The TESOL basics

What is TESOL?

TESOL is an acronym that stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It concerns teaching English to language learners both abroad and in English-speaking countries.

Every year the number of English language learners grows rapidly. The British Council has estimated that in 2020 the number of English speakers and learners globally will hit a staggering 2 billion. As this number increases so does the need for qualified TESOL teachers!

Is TEFL the same as TESOL?

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL are terms that are usually used interchangeably. The only slight difference is that TESOL encompasses teaching English language learners who are residing in English-speaking countries – but it is by no means only concerned with this. When it comes to applying for jobs it doesn’t matter if your qualification says TESOL or TEFL, employers will regard them the same.

The TESOL world loves acronyms, so here are a few more you may come across:

  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
  • ESOL: English for Speakers of Other Languages
  • ESL: English as a Second Language
  • ELT: English Language Teaching
  • EFL: English as a Foreign Language
  • EAL: English as an Additional Language
  • CELTA: Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • ENL: English as a New Language

What can you do with TESOL?

Qualified TESOL teachers can find teaching opportunities across the globe. And there’s a diverse range of jobs out there! You can work with children and adults, with beginners and advanced speakers, in language schools and universities, online and in classrooms – the possibilities go on.

How do you get TESOL certification?

There are two main ways of getting TESOL certified: classroom and online courses. You can get qualified reasonably quickly without breaking the bank, but it’s really important to make sure you study with a reputable provider.

How do you choose a TESOL course?

There are a lot of different TESOL course providers out there so it can get a bit confusing. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Accreditation from external bodies
  • Length of course
  • International reputation
  • Tutor support

Let’s take a closer look at each of these points.


Accreditation is quality assurance and it really is key when choosing a TESOL course. There is no over-arching accrediting body for TESOL, so while many course providers can claim to be accredited it’s important to do a little digging.

What you’re looking out for is accreditation from established external bodies. An easy way to spot less reputable accreditation is if the body only appears to accredit TEFL courses or very cheap courses that you can find advertised on sites like Groupon.

Looking out for government or government-affiliated accreditation is an easy way to spot quality courses.

How many hours should a TESOL course be?

With most employers – both abroad and online – requiring teachers to have a 120-hour qualification it’s recommended to take a course with at least these hours.

The more hours the better, right? Not necessarily. If you want to boost your CV the best way of doing this is to complete a 120-hour course and add on specialist training, in areas you’re aiming to go into. Doing a course that consists of hundreds of hours of TESOL training is unnecessary if it isn’t tailored to your aims.

International reputation

This very much ties in with accreditation. If a provider is suitably accredited then the qualification should be recognized internationally.

You also want to check out how long the course provider has been around for. New TESOL courses are popping up all the time (often for extremely low prices) and may not have much standing with employers abroad or online. Choosing a provider that is well known in the industry will give you the best chance of finding work.

Tutor support

A good TESOL course should come with full tutor support. And these tutors should be highly experienced teachers.

It’s really important to be able to get feedback throughout your course from someone who knows their stuff. And if you’re studying online this couldn’t be more important; without this support and feedback you’ll have no guidance throughout the course and little idea of whether or not you’re on the right track.

Online vs. Classroom TESOL courses

Do you need to study in a classroom or can you complete your training entirely online? Contrary to what some providers will claim, completing classroom training or a practicum isn’t necessary for the overwhelming majority of teaching jobs.

Classroom courses can be costly, with some requiring you to commit to a month of full-time, in-person study! Studying online – provided it’s with a reputable provider – can be the most ideal way of getting started in TESOL. It’s cost-effective, allows you to fit studying in around existing commitments, and you can study where and when suits you.

How much does it cost?

How much your TESOL course will depend on the provider and type of course.

Around $200 – $500 will bag you a good quality online 120-hour TESOL course. Courses priced lower than this should be approached with caution. The reason being that budget courses can often cost you a lot more than the incredibly low price advertised. Often there are hidden fees and if employers don’t recognize the qualification because of lack of accreditation then it’s a waste of both time and money.

Course priced above this typically involves classroom training, which hikes up the cost. These courses are usually in the $2,000 – $3,000 price bracket, so they’re quite a significant investment both in terms of time and money.

What are the requirements?

To sign up for a TESOL course the only requirement is fluency in English. It’s as simple as that.

When it comes to applying for jobs there can be additional requirements depending on the employer and country. Visa requirements are very important to research to establish where you’re able to secure work. Requirements can stipulate a degree (in any field) and particular nationality (typically US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa), which can be a barrier for some teachers.

If you’re a non-native English speaker you can still teach English but it’s important to have evidence of proficiency when applying for jobs. Most employers will require non-native English speakers to have at C2 level.


Do you really need a TESOL certification?

The simple answer is a big YES! Long gone are the days when it was possible to find work teaching abroad just because you’re fluent in English. These days the vast majority of employers require teachers to have a 120 hours TESOL certification, and it’s usually a red flag if you come across a job application that doesn’t ask for any qualifications or experience at all. Find out more about how to keep yourself safe from scams and bad employers.

How long does it take to get TESOL certified?

When you do your TESOL certification online the course will likely be self-paced. This means you’re able to study in your own time and at your own speed.

A 120-hour online TESOL course will take most people around two to three months to complete working at a comfortable pace. But it’s all about the time you have to devote to the course, meaning it’s possible to complete it quicker or take your time with it!

Does TESOL certification expire?

The good news is that TESOL certification does not expire. However, if there’s a bit of a gap between getting certified and applying for jobs it’s advisable to ‘top up’ your qualification.

You can do this by taking an advanced TESOL course, which will focus on a specific area of TESOL. Not only does this serve to refresh your previous studies, but it also helps to boost your CV by furthering your training.

Do I need to speak another language to teach English?

Being able to speak another language isn’t necessary for TESOL. While it can certainly be beneficial to speak the local language when living and working abroad, it’s not needed for the job because only English is used in the classroom.

Do I need a degree to TESOL?

While it’s possible to teach English without a college degree the truth is that your options are limited. For US citizens without a college degree you can find work teaching in South America but in Asia the only exception is Cambodia. And when it comes to Europe it would be extremely difficult to secure work.

Don’t let it put you off TESOL, though – just be aware that you won’t be eligible for as many positions as someone who does have a degree. And there are plenty of options for teaching English online as well!

Will a TESOL provider find me a job?

Good TESOL course providers will provide a level of assistance to help you find work but they won’t place you in a job. The best colleges in the world can’t claim to guarantee you a job after graduation! In fact, TESOL courses that claim to “guarantee” you a job after completion are usually best avoided. Our post – Should you take a TEFL course with a guaranteed job placement – delves further into this.

Do I need previous teaching experience?

No previous teaching experience is required to get started in TESOL. The global demand is so high that there are plenty of entry-level positions to be found that don’t require previous experience.

Are there age limits for TESOL?

You can teach English at any age, but it’s important to remember that some countries (particularly in Asia) do have upper age limits. If you’re over 50 don’t let that put you off getting started in TESOL, you just need to be aware of those countries that have strict retirement ages. You can find more information about age requirements by country over on our Definitive Guide to Teaching English Abroad.

Will certain TESOL qualifications get me better paid jobs?

In this industry salaries are typically determined by experience. This means that one TESOL course isn’t going to get you a better paid job than another. But that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what course you do! We’ve already talked about why it’s important to ensure your certification is done through an accredited and internationally accredited provider. Remember, cheaping out on a course can actually end up leaving you out of pocket and out of work!

Where do I find TESOL jobs?

You can find thousands of TESOL jobs online. Good TEFL course providers will have their own jobs boards where students and graduates can apply for positions. There are also a number of large jobs boards specifically for TESOL jobs, such as Dave’s ESL Cafe,, ESL Base, and Ajarn.

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