TEFL, TESOL, TESL, CELTA, DELTA: What’s the difference?

Why are there so many acronyms for teaching English as a foreign language? What do they mean? Which one is best? And why did I chose to do a TEFL?

There are so many different certifications, each with so many different routes to certification (face-to-face/online/home/destination): it’s easy to get confused on which qualification you need and how is best to study it.

First off, what do all of the letters mean?

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language

TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language

CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

DELTA: Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults

TEFL, TESOL and TESL aren’t actually the titles of qualifications, but instead the common umbrella terms for teaching English. All of them are used interchangeably (so it can be confusing to figure out what they mean and which to use).

TESL refers to teaching English to students in an English-Speaking country, but where English is not their first language (places in Europe for example). TEFL refers to teaching English to students where English is not their primary language, nor a common spoken language of their country (places in Asia for example). Whereas TESOL is a broader term for the field of teaching which includes both TESL and TEFL.

A CELTA is the most highly recognised initial English teaching certification worldwide, as it’s awarded by The University of Cambridge’s English Language Assessment. This gives it reliability and makes it more credible than teaching certifications from other companies. TEFL, TESOL, TESL are all terms which mean you have a teaching certification, but they do not say which one. CELTA is an actual qualification.

A DELTA is something that often comes later into an English Teaching career. It is an advanced teaching qualification taken after initial certification and with at least a year’s classroom experience.

Okay, so which one should I do?

Which course you decide to do, all depends on where you want to go and who you want to teach. You should always research the company before purchasing a course, and make sure it’s either internationally recognised or that you’ll be able to use it in your intended country/ies.

Most schools/language centres/students will ask for a course certification of 120 study hours or more, with those including face-to-face hours favoured over those which are solely online study. This is because there is a lot of information needed to prepare for your first classes as an EFL Teacher, and anything under 120 hours is likely to miss out important information. Face-to-face courses are often more expensive due to the contact time with a trainer, but they offer a chance to put what you’re studying into action before you reach the classroom.

I can’t tell you which one is best or which course to do, all I can say is that it’s really important to research the company and research your chosen countries and see what they require of their English teachers before you make a choice.

Why did I choose to do a 120 hour, face-to-face TEFL? 

As I was choosing to relocate to Thailand to start my TEFL career, I chose to do a 3-week, intensive course at my destination country. It was a lot more expensive than doing an online course, but it was exactly what I needed to start a new job and new life on the other side of the world. It gave me insights to the culture, language and lifestyle of the country I was teaching in, as well as taught me how to be a teacher within it.

Since then I’ve taught online, taught in my home country, and will soon be taking my qualification/experience to Vietnam.

It’s worth bearing in mind that even though my current, well-salaried teaching job in the UK asked for a CETLA/DELTA qualification, I was still hired because of my experience overseas. This won’t be the case for all language companies: but you don’t always need the most expensive/prestigious TEFL course to succeed. Pick a course that suits you, your learning style, your financial means, and will most likely lead to the confidence and preparation you need to begin your TEFL career. The qualification is only there to provide the first, key steps towards becoming an English teacher. The rest you learn whilst you teach in the classroom!



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