ESL Teaching Certification

With so many acronyms and different types of ESL certifications, it can be hard to know where to start. So let’s break down some myths and discuss what someone needs to launch into the exciting world of teaching English!

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Getting started on the right note in the world of teaching English overseas is all about gaining a quality ESL certification.

It’s something that is true in so many industries, from real estate to animal care - to get into a good job, you’re required to complete an accredited course, get a certificate and head on your way to a lasting job. It’s no different in the world of English teaching, where the right qualifications get you proper ESL jobs across the globe.

So, what kinds of teaching certifications are there? There are all sorts of acronyms and terms that, to an ESL newbie, might seem off-putting and complicated. 

Let’s break down what these terms mean in - if you like - real terms, and navigate the jungle of ESL qualifications. Then, you can identify what you need for your own ESL journey.

What is ESL certification and what is an ESL teacher? 

ESL certification comes from a course that teaches you how to educate prospective English learners. Students aiming to learn English want to be taught how to use written, verbal and conversational English, either at school, university or an adult educational level. 

An ESL teacher is, quite simply, someone who’s versed in materials and approaches for teaching English to non-native speakers. That means learners who aren’t based in an English-speaking country and are learning the language as a secondary or tertiary language.

ESL certification comes in many forms, but the industry standard comes from 120 hours of learning, sometimes accompanied by some practical experience either online or in-person. An ESL teacher will learn myriad factors of the English language, including syntax, phrasing, grammar and punctuation.

Generally speaking, an ESL teacher needs a quality ESL certification to teach English at any sort of decent level, either through a company or an educational institution. Demand for ESL teachers is widespread, particularly in emerging economies. With English acting as the lingua franca in business, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that countries in the Middle East and Asia are particularly voracious English learners.

Download our TEFL guide to the World!

Certification for English as a second language teacher: choosing the right course for you

With a litany of different ESL programs available, it might be hard to choose, but here are some factors that should influence your decision:


If you’re going to invest time and money into an ESL course, make sure to put your time and your funds in the right hands. A quality ESL course provider will be well-established, with strong accreditation (we’ll get to that), a solid bed of positive reviews and examples of successful former students.

Simply put, if you’re looking at a provider who has none of those things, culminating in a good reputation, that’s a major red flag. Employers want appropriately trained teachers, and English language learners want to learn from ESL teachers who have a high-quality education.


Accreditation means recognition from a range of top educational bodies. In the USA, that would be the likes of DEAC, for example - recognised institutions that approve the quality of a course provider.

How does an ESL course provider attain accreditation? Well, an external body assesses a course provider - provided their standards have been met, they will award accreditation, it’s that simple. More established and high-quality accreditation bodies will continue to monitor a provider to ensure that these standards are continually upheld. 

In short, if an ESL course provider doesn’t have this: avoid.

A history of getting teachers into jobs

Now, there’s an important distinction when we talk about jobs. Some ESL course providers will wave a shiny “guaranteed job” sign in front of prospective ESL teachers. This is definitely to be avoided, for myriad reasons explored here.

That said, like a university prospectus, an ESL course provider should have reliable data regarding how many former students land top jobs after they’ve completed a course. Even better, some ESL certification providers have job centers and links with recruitment bodies or organizations worldwide, which is an excellent grounding for at least being able to scope out opportunities.

Top class materials

The ESL certification provider you use should be able to provide superior materials.

From worksheets to lesson plans, videos to top tutor support, an ESL course provider worth its salt should provide constant access to support, experienced teaching staff and an online campus which helps students to engage in discourse.

An ESL course that more or less leaves students to themselves, or charges more for materials, simply isn’t worth doing. 

ESL vs ESOL: what’s the difference

So, as we get into the weeds with ESL certification, it’s important to know the distinction between other acronyms you’ll undoubtedly come across. You’re with us here on The TEFL Org, not ESL Org. What’s the difference?

What about ESOL and TESOL? Are these all ways of saying the same thing, or something distinctly different?

Here’s a quick guide:

ESL means English as a Second Language. ESOL, though, means English to Speakers of Other Languages. TEFL is Teaching English as a Foreign Language, whereas TESOL means Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 

Generally speaking, ESL and ESOL tend to be used interchangeably to refer to the same thing - teaching English language learners in any environment. 


The differences between TEFL and TESOL are also subtle but important. TEFL is Teaching English as a Foreign Language, whereas TESOL is teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 

TESOL is the term most commonly used in the USA, while you’ll see TEFL used more often elsewhere in the world. Like ESL and ESOL, they are often used interchangeably. However, TESOL can be used to refer specifically to teaching English language learners already residing within an English-speaking country, while TEFL generally refers to teaching abroad or online. 

Discover the differences Between TEFL and TESOL.


What’s the difference between the aforementioned TEFL and CELTA?

CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching in Adults, although that’s been modernized to “Speakers of Other Languages”. TEFL refers to a course that allows speakers of English to teach in their native language, whereas CELTA is a more academic fare. The cost of a TEFL certificate is typically lower than that of a CELTA course.

The CELTA course is, on the other hand, designed by the University of Cambridge, and is an intensive, prestigious and - crucially - much more expensive course.

It’s not a necessity for teaching English overseas but is an option. Some employers will have CELTA as a mandatory requirement, but this isn’t too common.

Discover more about TEFL and CELTA distinctions

University programs

If you’re looking for a more strictly academic approach to gaining ESL certification, a la CELTA, there is another option in the form of DELTA. Yes, another acronym!

DELTA stands for Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and is broadly available as an option at the postgraduate level. Commonly, it’s taught at Universities such as Cambridge, Belgrade, Dublin and Milan. There are also distance learning options for studying DELTA.

There are also postgraduate TESOL courses at Universities worldwide and at a number of American universities.

Getting certified: the requirements 

So now we know the significance of ESL certification, the types of certification and how it’s done, it’s important to know what the requirements are for becoming certified in teaching English language learners.

If you’re worried about the barriers between yourself and a career running ESL classes, this section should hopefully put you at some ease. While yes, some requirements, such as age requirements, can be strict for getting jobs, requirements for actually doing a high-quality ESL course are not. 

For one thing, though, you’ll need to have the financial resources to complete a quality ESL course. Any halfway decent ESL qualification will last at least 120 hours, which is a lot of tutoring time and resources, which means it’ll cost at least a few hundred dollars. DELTA and CELTA, on the other hand, are post-graduate courses, which means they’ll cost in the thousands to complete, just as any master’s course does. 

You’ll also need time. Groupon courses and the like might offer an “ESL Certificate” for a rock-bottom fee, but the likelihood of learning everything you need as an English teacher is next to nil. To succeed, you need to put the work in.

Most crucially of all though, you’ll need real enthusiasm for the English language. For non-native speakers, the quirks and rules of English can be extremely confusing and technical. To really teach these idiosyncrasies effectively, a passion for the language is absolutely mandatory. If you’re not 100% into what you’re doing, will your students be?

What else do you need to obtain an ESL certification and teach around the world? Here are three factors that are important.

Fluency in English

It seems obvious, but fluency in English is really important when you’re trying to obtain an ESL certification.

This doesn’t mean that these certifications are barred to non-native English speakers, far from it. Someone can be from anywhere in the world and learn to be fluent in English, and can certainly do an ESL qualification.

However, if you’re not able to communicate fluently in English across multiple platforms, then you’re going to find it incredibly difficult. Groupon and scam ESL companies might look the other way, but an educational institution won’t let in anyone who hasn’t mastered English. ESL course providers worth anything won’t set up applicants to fail, either.

Learn how to tell if the provider is legitimate.

Degree or no degree? 

The degree or no degree question is certainly a prominent one when it comes to ESL jobs. For qualifications, though, it’s a bit more straightforward.

To take an ESL course through a course provider, you do not need a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

For many, online or in-person ESL certificates are an alternative to going to university immediately after high school. It would be enormously self-damaging for ESL course providers to bar those without degrees, because there’s an entire market of people who don’t necessarily want to go straight to university. Alternatively, ESL can act as a major career change, and of course, not everybody with a career has a degree.


Do you need experience teaching the English language to do an ESL course and become a certified ESL teacher?

Do you need experience teaching English to get into a CELTA program?

No and no. The whole point of an ESL program from an accredited and reliable TEFL provider is to provide new, exciting options for all. It would defeat the purpose, therefore, if vast experience of teaching was required to even do a certificate.

Getting an ESL certification of any kind is about providing opportunity. The idea - at least, when it comes to reputable providers - is that anyone who’s fluent in English and has the requisite attitude can end up gaining a qualification and teaching English.

Download our TEFL guide to teaching online!

Find out more

In case you need any more information, we have several helpful resources. First off, here are our FAQs for those looking to get into the landscape of ESL: do I need ESL certification, how much can I earn, and more.

Find out how long should it take to complete an ESL course There are also answers to the questions about ESL salaries abroad, or salaries for work from home.

There is a litany of career opportunities when it comes to ESL teaching. The flow of students looking to expand their language learning, learning English as a second language from certified ESL teachers, is never-ending. ESL students - adult learners and school kids alike - are looking for teachers to broaden their understanding of the English language.

To get those opportunities to teach English abroad, though, or from home, it's important to become an ESL teacher through the use of any of the high-quality ESL certificate programs available.

Feel free to use our breadth of resources, including our blog, to find out more, and get you on the road to becoming an ESL teacher!