Hold Your English-Speaking Horses! 7 Things to Know Before Getting a TEFL Certification Abroad

by Charleen Johnson Stoever

Have you ever taught a Latin American Spanish speaker to pronounce the word “three” without sounding like “tree”? What about the word “thirty three?” It’s not easy because the “th” sound is nonexistent in Latin American Spanish. Teaching English is a lot more challenging than it sounds, especially since English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. Words like “rough” or “laugh” are not pronounced the way they are spelled and grammatical rules in English come with an insane amount of exceptions. 

Don’t be intimidated, though. If you are considering getting a TEFL certification, you’ve come to the right place. Despite the challenges, teaching English abroad can be immensely rewarding. Making a room full of normally apathetic high schoolers laugh along with you because you acted out “hugging a dolphin” in an environmental unit may not be in your job description, but it just might happen and those laughable moments make the hard work worth it. 

English teacher with students

Enough small talk; let’s get down to it! Here are seven things you should know before getting your TEFL certification abroad: 

1. Why do you want a TEFL Certification?

Is it to see the world in a meaningful way? Do you want to become a teacher who can adapt to another culture? Whether you’ve never taught or have been a teacher for 30 years, think of your end goals. Also, think of your students. How will they benefit from having you as a teacher? You may not have much curriculum planning experience or classroom management experience and this may affect your students’ learning. Then again, the only way to gain experience is by starting somewhere. Reflecting on how you plan to teach and having an open attitude to learning will help both you and your students. 

2. Where do you want to go?

Do you only have time for an online course, or do you want to travel in a meaningful way by teaching English abroad? Not all courses and placements are created equal. Some countries offer better pay and support than others, so your experience will never be the same in any two countries.

Check out this list of all GoAbroad's country options. If you wish to save money and are serious about growing your teaching portfolio, then countries like Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia will be your best bet. If you want to travel meaningfully, but have enough free time to tour the country, look into countries like Peru and Thailand. 

3. Should you earn your TEFL certification online?

If you don’t have the time or money to enter a program abroad, check out these online TEFL certification options. You also may just have a different learning style and prefer taking classes online. Online certification is becoming more and more popular because of how convenient it is. Just like any program, programs vary in cost and hours. An online certification is a good introduction to the TEFL field. It’s also a good introduction to grammar and methodology. However, you may not get that the hands-on classroom experience employers are looking for.

Wondering what the difference between online and in-site certification is? Some programs may offer “observed teacher practice” once you get to the country you will be working in after becoming certified. Contact someone at the site where this observation will take place in order to confirm it will actually happen.

English tutoring

4. Do your research.

Any program can say they are “accredited,” so do your research. Ask questions. Search for TEFL certification programs by country and provider. Look at reviews from past students - just like you wouldn’t dare book a hotel overnight without consulting reviews, you should likewise scour the internet for public feedback on different TEFL programs. The more reviews you read, the more confident you will be when choosing between programs.

The best reviews include pros and cons of each program - not all cons are bad (someone’s con might be your pro!). Beware of overly positive reviews, as they could be paid or false. If you are interested in a program with no reviews, then it’s a good idea to have a one-on-one conversation with a representative of the program to see if it is the right fit for you. 

5. Consider the Costs of a TEFL Certification.

Look at different options for TEFL certification abroad, all of which vary in cost. A basic online TEFL certification costs around $200. A four-week on-site course can cost around $1,500. Providers often offer different packages, ranging from a basic certification to a certification with an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) preparation program. Most employers require at least 120 hours, but if you wish to volunteer abroad, then the shorter courses are usually enough. Some teaching jobs may not require a certificate, but these are usually volunteer options with little to no pay.

So, if you want to make the big bucks as a teacher abroad, get TEFL certified, stat!

6. Do you meet TEFL certification requirements?

Different programs require different sets of hours; however, the industry standard for a teaching job requires 120 hours in addition to six to ten hours of  “Observed Teacher Practice.” Some (if not most) TEFL certification programs will require you to teach in a classroom to gain hands-on experience. If you want a competitive teaching job, go with this option.

Other TEFL certifications can be done completely online from the convenience of your own home. While convenient, you oftentimes sacrifice in-person practice with these programs, which can ultimately detract from your success as a first-time ESL teacher. For those individuals interested in applying for volunteer teaching positions that aren’t very competitive, this may be a better option.

Teaching English to High School students

7. Should you pay for a TEFL certification?

Just like any sort of certification, it is ultimately up to the recipient to decide. If you are seriously planning to make TEFL a part of your career path, why not? Some teachers enter programs that pay them to get certified, while others find it more convenient to pay for a certification. 

A certification is an investment. If you find a program that is worth your time and money, and has had positive reviews, then try talking to someone who has done the same program. Do they think it was worth paying for? If paying for a TEFL certificate didn’t have its conveniences, then it wouldn’t be an option.  

Earning a TEFL certificate requires time and dedication, but the results are worth it.

Teaching English is more than pronunciation drills and playing games. It prepares you to be a flexible, both outside and DEFINITELY inside the classroom. You may end up teaching eager university students in China who work in computer labs every day. You may end up teaching in a public high school in the Philippines with no electricity, running water, or air conditioning, but never fear, those creature comforts will matter less than you’d think (especially when your uniformed students run up to you at school giggling and smiling, saying “Hello, Teacher!”)