What is a CELTA and do I need one?

Do I need a qualification?

A frequently asked question! Well…yes and no…

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The important word is need. Technically in many areas of the world today it’s possible to get work teaching English without having taken a course, and without a teaching qualification. What employers ask for will depend on the local market. If demand for teachers outstrips supply, and you speak good English, then you are in with a good chance with or without a qualification. However, this is changing and the days of being able to walk into a job with no experience or qualifications, simply because you can speak English are numbered. And that’s not a bad thing!

Ask yourself how you will feel when you first stand up in front of a group of students. It can be a little daunting and you are likely to feel a lot more comfortable and be a lot more competent with some kind of training. So, the consideration of qualifications is a two-sided coin – there is what you may need in order to secure a position (whether paid or voluntary), and there’s what you as a person and teacher want to be able to provide. Don’t forget that people may be parting with their very hard-earned cash to pay for your lessons. These considerations may vary depending on your motivations for teaching and the environment in which you plan to teach. Someone who wants to do some voluntary teaching as they travel, in order to meet locals and experience the culture, may not need, or be expected to have, the same qualifications as someone embarking on a year-long contract preparing students for exams in English.

A common scenario is that lots of people begin teaching with no guidance at all. They then come to find that they like it, and a bit further down the line they realise that because of this lack of qualification, their progress is limited and they are unable to go for the better jobs in the more reputable schools. At that point, perhaps one or two years in, they need to take a course. This can sometimes prove more challenging as they may have cemented a few things that are considered ‘bad habits’ and have to work extra hard to undo them. So, consider completing the best training you have the time and money for, as early as you can.

When considering taking a course, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do you want to teach?
  • How long for?
  • Why?

What courses are available?

Online courses

There are now many of these available and an online format can obviously be very convenient for a lot of people. However, do remember that the vast majority are not officially recognised and may give you information you can get from the internet for yourself with some judicious research and at no cost. An additional downside is that since teaching is a practical skill – any course which has no practical teaching element will be limited. Reading about teaching and actually teaching are two very different things! That said, it’s better than nothing, may aid your completion of a course later on, and there are some helpful grammar modules available.

The CELTA course is now available with an online component in addition to face to face teaching practice, which may be of interest to some people.


What is the CELTA?

CELTA (Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) and the Trinity Cert (the equivalent qualification awarded by Trinity College) are the primary initial qualifications for teaching English as a foreign language. They are both recognised internationally and are the most common requirements for decent jobs at reputable teaching organisations around the world. They have several elements in common:

  • course of at least 120 hours
  • 6 hours observed teaching practice
  • observation of peers and experienced teachers
  • written assignments related to teaching theory and practice
  • externally moderated

Both these courses typically take place full-time over four weeks, but are also offered part-time over longer periods in some places. One of the most important things about these courses is the fact that they are externally moderated. On every course, wherever in the world you take them, a moderator from the awarding body (Cambridge or Trinity) will visit the course, observe and meet the candidates and check everything is being run in line with guidelines laid down by that body. This ensures consistency of course provision and standards of grading, and is the reason these courses are recognised so widely. In both cases, you will need to apply, complete some application tasks and have an interview. This is because you should only be accepted onto either of these courses if the organisation providing the course feels you have the potential to pass. Note that it is possible (although not that common if you follow guidance and get organised) to fail.

Both courses should only be undertaken if you can fully commit all your time and effort, as they are both very hard work and incredibly intense! That said, most people who take them are very pleased they did and generally feel a lot better prepared to go out into the EFL world and teach. And let’s face it, although it’s very intensive, it is only four weeks. There aren’t too many situations in life where you can have a total career change in one month!

Other courses

There are now some very good, shorter introductory courses, with some practical teaching ideas and basic concepts, typically held over weekends. These may be a good option if you plan to try out teaching in the shorter term to see if it’s for you.