Apr 27, 2016

Do I Need a TESL Certificate?

Do you need a TESOL/TESL Certificate to teach English as a second language?


Article over.

Haha… Here’s the details:

What is a TESL certificate anyway?

What it means: TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language or, TESOL: Teaching English as a Second or Other Language.

What you will learn: Teaching methodology, Classroom management, Lesson Planning, ESL skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), and a Teaching Practicum, for example. The practicum (practice) is what really prepares you for being in the classroom.

Certificates are valid forever and recognized in most countries.

Be Careful

I see a lot of websites and blogs trying to ‘help’ people who want to teach ESL in another country. They are trying to make a living, but don’t need to lie and say, “You need a TESL certificate to teach in (insert country), so get one with our great company.” They are getting referral fees from TESL schools, so they are trying to trick you into getting the certificate to make some money.

I don’t know of ANY country that flat out requires a TESL certificate to get an ESL job. Some regions in S. Korea now require in-classroom/ practicum TESL I’ve heard. If you know details/countries which require TESL, please comment. (I recently found this article about people in China scamming English teachers into getting expensive and unnecessary TESL certificates for jobs that don’t exist.)

The truth is, there is usually no need for a TESL certificate.

If you are just getting started teaching English as a second language, and want some experience, a TESOL certificate is not a bad idea. If you know you can get paid more or the specific job you want requires a TESOL certificate, that’s a good reason to get one. Don’t believe anyone who tells you a TESL certificate is required to get a job teaching overseas. Most of the time it’s not a job requirement, and even if you have a TESOL certificate, it doesn’t mean you will be paid more. Sure, employers might say they prefer teachers who have a TESOL certificate, but they are not always willing to pay more for it.

In the end, experience and good performance wins over education.

In my case, I worked/volunteered at a camp in S. Korea first, as part of a TESL practicum class. I loved it, so I got all serious about finding an ALT job in Japan. While I taught at the camp, I had no idea what I was doing, but am really comfortable just making stuff up. Somehow at the end of camp, all the students thought I was wonderful and said I was a good teacher. I think they were just being kind, but I know they had lots of fun at camp. 

I thought getting a TESOL certificate made sense, as I had very little teaching experience, plus I majored in art. I didn’t exactly have a good grasp of grammar, how to teach pronunciation, or um… spelling things correctly without spell check. Most of us can tell when something sounds funny in English, but can’t explain why it’s wrong. Getting the TESOL certificate helped me to feel more confident in these areas, and it was a really convenient way to do so quickly.

If you have time and focus, you could do some reading and research on your own and learn grammar rules, phonics, spelling rules, etc., but it’s hard to learn things like classroom management without experience. Like many ESL teachers do, you could start teaching and learn from experience. With experience, you know what to expect, and you can answer random questions without even being completely awake yet.

If you are interested in getting a TESOL certificate, the affordable online one I got is from Midwest Education Group. MEG also helps their students with job placement and has volunteer opportunities if you need a place to do your practicum. If you choose to go with MEG for a TESOL certificate, tell them ‘hello alissa’ sent you and use the code “Tesol@Chicago” for $20 off the 150 hour TESOL course.

The most prestigious TESL certification you can get, apart from a masters or PhD in TESL, is probably the CELTA. It’s an intensive in-person month-long program, and the cost is way more than an online TESOL certificate. This is focused on teaching adult students and therefore rarely requested for teaching in public schools. Private schools or universities would most likely require teaching certification and/or a masters degree, unless it’s a private ESL only school like Kaplan International. I think the CELTA is most useful if you want to teach in one of the private ESL schools in the states/your home country, but don’t want a related masters degree.

I taught “The Art” at camp.

Teaching in Japan

I want to be honest with you, because that’s who I am. If you work as an ALT, you don’t even need to know grammar rules. ALTs are Assistant Language Teachers. If you can speak English, spell most things correctly, and have a bachelors degree, you’re set. You’ll figure out the rest as you go. Lots of resources are available online if you’re motivated to become a good ALT.

When you work as an ALT, the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) is the one who is qualified to teach English grammar. It’s not your job. If you understand a little Japanese, it’s quite possible to learn grammar during classes. Simply pay attention while you’re in classrooms during grammar lessons.

Side story: My first year as an ALT, I learned past perfect form, but I learned it in Japanese. I went back to the USA, got a job teaching English at a private ESL school, and didn’t know how to say ‘past perfect’ in English. Not kidding. I didn’t know what ‘present continuous’ meant and had to teach it. That first ESL job in the states was a rude awakening to how bad I am at English grammar and I spent a lot of extra hours studying so I could teach it. Too bad I skimmed through the grammar definition material when I got the TESOL certificate. I downloaded all the TESOL materials and still refer to it as needed. Now I love teaching grammar and pronunciation.

If you want to teach in Eikaiwa, you might do a lot more teaching grammar rules, although students are usually quite good at it already. The little Eikaiwa experience I have had was conversation based, although most Eikaiwa offer general English lessons as well. I could see more use for a TESOL certificate if you want to teach in Eikaiwa or private lessons, although the teaching methodology is definitely useful for ALTs as well.

I hope this was helpful and saved you some money too!

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I like snacks, Engrish, cats, plants eating buildings, riding a bike, photography, painting, onsen, traveling, playing board games with my nerdy Japanese husband, and living in Japan. I blog at https://helloalissa.wordpress.com/

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