You are here

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Explained

The need for teachers with high quality, internationally recognised English language teaching qualifications has never been greater.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language

The role of English as the pre-eminent language of professional and social exchange between speakers of other first languages is likely to grow, while two billion people are expected to study and learn English in the next decade.

So what does TEFL mean? 

TEFL means Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is a term used to describe the teaching of English to non-native speakers. There are a number of courses and qualifications which are similar to TEFL and may be used to refer to the same jobs. 

TEFL qualifications

The world of TEFL has changed significantly sover the years . There is much greater demand from a greater number of students, those students are demanding courses which are more relevant to their needs and the variety of people that want or need to learn English is now much greater as well. English language teaching has become a competitive global industry - and this has brought about a need for standardised qualifications.

How can you ensure that your TEFL qualification is of a high quality and will be recognised by language institutes around the world? 

Though TEFL providers can be found around the globe there is no one organisation that regulates and accredits all TEFL courses. TEFL providers usually seek accreditation from an external monitoring body in their local area. In rare cases, a TEFL provider will seek accreditation from more than one monitoring body and this will help to establish their place in the global TEFL market. 

TEFL - TESOL - TESL        

These are the most common acronyms currently used to describe English language teaching.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) refers to a particular methodology for teaching people whose first language is not English, but who need to learn it for work or choose to learn for leisure. These students are adults or children who are paying for the courses themselves, or their employer or parents are. They are often highly motivated and literate, and already have an aptitude for languages.

TEFL methodology is highly developed and the most up-to-date training courses turn out teachers who use a communicative approach and a student-centred style of teaching. In these key respects, TEFL courses are different from the way English is taught in most mainstream compulsory education.

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is often used to mean the same thing as TEFL, but it is also used to describe English language teaching to people living in an English speaking country who are not native English speakers – such as refugees and first generation immigrants. In the UK, ESOL courses provide students with a level of English that will allow them to integrate into the country’s educational, work and cultural environment. There may be a need to teach basic literacy and other life skills as well.

TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) is different again. English is spoken as a common second language in the context of official communication and administration in many countries where several other language groups co-exist – such as Nigeria, Kenya, India and Singapore. Another term that may be used in this context is TEAL (Teaching English as an Additional Lang

What is a TEFL course? 

Well, basically, a TEFL course is a training program designed to give you the skills and confidence you need to teach English as a foreign language. The length and depth of the course may vary, but all courses will cover the key skills needed to teach English to foreign learners. You'll be taught how to make lessons interesting, how to aim your lessons at different student levels and how to motivate your students so that they really want to learn. These are essential skills and you'll find them invaluable when you start your TEFL career.

TEFL courses take many forms from intensive weekend courses to flexible online courses and four-week overseas courses. The course you choose will largely depend on your study methods, your confidence levels and the position which you're going to be looking for. For example, if you're going to be applying for work in a competitive TEFL market you may want to consider a more extensive TEFL course to put you one step ahead of your rivals. 

Where is TEFL taught and who is it taught by? 
While TEFL may be taught in an English-speaking country, it is most often taught in countries where English is not the native language. TEFL is commonly used in state school systems and private language institutes, but you will also find it being used by private tutors and volunteers.

TEFL tutors do not need to be native English speakers and may come from anywhere in the world. In some countries TEFL tutors are required to have a degree (in any subject) but there are also many countries where you can find a well paid teaching position without one.

How much will you be paid as a TEFL Tutor? 

Exactly how much you will be paid depends largely upon where you are working, how much experience you have and the type of institute that you're working at. Some TEFL tutors choose to volunteer, others seek merely to cover their travel costs and yet more seek to start a long-term career with high wages and future prospects. When looking for a teaching position it's important that you bear in mind the cost of living in your chosen country. What looks like a very low wage could turn out to be a fortune in comparison to how much you will be spending while you're away.

The best paid TEFL destinations for TEFL teachers on a short-term contract can be found in the Middle East. TEFL tutors are in high demand in these parts and the average TEFL wage has been steadily rising for years. Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are all gold mines when it comes to teaching TEFL.

What are the risks? 

Travelling always involves a certain level of risk and teaching abroad is no different. You'll need to be aware that in some countries it is possible to set up a private language school without any restrictions or requirements concerning teaching standards, staff wages or maximum working hours. Unscrupulous language schools will use these loopholes in the law to exploit inexperienced TEFL tutors. It's important that you research both the country and the individual language school before accepting a position to ensure that you won't be taken for a ride. Our forums are a great way to do this and the recommendation of a past TEFL tutor, who has actually worked for the school, can generally be relied upon.

Something else which you will need to consider before you travel is the political situation in your chosen country. Threats such as terrorism, civil war or military disturbances should affect your decision to work in a country. The economic stability of the country may also be something to consider and this may affect your TEFL training decisions. For example if you are going to be teaching in a developing country you may wish to take a Specialist Certificate in Teaching with Limited Resources before you go.

And finally, is it really worth it? 

Teaching abroad allows you to completely immerse yourself in a new culture, to explore the world from within. You'll be slipping into the role of a local as you help local students to develop their skills and shape their futures. After the initial culture shock has passed, this new and exotic destination will become home - a truly extraordinary experience. When the time to leave finally comes you can rest assured that you'll miss your life, your job and your friends here more than you can ever imagine.

As well as getting some essential work experience, you'll also be developing an understanding of the world - something which will prove invaluable when you return home (assuming of course that you don't decide to follow a permanent career in TEFL). International travel and worldly experience is becoming more and more important in the modern business world making this a great experience to sell to your future employers.



  • Date published: 15th April 2013
  • Written by: Veronica Bland