Celta vs TEFL: What’s the difference?

One of the biggest debates in the English teaching world is Celta vs TEFL. So, what’s the difference? Is one better than the other? Which is more reasonably priced, and which has the better reputation? In this article, we’ll examine the key factors in this ongoing argument.

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Celta vs TEFL: What’s the difference?
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When you’re navigating the world of TEFL certification, there are lots of new acronyms and phrases to learn. TESOL, TEFL, ESL and EFL, for example, are a minefield unto themselves. Then there is the number of hours you need to qualify, the different routes, and of course, terms like DELTA and CELTA.

CELTA is our focus in this article and we’re going to compare it to TEFL. What, exactly, is the difference? Is CELTA a kind of TEFL qualification, or vice versa? What advantages does a CELTA course have over an online TEFL certificate in terms of going out to teach abroad? 

Ultimately, if you’re here, you want information about the TEFL qualification that’s right for you. So, let’s break down what CELTA actually means, compare it to a TEFL qualification, and you can discern for yourself which is the right road to follow for becoming a TEFL teacher.

What is CELTA?

So, what does CELTA stand for, then? It means Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It’s a specific TEFL course created by Cambridge Assessment English and focuses on teaching adults. 

The course is usually completed in person over the course of a month, although times have changed, especially owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. CELTA can be taught face-to-face full-time over the course of a month, yes, but there are online and part-time options. Some students can take up to a year to complete their CELTA course, depending on time constraints. Many years ago, the CELTA was one of the only quality TEFL courses on the market, so it holds a good reputation worldwide. 

Its association with the University of Cambridge, of course, helps that reputation. Currently, the University of Cambridge ranks top 5 worldwide in the Times Higher Education’s global list.

However, online learning has come a long way and it’s no longer the only course sought after by employers - far from it. Only approved CELTA centers are able to run CELTA courses. There are over 2,800 in 130 countries, so finding your nearest one shouldn’t be hard!

CELTA certainly is a widely recognized and respected TEFL certification. That doesn't mean, however, that it's the right TEFL certification for you. If you're interested in teaching children, for example, a TEFL certification is better since CELTA is specific to adults.

What is TEFL?

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It’s often used interchangeably with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). You can think of it as an umbrella term for all courses focused on teaching someone how to teach English to language learners. TEFL, EFL, ESOL - it’s all essentially under the auspices of TEFL.

On a high-quality TEFL course, you’ll cover grammar, lesson planning, teaching theory, and how to navigate the classroom, whether in person or virtually. The industry standard TEFL qualification is 120 hours, and while CELTA used to rule the roost, 120 hours of quality TEFL training will be enough to land most jobs.

Not all TEFL courses are equal when it comes to adequately preparing students for English language teaching, which is really important to understand when choosing a course. There are lots of different TEFL course providers and with no over-arching accrediting body just about anyone can set up and sell a TEFL course. The only worthwhile TEFL course is one that is accredited by respected bodies and has a strong reputation internationally. 

What’s the difference between TEFL and CELTA? 

Both a CELTA and a TEFL qualification can leave you well-prepared for a life teaching English as a foreign language.

There are, however, distinct differences between the two, which we’ll break down in more detail. These differences are:

How the course is delivered

In the past, the CELTA course was a purely in-person affair, much like the majority of TEFL qualifications. Only CELTA-approved centers were allowed to teach the CELTA qualification, instead of a TEFL qualification, where there is less regulation (though it’s very easy to find properly accredited and high-quality sources for TEFL qualifications).

Now, though, it’s more diverse in terms of a learning culture. CELTA courses can be taken online, in person, or through a combination of both. TEFL courses in general boomed in popularity during the pandemic, and the University of Cambridge - along with its associated CELTA teaching spaces - have adapted to meet the needs of a remote learning culture.

Is a Level 5 TEFL course the same as CELTA?

In short, a Level 5 TEFL course and the CELTA are not equivalent qualifications. You might’ve come across the claim that they are while researching the CELTA vs TEFL debate, so it might be surprising to read that this isn’t the case.

Admittedly, a Level 5 TEFL course and CELTA are both level 5 qualifications. However, it only means they’re at the same level of difficulty, not that the qualifications are interchangeable. The method of delivery, and the content of the two qualifications, are actually very different.

To make such an equivalence implies that, were an employer to specifically ask for a CELTA, they would also accept a Level 5 course. That isn’t the case. We’ve yet to come across an advert for a teaching job that asks for a CELTA or a Level 5. The requirement is typically for a TEFL course consisting of at least 120 hours of study.

For more on the differences between a Level 5 and a CELTA, read here.

What are the requirements for CELTA and TEFL? 

Though CELTA might read like a post-graduate degree, the entry requirements shouldn’t put anybody off, necessarily. You need to be 18, have a high school education, be able to demonstrate a high level of English proficiency, and pass a pre-enrolment task and interview. 

To apply for the CELTA, you need to write a written application, before being asked for an interview. The Cambridge English website has a great guide to preparing for the said interview and has advice on preparation in general, including the ideal materials and the virtue of making friends on your course in advance.

On a TEFL course, you don’t need all this. Of course, to get anything out of the qualification, it’d be ideal to have a sound education grounding, and it should go without saying that high proficiency in English is crucial. However, there’s no pre-enrolment task, and no interview - you just sign up and get started.

TEFL courses are, in the main, designed so that anyone can do them, with the right amount of skill and enthusiasm. People who take TEFL courses often do so on a part-time basis, to fit around current commitments. The CELTA course, meanwhile, is grounded more in an academic environment. 

TEFL vs CELTA: which one should you choose? 

Ultimately, the TEFL vs CELTA debate comes down to personal preference. If it’s important to have a Cambridge qualification on your CV, and you have the time and money to complete the course, there’s no doubt that CELTA is a high-quality TEFL education.

If you want the option of teaching learners of all ages, including children and teenagers, then a TEFL course would be a better option as the CELTA only focuses on adult learners. Cambridge Assessment English used to offer a Young Learners add-on to the CELTA for around £900 ($1,200), but this was discontinued in 2016. 

You also need to consider how both courses are delivered and what would suit you best. If you want 100% in-person classroom study then go with the CELTA - even though it’s more flexible nowadays. If you want to study online at your own pace then you should go for a TEFL course. 

Finally, your budget might dictate what course you choose. The CELTA is expensive and as it’s normally held full-time over a month it means you can’t work alongside it. A TEFL course is certainly a much more affordable option for most. 

The important thing to remember is that whatever course you choose (as long as the TEFL course is properly accredited!), you’ll be prepared and qualified to start teaching English for the first time. Whatever you feel most comfortable with is the deciding factor. 

TEFL vs CELTA: myth busting 

As with everything in the academic sphere, anything that’s online and, well, anything in general, there are myths around the debate between TEFL and CELTA. Where these myths come from is the subject of argument in itself, but we’re here to clear up some common misconceptions and false tropes about the choice between the two routes to teaching English as a foreign language.

Claim Number 1: Online TEFL courses aren’t accepted by employers. 

The verdict: total fiction! The online training industry has come a long way and most employers accept online TEFL qualifications provided it’s from an accredited provider. 

Given the number of thriving online TEFL course providers, it’d be a bit strange if employers were snooty about the method a teacher used to become qualified, especially after a global pandemic. 

Claim Number 2: a course must include a practicum to be accepted by employers. 

The verdict: fiction again! A course does not need to include a practicum, this is a bit of a marketing tactic that courses including a practicum will use. How do we know this is false? The TEFL Org has trained over 185,000 teachers since 2008 and despite our courses not including a practicum, our graduates have no problem finding work! We’ll expand on practicums a little later on.

Claim Number 3: doing a CELTA makes you a better teacher. 

The verdict: largely nonsense. There are good and bad teachers everywhere, just because they completed a 4-week classroom course doesn’t make them a better teacher. 

With CELTA courses you can either score an A, a B, pass, or a fail. Is a teacher with an A better than a teacher that has a B? Yes, they were able to get a better grade in their teaching practice and essays but that doesn’t necessarily make them a better teacher. 

There’s no replacement for experience, and how well a teacher is able to communicate with a class. Plenty of teachers with fantastic CELTA grades won’t have made it as teachers, for a number of reasons. The qualification doesn’t guarantee success, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Will you earn more money with a CELTA? 

This question could’ve been included within the myth busting section of the article, but it probably deserves a section of its own. A commonly-held myth within the TEFL industry is that doing a CELTA guarantees better starting salaries for English teachers.

In fact, starting salaries for TEFL vs CELTA-qualified teachers are the same. In the TEFL industry, it’s experience that determines salaries, so if you’re just starting out then it’s not going to make a difference whether you have a TEFL or CELTA qualification. 

The same is true of 120-hour vs Level 5 courses – just because a course has more hours of training doesn’t mean you’ll earn more as a newbie teacher. Unfortunately, that’s just not how the TEFL industry works. It’s your performance as a teacher that dictates salaries, not how you became one.

Are there more opportunities with a CELTA? 

There might’ve been a time when a CELTA qualification guaranteed more teaching jobs. For a long while, the CELTA was the certificate to get when it came to teaching English as a foreign language. Now? Not so much.

Only a very small minority of employers specifically require a CELTA and these are not entry-level positions. You’ll also need a couple of years of teaching experience under your belt. 

It’s also important to note that some countries require teachers to have a degree for visa reasons. Doing a CELTA course doesn’t get around this – you would still need a degree. A CELTA may have the feel of postgraduate study, and be aligned with the academic world in a more obvious way, but it’s not a degree.

Not that the absence of a degree should impede you in the TEFL world, anyway. If you don’t have a degree we have some more information about teaching abroad without one here

Should a course include a practicum?

There is plenty of argument (isn’t there always?) about whether a TEFL course should include a practicum. A practicum, by the way, is observed teaching practice, a means of putting into practice what you’ve been learning throughout your course, creating and delivering your own lessons in front of real students. You can observe other training teachers in action, provide peer-to-peer feedback, and be assessed by a tutor.

Is it necessary, though? We’d argue no, it’s not, where jobs are concerned. At The TEFL Org, we pay close attention to the TEFL industry, especially regarding what employers look for. The majority of jobs do not ask for a practicum. What most employers do look for is at least 120 hours of TEFL training, through a properly accredited and reputable TEFL course provider. 

Secondly, a proper practicum is an expensive pursuit. The difference between our 120-hour Premier Online course and a course that includes a practicum can easily be in excess of £1,000. That’s a substantial difference.

Does TEFL or CELTA make you a better teacher?

Perhaps the most crucial question of all: which of TEFL and CELTA make you a better English teacher?

Well, here’s the thing: you can do either of the big training programs and become a great teacher. You could also decide that it’s just not for you once you get into the classroom. These kinds of things can happen - that’s life.

As we’ve said before, the CELTA course is graded, and you can get an A, a B, or a fail. If you’re a teacher who got an A, it may mean you performed better in one of the written assignments. Does it make you a better teacher? Perhaps, if you use everything you’ve learned to create a perfect lesson plan, or immediately connect with everyone you’re teaching. However, the student teacher that got the B for the written assignments might end up being a “better” English teacher.

If you do a properly accredited, high-quality TEFL course, you could be absolutely brilliant, just as you could be with a CELTA. The things that truly matter most, though, are taking your learning into practice. It’s about connection, it’s about enthusiasm, it’s about the willingness to take on challenges and react to different types of learners.

Whether you have a TEFL or CELTA certification, the truth is that the qualification is the vehicle that drives you to TEFL jobs and a career in English teaching. The CELTA vs TEFL debate will likely rumble on, but it’s what you do with that certification in teaching English that counts.