Do You Actually Need a CELTA To Teach English Overseas?

If you want to teach English overseas then you sometimes need a teaching qualification. Generally the best thing to do if you want to teach English in another country is to find out what is required, then work backwards from that.

I’ll give you one specific example of a country. If you want to teach English in China then officially you need a bachelor’s degree and a 120 hour teaching certificate.

So if you wanted to teach in China then the degree is obviously the biggie. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree then it’s probably best to choose somewhere to teach where you don’t need a degree.

As for the 120 hour teaching certificate – that’s all it says. It makes no mention of a specific teaching qualification such as the CELTA, or Trinity CertTESOL, or an MA TESOL or anything else.

In fact the CELTA normally has 160 hours of tuition, so it goes someway beyond the bare bones minimum TEFL certificate required to teach English in China.

Is the CELTA a 120 Hour Teaching Certificate?

Despite the CELTA being the most well known and well regarded TEFL certificate in the known universe, I was actually asked by my prospective school in China whether it was a 120 hour teaching certificate!


I guess because it doesn’t actually say 120/160 hours on the certificate itself! Actually it says 160 hours, but only on the candidate report transcript, not the actual certificate itself.

Contrast that with my TEFL certificate from The Tefl Academy which has 120 Hours in a big font on the certificate itself. See for yourself – CELTA on the left, Tefl Academy certificate on the right:

So if you’re intending to teach in China, then 120 Hours is the key phrase that prospective recruiters will look for, unless they’re especially knowledgeable in the field of teacher training and recruitment.

If you’re strapped for cash then any certificate which has 120 Hours on it is really all you need, especially if you have a bachelors degree and are a native English speaker with a passport from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

So Was The CELTA a Waste of Time and Money?

Was the CELTA a waste of time and money?

If I had major cashflow issues and needed to start teaching ASAP in order to pay the bills then, yes, the CELTA was a waste of money. I could have just made do with my cheap Tefl certificate from The Tefl Academy. It was about 20% of the price of the CELTA. It also took less time AND I could do it while doing my day job. If you factor in the month off work the CELTA entails then the cost savings of a basic 120 hour Tefl certificate are even greater.

HOWEVER I should add that the CELTA was an excellent preparation for life in the classroom. The 120 hour certificate had me writing essays and reading theoretical articles. The CELTA had me teaching REAL STUDENTS from the 2nd day of the course.

I am full of praise for the way the CELTA prepped me to the parachuted into a classroom and teach from day 1 of my new job in a foreign country. It has also had the secondary benefit of allowing me to reflect on my own teaching. This is a core teaching on the CELTA, and it allows you to self-monitor and improve without much input from others. In fact this has been really invaluable as I haven’t been observed at all by my fellow teachers or my supervisors. I’ve been appraised by my students, but not by anyone in a position of authority in my school.

So at the end of the day I would say that a basic 120 hour Tefl certificate will help get you the legal minimum paperwork for teaching in a country like China. But will it really prepare you for life in the classroom?

That’s a lot less certain.

I watch a lot of sample lessons posted on YouTube and it’s usually fairly apparent who has been CELTA (or Trinity CertTESOL) trained, and who is just along for the ride.

I did do a little bit of teaching practice on my 120 hour Tefl. However, because there were about 30 or 40 trainees and only one instructor, there wasn’t too much time for each trainee to do any teaching. And of course we could only teach each other, and not real genuine English learners.

There are also valuable side benefits of doing actual real world teaching practice like you get to do on the CELTA. After completing my CELTA course I went back to work in my old job of software developer. I noticed that my performance in job interviews post-CELTA was much improved. I had a lot more confidence. In a couple of interviews I took command of the interview, and started interviewing them. I did so well that two top City of London employers ended up giving me job offers. I’m not sure that would have happened if I hadn’t learnt some valuable life lessons while doing the CELTA.

So do you think the CELTA is worthwhile? Is it expensive and hard to justify taking a month out of your life to pass it? Would you do the CELTA or just do a basic 120 hour TEFL certificate? Post your comments below.

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