Myth BUSTED: 5 Misconceptions About TEFL Certification

by Jennifer Bangoura

Congratulations! You took the first step in your next great adventure; you decided you want to teach English abroad. Now all you have to do is sift through the loads of information swirling around the internet about TEFL certification. Is it necessary? Why do you need it? Is TEFL certification expensive? Can you get your TEFL certification abroad? Are there any more questions you should be asking? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Empty classroom
The best way to prep for the classroom is to earn your TEFL certification.

If the thought of diving into all the research you need to do in order to make an informed decision is making your heart palpitate then take a deep breath. We’ve already sifted through what the internet has to offer with regards to TEFL certification, and we’re here to bust the myths surrounding them. From what kind of certification to get, to where to get it, and how much it will cost, check out the top five misconceptions about TEFL certification (busted!) below:

1. “I Don’t Need a TEFL Certification - I’m a Native Speaker” - BUSTED

You may think that your status as a native English speaker precludes you from needing a TEFL certificate, which proves you can teach others how to read, write, and speak the English language. After all, you use English every day and, if you say so yourself, you use it pretty well. Unfortunately, having the gift of gab or the ability to write well does not make you a skilled instructor capable of imparting your wisdom upon others. Teaching any subject requires a special skill set; teaching English to non native speakers will require an even more specific skill set and a lot of patience.

You may be anxious to get this next chapter of your life moving and to get started teaching English abroad in South Africa or Thailand without wasting time on a TEFL certification. Wherever the winds carry you, you can also find a TEFL certificate program abroad to suit your needs. There are TEFL programs everywhere, including ones in South Africa and Thailand, that will prepare you for the classroom and equip you with the skills you’ll need to not just succeed as a TEFL teacher, but to thrive!

Take some time to research which TEFL certificate programs fit your needs, with regards to time, cost, and location, it will be time well spent and you’ll thank yourself once you’re in the classroom and able to instruct with ease.

2. “You Absolutely Must Have a TEFL Certification to Teach” - BUSTED

While having a TEFL certification is definitely a plus, it isn’t always necessary. Do you already have a few years of experience teaching ESL? Do you have sample lesson plans you could show your future employer and references to demonstrate your ability as an instructor? If so, you might not need certification to secure a position in a school abroad. What’s essential is that you can demonstrate your transferable skills to show that you already have the qualifications required through a TEFL certification, without actually having it.

If you’re wondering how to get experience teaching ESL without leaving your community, look into volunteering at a refugee or immigrant center near you. There are always children and adults in need of a native English speaker to help them adapt to their life in an Anglophone country. Bonus: you will not only be helping others adjust to their life in a new place, you will also develop a deeper sense of empathy for what it’s like to live in a foreign country, a skill you’ll rely heavily on once you go abroad to teach.

Blackboard with the alphabet written in cursive
Being a native english speaker isn’t enough to make you an effective ESL teacher.

3. “I’m an Experiential Learner - Certificates Are Just Pieces of Paper” - BUSTED

We get it, a diploma or piece of paper doesn’t always prove you’re capable of doing whatever the degree or certificate says you are able to do. Maybe you learn best on the job and are able to pick up the skills you need to do your work on the fly. While being an experiential learner is always helpful, your future employer will need more than your passionate assurance that you’re capable of doing the thing to base their hiring decision on.

Here are 10 reasons to take TEFL courses abroad, which would satisfy your wanderlust and need for a certification. You can soak up your foreign surroundings abroad as you learn how to teach others the English language!

Remember, receiving your TEFL certificate doesn’t have to be a cringeworthy experience; there are plenty of TEFL programs out there with interactive and engaging curriculum that will inspire your own lesson plans later on. You can even check out TEFL teacher groups on your favorite social media sites to connect with alumni from certificate programs you’re interested in pursuing. While the experience of getting your certification may not mirror what it’s like to be in the classroom getting your hands dirty with lesson planning, it can be time well spent in order to thoroughly prepare you for the rigours of teaching ESL!

4. “I Have A Friend Who Taught Without TEFL Certification and She Did Fine.” - BUSTED

It’s great for your friend that they were able to get a teaching placement without a certificate, but, as with the stock market, past performance is not an indicator of future results. While it is possible to teach English abroad without a TEFL certification, you should ask yourself: do you really want to? With your certification you’ll have what it takes to develop engaging lesson plans, manage a classroom of students, create interactive assignments, and not lose your mind doing so (we hope!).

With the right training, you’ll enter the field with your eyes wide open, and a notebook full of ways to excel as an instructor.

Talk with that elusive friend who already went through the wringer of teaching ESL without a certificate to get the real story. While they may have skipped a step in the traditional trajectory of ESL teaching, they probably have a number of stories to share when it would have been incredibly helpful to have more formalized training.

Teacher in front of students with balloons and balloon animals everywhere
Learn all about building creative and engaging lesson plans during your TEFL certification course

5. “It’s Better To Get My TEFL Certification In My Home Country.” - BUSTED

While your home country may offer spectacular TEFL certification programs, remember that quality is not a zero-sum game and you can also receive your certification abroad, likely for a fraction of the tuition cost. To get things going, decide where you would like to eventually teach abroad and research the TEFL certifications offered in that country. Compare programs and read reviews to find the best fit for you and your needs.

Once you find a program that is internationally recognized, reach out to alumni from the program to make sure their experience is in line with what the marketing team of your TEFL program is saying. If you’re still on the fence, did you know you can get your certification in Costa Rica, Ireland, and Morocco?!

Getting your TEFL certification abroad allows you to deepen your field experience while positioning you for success as a TEFL teacher, so what are you waiting for?

Deciding to get your TEFL certification is a big decision that will change the rest of your life in the best way. After receiving your TEFL certificate you will be equipped with the skills to teach others a language, a skill that not many people possess. Between designing ESL lesson plans and exploring the world around you, you’ll be a regular Adam Savage, busting myths surrounding the TEFL world held by yourself, and those around you.

As with all things, preparing to teach ESL abroad will take time and patience, but planning for your teach abroad experience is part of the journey. And once you complete your TEFL certification, check out these tips for what to do next!