive and more in-depth. It is very well-regarded around the world, and is seen as more prestigious.

How do you decide which one’s right for you?

I did the CELTA and really recommend this course. It taught me an enormous amount and made me feel more confident about preparing and delivering good lessons and managing any questions and problems which might come up. However I can see why many people opt for the TEFL or TESOL. Those courses are considerably cheaper. They disrupts your life less as they usually only involve a weekend of practical teaching (with the majority of the work being online self-study).

What you could do, if you are new to teaching/unsure if it’s the career for you, is do a cheaper TEFL course and find a school which will accept that qualification. Many countries accept TEFL-qualified teachers. Use that school to get experience, get feedback on your performance and test the waters. You might find you love your job… or you like teaching but English isn’t the subject for you… or maybe it’s not the career for you.

If you find that you enjoy your job and want to expand to teaching in different countries or accessing higher-paid/more senior jobs, you could then do the CELTA course. I would add that while there are schools that accept TEFL-qualified (or unqualified) teachers, many schools expect the CELTA as a minimum qualification so they won’t shortlist or consider people without one. I am working in Germany and all of my schools here have mentioned it in my interviews and some have even asked for a copy of my certificate before agreeing to interview me. I receive regular emails from the British Council (a really reputable company to work for, with schools and institutions around the world) and they often refer to it and say those without a CELTA will not be considered for teaching posts.

Do I need to be a native English speaker to do the course?

You can do a CELTA/TEFL/TESOL without being a native English speaker. However you must have a high level of English (C1 or C2 on the Common European Framework of Reference).

Is there an age restriction? 

You must be 18 or older to do the CELTA/TEFL/TESOL. Many employers demand that you are 21 or over, although some will employ 18-20 year olds. If you’re under 21, do thorough research into which countries have more relaxed age restrictions and make sure to ask prospective employers before completing any lengthy application forms!

Do I need a degree to do the course?

  • To do the CELTA course, you don’t need previous teaching experience but you should have a university degree (or equivalent).
  • To do a TEFL course, you don’t need prior qualifications or experience. However, without a degree you will not be able to teach in some countries.
  • For details about the TESOL and its requirements, I suggest reading this.

Do I need to have perfect English grammar skills to do the course?

You don’t have to be an expert in English grammar but you need to have a decent level, i.e. don’t rite lyk dis. These teacher training courses focus on how to teach, rather than the English language itself. Good grammar skills is one part of language awareness but you will develop your knowledge and understanding of the language during and after the course.

Do you need to speak a foreign language?

I moved to Italy and Germany without any prior knowledge of the languages. It is not essential to know a second language in order to teach English, although it certainly helps. You can prompt your students if they forget a word, understand the differences between your language and theirs and recognise ‘false friends’ and common mistakes. However I only speak English in my lessons, and I make this clear from the start.

Speaking English all day at work means my opportunity to speak the foreign language is less than if I used it everyday at work (or at home – my partner is also British). However when you live in a foreign country and are surrounded by the new language, it is easier to pick things up than if you were trying to study remotely from your home country. Plus you can make friends with locals, and have access to language exchanges, tandem events, private lessons with native speakers and so on.

Here are some common questions about the CELTA course:

How long does it take?

Most people choose to study full-time, over twenty days. Some training centres offer the CELTA part-time, spread across several months, which would be easier to fit with your job and other commitments. However, I think completely immersing yourself in the learning environment and taking a break from work/your studies is a very effective way of absorbing all the information and ideas. Whether full-time or part-time, the CELTA involves 120 hours of training (with additional time spent reading, researching, preparing lessons and writing assignments).

 How much is it?

My course cost around £1300. I did it in London in 2013. You can go to other countries and do it cheaper; my friend did hers in Prague and it works out much cheaper than what she’d pay in the UK.

Is it worth the money?

It is certainly an investment but I think it’s worth it. If you are serious about teaching overseas – for the long-term, possibly in multiple countries – it can really open a lot of doors.

Which company did you use?

I did my CELTA with St Giles International. The company has a really good reputation. They offer courses in multiple locations & countries and have a 99% pass rate. You can find more details here.

What will I learn on the course?

You can read about my experience doing this course in this post. In a nutshell, you teach a group of real students, you observe other trainees, you are observed, you get feedback and constructive criticism, you learn about how to manage a class of students, give error correction, manage different learning styles, structure a grammar lesson, structure a vocabulary lesson, plan a lesson, manage your timing and deliver different types of lessons and exercises. You also write essays about the methodology of teaching to demonstrate your understanding and techniques.

Any other questions?

I am happy to try and answer any other questions you may have. Put them in the comments below!

Ciao for now,

The Curious Sparrow


  1. Hi
    I’m currently taking a level 5 TQUK certified TEFL course and I have a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology. I’m interested in teaching Business English, and am wondering if you have advice about how to get a well paid gig? I’d prefer flexibility to work via Skype/online teaching or at least doing six months contracts in a good location for travelling.
    Thanks so much!


    • I would make sure your CV/resume really emphasises your professional background and your experience. Both specific and general business knowledge (so that you would be a good candidate to teach in banks, law firms etc). Contact schools directly to see if they are taking on any new teachers. Most schools employ teachers on on a freelancer basis, which would work well with your idea of six months per time. I wouldn’t mention this timeframe in interviews though 🙂 You may want to contact schools to find out about any vacancies for maternity leave, or full-time teachers going travelling. It might be a good way to find a short-term assignment.

      There are some online programmes for teaching English that you might want to look into. VIPKID, dadaabc etc. Some of them give you a syllabus to teach from, or all the material, so there’s minimal preparation needed. You might find the hours aren’t very convenient though – one company messaged me about working with them but their busiest times are Saturdays and evenings (to fit with their students in China). Also the hourly wage for online lessons are lower than in person

      Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there, thanks so much for this post, I have been considering for weeks about doing an english language teaching qualification, but there seem to be so many and I have no idea where to start. My fiancé is in Wales and I will most likely go over in January to do a course while I’m there, and this St. Giles seems promising. I definitely would prefer to teach adults rather than children, but I’ve not heard of as much of a need for it, is it worth focusing on a CELTA rather than TEFL?




    • Hey Kayla. Thanks for reading. There is actually an enormous market for adult learners. I do Business English and thousands of companies around the world are paying for their employees to learn English. It means the students have good motivation too 😊 If Business English isn’t your thing, you could target the young adults who want to learn English to go to university (16-18) year olds. That’s a big market. They do an exam called the IELTs exam. Also many adults like taking lessons to maintain their level and build on what they learned as children. Good luck with your future course 😊


  3. Ooooooh interesting!! I’ve considered doing TEFL for years (albeit on-and-off), this post has given me quite a bit to think about… thank you so much for sharing, it’s an interesting insight (and perhaps might finally give me the push I need, eh?)


  4. I have been curious how this works, actually. I always figured you had to have an actual teaching degree to teach English overseas. Interesting to know it’s only a much shorter course you need instead. Did you find it difficult to only speak English in your classes, especially at first when your students only have very limited knowledge of what you’re saying?


    • It can be tough teaching low level students but you can manage. It’s really important to be patient, go slow, have images and pictures to help build the vocabulary and repeat repeat repeat! Google translate is very helpful (sometimes I google the verbs or vocabulary I want to teach before, so I have the words with me in case the students need a prompt).

      Thanks for reading 🙂


  5. This is all good info to know! I’m not sure if I would ever do it but I’m glad I know more about the experience and what goes into being able to teach English! I am impressed by those who do this.


  6. I’ve always wondered how people became English teachers overseas! It’s good to see it involves a lot of training and advance preparation (and rightfully so, as teaching is hard work!) Definitely a useful post!


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