A million things could have brought you to this article. Did an experience with a person who speaks English as a second language spark your interest in learning more about the profession of teaching English to non-native speakers? Perhaps you’re interested in living and working abroad, and teaching English seems like a job that makes the most sense for where you find yourself at present.
Whatever brought you here— we are so glad you came! Teaching English to non-native speakers is an exciting profession filled with opportunities to not only share your knowledge with others, but to also continually grow professionally and personally as you develop compassion and empathy for those learning a new language. In order to teach English as a second language, it is recommended that you complete a teaching certification program, so you can prove to others–and yourself–that you are qualified to do so. Two popular certificates are the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate and the Teaching English to Speakers of a Second Language (TESOL) certificate.
The question remains –TEFL vs TESOL, which is better? If you’re scratching your head right now about how two acronyms that seem so similar could be different, we completely understand. Satisfy that itch and then continue reading to learn more about the difference between TEFL and TESOL, so you can decide which certificate makes the most sense for what you would like to accomplish as an English teacher abroad.
Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe – What’s the Difference?
First things first– what is the difference between TEFL and TESOL certification? Before getting either teaching certification, you will need to decide where you want to teach English. Do you want to stay at home and teach in your (Anglophone) home country? Then you should probably take a closer look into a TESOL certification. Are you looking at teaching English as a more temporary arrangement abroad? Then it would make more sense for you to look into a TEFL certificate.
However, it’s not as easy as picking a city on a map to help you decide your future as an English language teacher. So, we’ve broken down what you can expect from these two teaching certificates below.
What’s the difference between po-tay-toe and po-tah-toe? Where you’re from or how you learned to speak English—that’s the same nuanced difference between TEFL and TESOL certificates. It’s subtle, but the difference is there!
TEFL Teaching Jobs
After completing your TEFL certificate, you will have your pick of marvelous places to teach English abroad. You will have a diverse and thrilling variety of locations to consider, from Cambodia to the Czech Republic, and everywhere in between. With a TEFL certificate, you can expect three general categories of teaching jobs: in a formal school, private tutoring, or teaching within a private organization or company.
As you consider where you would like to work while teaching English abroad, take time to envision your life over the coming year(s). When you close your eyes (not just yet though, you need to finish reading this article, first!), what do you see, hear, taste, and smell? Does the thought of children running around you chattering away give you the chills? Does the thought of important business people barking orders fill you with anxiety? Are you excited by the idea of being in a rural village where amenities are limited? Are you eager to see what it’s like to live abroad in a big, urban city center?
As a TEFL teacher, it is likely that you will begin to specialize in teaching a certain age group. Whether you are teaching English in the Middle East or in South America, you may find yourself gravitating toward working with children, older students, or business people. If you’re not sure who you prefer to work with, you can try out private tutoring to get a feel for a variety of age groups, while not sacrificing your full (or nearly full) time position as a TEFL teacher.
TESOL Teaching Jobs
If you’re looking for a career in teaching English as a second language, a TESOL certification may be more versatile and allow you to teach both at home and abroad. With a TESOL certification you can anticipate teaching jobs in organizations similar to those listed above, as well as locally-based NGOs in your home country. Do you have a passion for supporting immigrants or refugees in your home city/country? A TESOL certificate will allow you to make the most of your tutoring sessions or ability to develop relevant curriculum. From Canada to Australia to the United Kingdom or the United States, your passion and skills as an English language instructor are in high demand!
From giving English language lessons to immigrants or maybe working in a school system with ESL learners, you will be surprised at the number of job opportunities available to certified TESOL teachers. Ask around in your immediate community, or online, to get a better idea of what other people are doing with their TESOL certificate and see how you can best use yours.
When You Need More Than a Certificate
Sometimes a TEFL or TESOL certificate may not be enough. Do you see yourself in the English-teaching game for the long haul? Are you serious about perfecting your skills as an English-language instructor— maybe even training future TESOL teachers one day? If so, it would make sense for you to look into a TESOL master's program. While a TEFL or TESOL certificate will be respected in many instances, if you really want to give yourself a leg up and establish yourself as an expert in the ESL game, then a master’s degree makes a lot of sense. While investing in a TESOL master’s program will be a bigger up-front investment in terms of both your time and money, it will pay off in the end if you are committed to the English-language instruction field in the longer term.
Is your head still spinning with all of the options for TEFL and TESOL certifications out there?
Still wondering: TEFL vs TESOL, which is better? Take a deep breath and remember that as long as you focus on where you would like to get your teaching certification and what you want to do with it, you are moving in the right direction. Both TEFL and TESOL certificates will open up teaching job opportunities for you that simply aren’t available to just anyone.
After you narrow down your choices by these two certification options, take time to read reviews and reach out to alumni to get the skinny on the best teacher certification programs, and you will be on your way to teaching English abroad in no time.