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TEFL Courses: Parlez-Vous Anglais?

by Bronwyn Price

Did you know being born into an English-speaking culture enables you to launch yourself into an upwardly mobile career that involves travelling the world, meeting an abundance of interesting people, achieving a feeling of purpose as well as a pretty good pay-packet at the end of it all? It may sound like an ad in the recruitment pages – but it’s true!

Being a native English speaker is one of the most valuable assets a young man or woman of the world can possess these days.

For some time, English has been the dominant language on this little planet of ours. Due to the fact that the world just keeps getting smaller with every new piece of communications technology and cheaper airline ticket, people from opposite ends of the earth are wanting to talk to each other (for all sorts of reasons).

This leads to a lot of people wanting to learn English, and a thriving industry has sprung up to meet this need.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is by no means a new thing; in fact, it is an established profession. The great thing about it is that there are no specific requirements you need in order to gain a qualification in the field apart from speaking English (yes, it’s that simple).

Graduation from secondary or high school is usually a must, but a university degree is not necessary. You do not have to have come from a linguistics, communications or education background, and you don’t have to speak another language.

I recently completed a TEFL course; my 12 class mates all came from diverse backgrounds such as nursing, social work, accounting, secretarial and hospitality. Top it all off, we even had a professional ballet dancer! The rest of us fitted into a class I’ll just call "transient." The things we all had in common were an ability to speak English (coherently), a vague interest in language use, and a handy grammar book and dictionary to consult in case of emergencies.

First of all, you don’t absolutely need to gain a TEFL qualification to teach English to foreigners. There is many a story about intrepid travellers turning up in foreign lands and becoming English teachers without any forethought whatsoever. However, I would advise against this if you prefer to have some credo, which will earn you more money and limit your chances of being completely exploited (and you’ll know a little bit about how you might go about teaching people who will just stare at you blankly when you say, "And what’s your name?").

The following information is relevant for the UK but hopefully will give an idea of the processes involved in undertaking a TEFL course in most English-speaking countries.

  1. Decide what sort of qualification you want.
    In the UK there are various boards governing TEFL courses, the two most prominent being Trinity and the Cambridge RSA CELTA. The CELTA is the most widely recognised and hailed to be the superior qualification at the moment. A TEFL course will generally take you about four weeks full-time to complete. Different schools will teach different courses, so check it out before you enroll.
  2. Find a school.
    Make sure your school is a member of a recognised association (e.g., in the UK – ARELS or the British Council) and that they offer a legitimate qualification. In Britain, newspaper the Guardian has an education supplement on Tuesdays, which advertises courses on offer. Apart from that, the Yellow Pages are a good place to start. By the way, try to find a school that includes practical teaching sessions in its syllabus (some don’t). If you’ve never taught before, you’ll be glad of the experience.
  3. Be prepared to work your butt off!
    A full-time TEFL course is intense to say the least. After a full day’s lectures and teaching practice the prospect of spending your evenings preparing lessons and writing assignments doesn’t always thrill. However, you must remember that just because you’ve parted with a lot of money to do the course, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to pass. So study hard!
  4. Find work.
    There are endless options for work as an EFL teacher. Most likely your school will have a job placement service or a full-fledged recruitment agency attached to it. This would be the obvious place to start the search. You can also go out on your own and offer one-to-one private tutoring; at about £15 an hour for a new graduate, it’s not a bad option. Also, the Guardian advertises teaching jobs in its Tuesday issue. In the UK, lots of language schools offer summer schools for teenagers, which is a great provider of work for the summer months, particularly for first-jobbers. For those of you with an altruistic streak, working with refugees is also an area that holds many opportunities.
  5. Explore special fields.
    There are various branches within TEFL that you could enter, such as Business English, Medical English, Academic English, etc., and if you are already experienced in any of these fields, you’re off to a head start. There are extra courses you can take for these special fields, or maybe you could draw on your personal background and create your own little niche, e.g., music, art, history, science, popular culture… the list goes on.
  6. Gain further qualifications.
    After a couple of years experience, preferably in a foreign country, you might want to do a post-grad diploma in TEFL or even a Masters degree – yes, such as thing exists! You could become a Director of Studies or go into teacher training with these sorts of qualifications.

The thing that attracted me to TEFL was that, being a traveller, it could allow for heaps of freedom, plus open doors to countries and cultures that would otherwise not be open to me.

I know there are lots people out there who love to be on the go and don’t really want to settle down (just yet) but at the same time feel like they want to do a job that’s got some challenge to it. TEFL seems to slide right into that groove, and the beautiful thing about it is that at the end of your adventure you can take the qualification home with you and get a "proper job"!

Other Resources:
Teaching English Abroad: Talk Your Way Around the World! (4th Ed), by Susan Griffith (UK) (There’s even a newer version coming out in 2009.)

TEFL Programs on BootsnAll – You can browse and sign up for TEFL courses right here on BootsnAll.

The British Council: Teach English – Lots of info on all aspects of TEFL, including information about how to get qualified to teach English. Course Search – Find TEFL courses anywhere in the world or, for all other things TEFL-related, check out their home page.