TEFL course scams: how to tell if a provider is legitimate

TEFL is big business, and unfortunately, like any big business, there are scam course providers looking to take advantage. How do you spot them? Find out here.

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TEFL course scams: how to tell if a provider is legitimate
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The world of TEFL is undoubtedly exciting. In a matter of months, you can go from a career rut or a crossroads to teaching English abroad in all sorts of exotic locales. You can even teach from the comfort of your own home!

However, getting the right TEFL qualification in order to start off on the right foot can be a bit of a minefield. There are so many providers, but which ones are the best? What separates a reliable and high-quality TEFL course from a scam? Yes - a scam. Unfortunately, they’re out there!

Due to a lack of regulation in the industry anyone who wants to can create and sell a TEFL course. It doesn’t have to be a good course, either, just something convincing enough to rope people in. Sadly, it happens a lot, and nothing is stopping them from using misleading practices and tricks to make you think a substandard product is worthy of your time and money.

Shady tricks in industries are nothing new, and to react to the surge of interest in teaching and learning English, unscrupulous groups and individuals have found opportunities. It’s particularly disheartening when you consider that many people use TEFL as a gateway to a new way of life or new career.

These scam artists don’t have to win, though. In this article, we’re going to cover what you need to watch out for to ensure you choose a reputable TEFL course that will prepare you for teaching and leave you with a qualification recognized by employers.  

From presentation to actual course delivery, we’ll show you what to keep an eye on in the TEFL marketplace. 

Or, it could be even worse. There’s a very real risk that signing up with a scam course provider means giving away important financial details to fraudsters. Unfortunately, all sorts of enterprises online are a front for financial crime. That’s why it’s so crucial to look properly at what you’re potentially signing up for. 

Fundamentally, the question is this: why wouldn’t you want the best TEFL course provider possible? Surely you’d want to find out which industry leader has the best reputation amongst employers? The provider with the most industry expertise, the most sensible costing and the best resources? 

Surely, you’d want to pick a TEFL course provider that had accreditation from top educational authorities? That, ultimately, is how you get jobs, after all. Employers will see where a TEFL certificate comes from; they know the names, so if they see a reputable company on your CV, your chances of getting a job are higher.

Why it’s important to get TEFL certified with a legitimate course provider 

Let’s put this in simple terms.

If you wanted to become a doctor, you’d want to qualify through a university or medical school. Ideally, you wouldn’t get your MD from a questionable website that promises full training in less than 10 hours. Firstly, no hospital would hire you. Secondly, you wouldn’t be adequately trained. Third, your qualification wouldn’t be legitimate. We could go on and on.

Perhaps that’s a high falutin example but the principle remains. Qualifying for anything through illegitimate means is a surefire way to either be barred from opportunities or find out the hard way that you’re unprepared. So, when a TEFL course provider promises almost instant certification, but isn’t accredited or has any sort of reputation, avoid it.

It could also come at a significant financial cost. Sure, illegitimate course providers might offer discount courses - at first. What tends to happen is that extra fees pop up all over the place, and they’re far weightier than that initial sign-up fee. Did it turn out that the timescale for passing a TEFL course wasn’t enough? Extra fee. Needing some materials to practise teaching? Extra fee. The course certificate itself? Two words: extra fee.

Yeah, really. Anyone can design a logo and put some official-sounding words together to create an accreditation “body” that makes a bogus site sound better than it is. However, there’s a way of telling good accreditation from bad stuff.

How do you spot good TEFL accreditation? Here’s what to look out for:

  • The accrediting body is established and well recognized
  • They list all the providers they accredit
  • You can easily find out information about their processes and how they grant accreditation status
  • They accredit other reputable course providers

What about bad accreditation? That’s more simple. Google is your friend here - if you can’t find anything reliable, or anything full stop, then it’s best avoided. If it looks extremely like a new accreditation body, without other course providers having received accreditation, that’s another bad sign.

A good rule to live by: if it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

Accreditation: how to tell the good from the bad

We mentioned accreditation earlier, and now it’s time to go into a bit more depth.

If a TEFL course provider has received accreditation, it means that official accrediting bodies have ratified the course provider as being high-quality, and worth consumer investment. Accreditation bodies include American organisations like TQUK, the DEAC, the British Accreditation Council and the Scottish Qualifications Authority. There’s no over-arching TEFL accrediting body; the most reputable accreditation bodies award all types of courses with accreditation, providing they’re of high enough quality. A good way of spotting a scam is if a course provider is boasting of an award from a body that only seems to accredit TEFL courses.

In essence, accreditation means that the courses are of a high enough quality to be approved by organisations with thorough standards and procedures. Of course, there’s always a flip side to this, and that comes when shady course providers either falsify or straight-up invent accreditation that they’ve “received”.

Download our teaching English online guide

How much should a TEFL course cost? 

The cost of TEFL courses is fiercely debated, with course providers remaining competitive in the marketplace.

If you’re looking for a frugal option, a Groupon course that promises the earth, it won’t take you very far. Not only that, but those types of courses have myriad hidden fees - even if you complete it, the certificate itself often comes at an exorbitant cost. If you’re looking for the best TEFL certification that employers seek out, a discount course won’t do the job.

Level 5 or 120-hour TEFL qualifications are well worth the money, but it’s a must to ensure that the course provider has excellent accreditation and a reputation for quality. A high-calibre Level 5 TEFL course should cost $288-635/£250-550, while 120-hour online courses normally fall between $207-427/£180-370. 

CELTA courses, meanwhile, are taught mostly in person, and for a long time, were the industry standard for TEFL teachers. Normally, these courses range at around $2,785/£1,365 and can be taught either part or full-time. DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) courses, an advanced course for teachers with at least one year of experience, are pricier, normally costing over $3,000/£1,500.

Extra TEFL training, though, doesn’t cost the earth. Once you’ve achieved your industry-standard TEFL certification (120 hours plus), you can add to your qualifications with advanced TEFL courses, which cost under $200/£150. This can include teaching young learners, exam preparation, online teaching and other specific niches of the TEFL industry.

How many hours should the course be? 

Most employers will ask for 120 hours of TEFL certification, by now the industry standard. Taking a course that doesn’t last for as many hours will, sadly, put any prospective teacher at a disadvantage when it comes to landing a job - however, beware! Scam course providers will claim they’re offering 120 hours, too. Check reviews, check accreditation, and do some research if you’re not sure about a course provider. An accrediting body, such as DEAC, will assess how many hours a course involves, so look for their name on a course provider’s website; that way, you’ll know whether or not you’re being advertised something accurate.

What about doing more than 120 hours? Depending on your background and previous experience, strengthening your CV might be a prudent idea. For example, a Level 5 TEFL course is more comprehensive, while advanced TEFL courses can be added to your initial TEFL qualification to further your training in specific areas. 

But more isn’t always the best thing, or indeed, the most necessary thing. Courses that offer hundreds and hundreds of hours can take a long time to complete, and cover a lot of content that might not be relevant to your goals, and we have yet to see an employer insist on more than 120 hours.

Learn more about TEFL hours and levels.

Does the course come with tutor support from experienced teachers?

An important factor to consider when you’re signing up for a TEFL course, or indeed, deciding which provider to go with, is this: do they boast about having tutor support from experienced TEFL teachers? 

Let’s face it - if a company is run by former or current TEFL teachers, or features former or current TEFL teachers, it should be showing that fact off. It should be at the forefront of their advertising. Why wouldn’t you want potential customers to know that their course would be in the hands of those who’ve been there, done it and got the t-shirt?

It’s a worry, then, if a provider can’t make that assurance. It’s not to say that someone who hasn’t taught TEFL themselves should teach others how to do it. However, if you had a choice between learning from someone who’d lived the experiences and someone who didn’t, who would you rather have teaching you?

There’s plenty of reason to be cynical if a TEFL course provider doesn’t have anything about the tutors themselves. Either it’s an oversight on their part, or they want to hide the fact that their tutors have zero industry experience. In both cases, that’s a bad sign.

Not to hammer the point too much, but if a course provider had experienced tutors with a great deal of TEFL experience, they’d tell you. If they don’t, it’s best to assume something suspicious is happening.

Teaching practicum: necessary or not? 

The teaching practicum is hotly debated these days, especially with online TEFL courses becoming so popular.

Theoretically, you might assume that a teaching practicum, that is to say, teaching practice with actual English learners, might be vital. However, that’s become an outmoded way of thinking. Courses these days, even online, provide plenty of practical tasks and will get you prepared for teaching ‘IRL’. A teaching practicum used to be a prerequisite, something you were heavily graded on in order to pass your TEFL course, but that’s changed.

In plain terms, a teaching practicum is not essential - provided that you complete your online qualification through an accredited and reputable provider. Just because a provider doesn’t offer a practicum does not mean the course is a scam. However, your course might be a scam if it doesn’t focus at all on the practical realities of teaching a class. If you’ve done such a course and you don’t feel adequately prepared, that’s not because of the lack of a practicum. It’s because the course just isn’t any good.

For more information about TEFL practicums and the myths surrounding them see our post where we do some fact-checking.

How is the course assessed?

Good question! The answer is: you should know this before entering a TEFL course. The good providers will tell you exactly how it’s done, when you’ll get your feedback from assignments and what they’re grading, no matter the exercise.

It shouldn’t be arbitrary, and it shouldn’t be secretive. Ideally, TEFL course providers want everyone to pass their courses, and for everyone to be assessed well. However, if a course provider doesn’t tell you about the number of people passing their courses. alarm bells ought to ring.

Given the time sensitivity of a TEFL course (after all, they’re all advertised for a certain number of hours of coaching), markers ought to get back to you quickly. The best course providers offer a quick turnaround for marking, usually 48 hours, so you can get on with actually doing the course. If a course provider doesn’t make these kinds of assurances or even tells you what to expect in a vague way, that’s a bad sign.

Generally, TEFL courses are assessed in different ways. A certain percentage will be on written tasks and exercises and so on. There should be transparency about how this is done, either before you take the course, or while you’re doing that.

If none of that is happening, you’re probably best seeing what other options are out there. The danger is that the course provider is a scam artist, skimming over your work and giving out arbitrary high scores, or they’re not marking it at all and just telling you what you want to hear.

That doesn’t exactly make for a high-quality teaching experience. 

Lack of reviews 

If a provider is established and internationally recognized you shouldn’t have a problem finding plenty of reviews about them online. There should be several happy faces, lots of high-star ratings and real experiences of what the courses were like. 

Simply put, if people enjoy something, they talk about it. That’s especially the case online, and a TEFL course provider is no different in that regard. On their website, they should have a suite of reviews and testimonials from real customers who’ve passed one of their courses and want the world to hear about it.

It’s important to bear in mind that reviews can be faked or manipulated and, unfortunately, this is common in the TEFL industry. Make sure to check out reviews on websites that conduct some sort of verification process, like reviews.io or TEFL Course Review. Review sites that have no verification process can very easily be flooded with fake reviews.

Yep, along with fake accreditations, fake reviews are also very much a “thing”. So, check the independent review sites for a more realistic perspective on how legitimate a course provider really is.

Legitimate or not? Some more tips for choosing a TEFL course provider 

Cost, accreditation, number of hours, and reviews are all key areas to research to determine if a TEFL course provider is legitimate or not. Below are a few more questions to ask when doing your research:

  • Does the website look professional? If a provider is offering online TEFL courses and their website looks outdated, poorly designed or sparse, then that is usually a reflection of the actual course being offered
  • How easy is it to speak to someone from the company? Good TEFL course providers should be easy to reach via multiple channels such as live chat, email, phone, and social media.
  • Can you easily find information about their accreditation? If a provider claims to be accredited but you can’t find information about who accredits them on their website this is usually a sign that they are, in fact, not accredited.
  • How is the course assessed? Courses entirely assessed through multiple choice quizzes are to be avoided, as are those that only require you to complete one assignment or exam at the end of the course. There should be several assignments throughout the course that will be marked by a tutor.
  • Does the course have a tutor? And is that tutor TEFL-experienced? It’s common for scam TEFL courses to not have a tutor or for the tutor to have no teaching experience whatsoever. It’s so important to have the support of someone who’s been on the journey you’re about to embark on!
  • Is the provider established? New providers offering low-quality courses spring up all the time. It’s easy to check how old a website is, and if they’ve not been around for long we recommend caution.

For impartial advice about TEFL course scams and what to look out for r/TEFL is a great resource - check out their wiki about how to choose a TEFL course

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. Is TEFL recognized?

    As a career, TEFL is growing and growing. Myths and misconceptions about the industry - that it’s prohibitively expensive, it’s only for certain age groups, and you need a degree - are all vanishing as more people take up a TEFL career. It’s a fantastic addition to any CV, and an incredible career option.

  • Q. Which TEFL courses are recognized?

    When we talk about “recognition”, we’re usually talking about accreditation. Accreditation is when a TEFL course provider is deemed to be of a high industry standard. TEFL courses are not individually accredited - course providers are. So, a TEFL course which comes from a superior provider with plenty of accreditation will be recognized by employers. The industry standard is a 120-hour course. There are longer courses, but 120 hours is the minimum you need to be “recognized” by TEFL employers. 

  • Q. How do I know if my TEFL is legit?

    A TEFL course is legitimate if it’s from a properly accredited provider, has guaranteed hours of teaching in place, provides assessments and realistic guarantees on feedback, has plenty of reviews and has verifiable TEFL teachers providing support. If nobody’s heard of your course provider, the materials aren’t up to scratch and the provider doesn’t have a strong presence in the industry, avoid it!

  • Q. How do I know if a TEFL course is accredited?

    TEFL courses aren’t accredited, course providers are. So, accreditation is more about the overall offering being made by a course provider. Accreditation should take pride of place on a provider’s web presence. Any TEFL provider worth their salt will have logos emblazoned on their homepage and more information about where the accreditation comes from, and what exactly it means.