Welcome to Frequently Asked TEFL Questions.
Just about every question that we have ever been asked can be answered on this page.
However, if you can't find the answer to your question, please contact us via the Enquiry Form at the bottom of this page. We'll be happy to help in any way we can.
- What does Cactus TEFL do?
Cactus TEFL is an admissions centre for quality teacher training centres and their CELTA, CertTESOL and other types of TEFL courses and an advice hub for would-be TEFLers. Our list of partner schools, while not exhaustive, is impressive. We now work with the majority of well-known course providers worldwide. Course prices are exactly the same whether you apply through us or independently. Yes, there is no extra charge for our service: you pay exactly the same if you apply and book through Cactus as if you go direct. The difference is that we also provide the means to compare courses and masses of impartial advice via our website along the way to you submitting your application.
- What is the difference between TEFL, CELTA and TESOL?
TEFL is the name of the industry you would be working in - Teaching English as a Foreign Language. In order to gain access to this industry, there are two key qualifications which stand out as being quite special in their international recognition - the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) and the Trinity CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Both the CELTA and CertTESOL courses are types of TEFL courses.
- Will a 2-day/one week course give me a certificate in teaching EFL?
Courses such as these do award a certificate of completion. However, it is important to recognise that it is not the TEFL qualification that a lot of employers will require. When prospective employers ask, 'have you got a TEFL certificate?' what they are usually referring to is the Cambridge CELTA or the Trinity Certificate TESOL, or a certificate gained from doing a course of equivalent length and value as these two.
The short courses, however, are ideal if you want a basic introduction to TEFL. If you are looking to teach on an informal, voluntary or temporary basis, these courses are perfect. They are particularly beneficial to anyone who is looking to do a few months travelling, and perhaps pick up some casual work along the way. If you are looking at teaching as a way to totally finance your new life abroad it would definitely be wiser to do a more internationally recognised qualification as this will give you much more flexibility with regard to which schools you can work for, and in which countries.
If you are considering a very short course, such as a weekend TEFL course or a 3-day TEFL course, you can always opt for extra modules to further increase your knowledge, such as the Cactus English Language Awareness Course.
- What requirements are there to get on a CELTA/TESOL course?
For native speakers of English, ideally you need to have the qualifications which would allow you to access a degree course - i.e. A-levels or equivalent. Having said that, certain schools may require you to hold a degree, whilst others will consider your application if you just have relevant life experience. Schools generally use their discretion when it comes to accepting students onto a course, so it's always worth applying and having an interview if you are keen to do the course.
If you are a non native speaker, you will also need to be able to demonstrate your ability to use English to a very high standard - ideally you will need to hold something like Cambridge Advanced English (CAE), Certificate Proficiency in English (CPE) or IELTS level 7. If you don't have an external qualification, the school will be able to test the level of your English, often by providing you with an additional language task to complete.
You need to be at least 18 years old, though some schools prefer you to be at least 20. Please note that there is no upper age limit for these courses. People of all age groups and backgrounds gain qualifications to teach English as Foreign Language, so don't worry if you are at the more mature end of the spectrum!
* Want to do a TEFL course but worried you don't know enough grammar? Sign up to the Cactus pre-TEFL online grammar course! Only £95 for new Cactus TEFL customers. £50 for anyone who books a 4-week course through us!
- What do you do on a CELTA or CertTESOL?
The overall aim of these courses is for you to become a confident, competent teacher of English. Work usually starts around building your language (grammar) awareness, as most of us have problems with this area. See the Cactus online English Language Awareness course for help with this.
Through a series of lesson observations, input sessions on aspects of language, learning materials, classroom management and activities, level awareness, teaching in different contexts, you gradually build up your skills. These are assessed throughout the course via your performance in your teaching practice (TP), which takes place regularly. Your first TP can often come on the second day of the course! The key to success is to absorb the new information you are given, synthesize and reproduce it during the practice lessons. Much of your spare time is spent preparing lessons, where help and support are frequently available.
- Is it as intensive as everyone says?
We always say that anyone applying for a four week intensive course should expect something like a 9am – 5/6pm day, plus 3-4 hours of self study and lesson planning in the evenings, plus work at the weekends.
- The application procedure
All application forms can be downloaded for free from the Cactus TEFL website. You simply need to go to the course page, select your start date, go through the terms and conditions and enter some of your personal details. When you enter these details, you can assign a password and this will create your very own personal Cactus TEFL account where you can track all your applications.
You will then be able to download the relevant application forms as Microsoft Word documents. Most of your personal details will be extracted automatically from your Cactus TEFL account onto the application form.
Some schools require you to complete what is known as the Pre-interview Task. The pre-interview task is a series of grammar questions which may be included in the application form and needs to be completed and sent in as a part of the application, or may be sent to you later. Please remember that schools do not expect you to know all the answers off the top of your head. You are expected to do some research and use your instinct and your common sense to produce acceptable answers.
After you have completed your application, you can either upload it or send it to us by email. We immediately review it to make sure everything is in order and then forward it to the centre. Once the centre has checked out your application form, they contact you (usually by email) to arrange a mutually convenient time for an interview. You attend the interview, or if you are at some distance from the centre they will suggest a time for you to call them. Most schools will also give you the option of making your interview call via Skype.
The interview can last anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, during the course of which the school will ask you a few questions, discuss your pre-interview task and inform you about the course.
At the end of the interview, most schools will be able to tell you whether or not you have been accepted.
- Is there an application deadline?
No, there is no official deadline. We do generally advise that you apply two to three months in advance if possible, simply to allow yourself enough time to prepare and also to avoid the disappointment of a course becoming full. There are limited places available and if all the students make their payment and secure their place, the course will be full. If you can see your desired start date on the website, you should apply for the course right away. We try to keep the website as up to date as possible, but if your desired course is starting less than a month from now, you should give us a call or send us an email so that we can check current availability for you.
- Why do CELTA/Trinity Cert TESOL courses vary so much in price?
There can certainly be quite a substantial price difference from school to school. Each centre that offers the CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL sets the price of the course itself. The price can reflect factors such as the location of the centre, the facilities available for trainees to use, and also the level of prestige associated with the school.
At the end of the day though, schools are moderated very closely by the examining bodies to ensure that they 'tick all the required boxes' as such. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that a CELTA is a CELTA and a Trinity Cert TESOL a Trinity Cert TESOL no matter where you train. For most people, therefore, the decision about where to do the course usually comes down to factors such as the price and how convenient the location and course dates are for you.
If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person who finds it important to have that little bit extra, in terms of the quality of the surroundings and the facilities or the reputation of the course providers, then it might well be worth paying more for your course.
- Is it possible to complete the CELTA/Trinity Cert TESOL in two parts?
No, unfortunately the whole course must be completed in one go - either as an intensive 4 week course, or on a part time basis, or as a blended online/face to face course. You also cannot complete the course at two different centres.
- Will I need to speak the local language to apply for a CELTA/TESOL?
The answer is no. On a CELTA or CertTESOL, you are trained to teach English using only the English language. This is the case whether you are working with absolute beginners, or advanced level students. A clear reason for this is that when you are teaching English to international groups in the UK, it is actually impossible to start translating vocabulary and bits of the lesson into each student’s language. It is also very much a part of the TEFL ethos to stay in the target language. It also encourages you to find new, creative ways of getting across meaning – maybe through mime, drawing, using visual aids or real objects in class, or using other students to explain to their peers in English. There is almost always a way around having to use the student’s own language. When you are teaching monolingual groups abroad, there is more of a temptation to use their language to help explain, and some language learners feel more secure if you can translate for them. But you won’t help your own technique if you do, and the minute you move to another country whose language you don’t speak, you are likely to feel at a loss. Having said that, your stay abroad is obviously about more than teaching English all day every day. You are hopefully going to want to get to know some locals, blend into the culture, or at least be able to order a few beers and make elementary requests in shops. If you are to practise what you preach, it’s of huge personal advantage if you can speak even a little of the local language.
- When will next year’s course dates be available?
Generally, the course dates for the following year are set around the autumn time. We start to put dates up from August each year, as soon as we have them from the schools.
- I am already an experienced teacher- should I do a CELTA/ Trinity Cert TESOL course?
Much of the decision about whether you need to gain a specific TEFL qualification will depend on where you are looking to teach. You might find that in certain countries your existing qualifications and experience are enough to secure you work, but in others (particularly where the market is competitive such as the UK, Spain and Italy) you might struggle without an internationally recognised TEFL qualification under your belt.
As the basic 'industry standard' qualifications, the CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL would be best to get you up and teaching English as a foreign language. Although you might consider that parts of the course will be irrelevant for you because you have already got a lot of teaching experience, you will probably still find it beneficial to do the course. Because the CELTA/TESOL courses run so frequently they are constantly revised, changed and updated with most recent teaching methodologies. Also the experience of learning to teach English as a foreign language will provide you with a lot of very interesting insights into the English language that will help you throughout your teaching career. Many teachers usually make very good candidates for CELTA/TESOL courses due to their classroom experience.
As a refresher or to complement another course that you are planning to take, we would also recommend taking our very own Cactus Online TEFL Course (COTC). This course is made up of two standalone courses : ELA - the English Language Awareness Course, and ELM - the English Language Methodology Course. ELA was developed first as a direct response to the needs of applicants who feel they need training in the grammar of the English language, and ELM is its natural partner. Cactus Trainers are some of the most highly qualified in the industry, and the COTC course was written by John Hughes, TEFL columnist for the Guardian and author of a wide range of TEFL books. The course was edited by Cactus TEFL's very own Jenny Johnson, a celebrated member of the TEFL community, teacher trainer and industry expert.
- Does it matter if my four-week TEFL course isn’t accredited by Cambridge ESOL or Trinity College?
There are many courses available today that have a similar syllabus and the same duration as say, a CELTA or a Trinity CertTESOL course. The main difference really is that while CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL courses are approved and moderated by the Cambridge ESOL and Trinity College London exam boards respectively, other, similar TEFL courses are validated by the school that offers them.
Even though the course may not have the same global prestige as a CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL, you should still be able to find work with it. Any course which involves at least 120 hours of input and six hours of assessed teaching practice is recognized under the British Council recognition scheme as a TEFL-initiated program. The main areas where you might lose out to CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL trained teachers are those where competition for jobs is very high, or there is an overriding preference for the Cambridge/Trinity College qualifications (e.g the UK and Australia).
On the plus side, many of these four week 'equivalent' programs usually have very strong local employment prospects for trainees. They also often have interesting extras, such as training in the local language, or excursions to local tourist sights. They can be especially useful if you are looking to teach EFL for a fairly short period (six months/one year) and specifically in the country or city where you train
- What can I achieve with an online course?
Online or Distance TEFL courses are the most flexible way of learning about TEFL. You can do them in your own time and at your own pace. All online TEFL courses will cover roughly the same content, including planning classes, class management, skills and language work and activities to use with your classes.
While it is possible to study in depth about TEFL online and by correspondence, you do not get any teaching practice. It is this fact which leads many employers to view these courses as inferior to 120 hour, face-to-face courses with teaching practice such as the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL.
Despite the fact that these may not be the most internationally recognized qualifications, they will still prepare you to teach EFL. If you cannot find the time or the money to follow a longer course, for the many countries and contexts where formal qualifications are not required to teach English, and where your aim is not necessarily to earn your living from teaching or teach in a formal setting or for any length of time, these qualifications are a great idea.
Just be aware that not all TEFL certificates are necessarily the same or viewed as equivalent.
- Do you have a brochure that you can send me?
Unfortunately, we have no printed material we can post you. Cactus is proud to be an online company. This is partly for environmental reasons, and also due to the fact that we have masses of information on our site which is updated constantly. Any brochure would quickly become out of date.
- What happens if I'm a mature applicant- can I still do the course/get work?
The impression given by the industry websites and many forums which discuss TEFL issues is that TEFL is an industry designed for the younger generation.
There will of course be specific situations where schools will prefer younger staff, for example during summer residential programmes where students tend to be in their teens. There are also certain countries where you are unfortunately quite likely to encounter discrimination on account of your age.
However, if you are flexible and open-minded, and you're not intent on earning a fortune, then TEFL is arguably more suited to more mature teachers. As far as employers are concerned your wealth of experience will probably mean that you are more at ease with groups and individuals from diverse walks of life, and you will better relate to, for example, the life issues that students face.
Also, a more senior teacher may have the business experience and knowledge which comes in very handy for a school's company clients, who will not take too kindly to a very young teacher without much life experience.
- Will I be able to teach Young Learners with the CELTA/TESOL?
It is almost a given, if you are going to work abroad, that you will be teaching English to young learners (under 16s, and sometimes even under 6s!). Employers who insist on trained teachers are accustomed to employing teachers with no young learner training or experience, expecting them to transfer the skills they learn from the basic training course over to their young learners’ classes.
- Do I have to attend the whole course to pass, or can I miss some?
You are expected to attend the entire course so you should select course dates where you can attend every day. If it is genuinely unavoidable for you to miss a day or two it is usually OK, but you will need to let the tutors know as soon as you possibly can.
- Can you give me advice on what visa I need?
International employment laws make it illegal to work in a country which does not have a reciprocal work agreement with your own. Any jobs available should go first to the native citizens of a country, and secondly to the citizens of other countries with a reciprocal agreement in place, and only thirdly to citizens of non-reciprocating countries, if they can be proved to be the best or only person who can do that job. The consequences of this are that, with very few exceptions, it is unlikely that a non-reciprocating country will give you a work permit or work visa, no matter how good a teacher you are. The best place to get advice on the official situation is from the Embassy or Consulate of the country you are interested in. Unofficially, however, in virtually every country in the world, there are teachers teaching without official work permits. The best way to get advice about the unofficial situation is from the employers themselves, so if you send a question to Cactus about a specific location, we can have an answer for you from our contacts within 72 hours. We are sorry but Cactus cannot help you with the visa process.
- Can you recommend some grammar/textbooks?
Our recommendation is to join the Cactus Online English Language Awareness course we have on our site. This was designed for pre-TEFLers to ease their concerns about grammar.
If you still prefer books, English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy is useful: it's a students' book but is very clear as a basic guideline. At your interview you will be recommended a grammar book for teachers, probably Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott (Cambridge University Press) or Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (Oxford University Press). For Methodology, How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer (Longman) or Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener(Macmillan ELT) are all useful.
- Do I have to go to the school for my interview?
If you are in the same city as the school that you have applied to, and it is easily accessible, you will be asked to go along in person for an interview. It is normally possible to have a telephone interview – or in some cases an interview using Skype - if you are not able to get to the school (or if the school is abroad). You will be given a specific time and date to call.
- What should I expect at my interview?
Don’t worry at all about your interview. Trainers are great people and usually make you feel very comfortable.
For loads of help on the interview have a look at the Application Process. The kind of questions they normally ask are about you and your interview task, but mainly they will inform you about the course. If you are concerned that you had to refer to a book to help you find the answers so you do not know all the terminology used from memory, this is no problem, it is what real teachers do before they teach.
The task and the interview are not an exam, you are not expected to know everything, what they are looking for is how you instinctively answer 'teachery' questions... They might ask you to define certain experiences that relate to being a good teacher e.g. when you have been organised, patient, methodical.
They may also ask you what qualities a good teacher you have had in the past had that made them good, or to describe a good learning experience and why was it good. They may also ask you 'what if' or 'how would you' questions, don't panic! Just use your common sense and think about helping a 'foreign student' all the time, so as to keep it clear and simple.
- Does a good quality TEFL course guarantee me a job?
No it doesn't. The Cambridge CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL (and equivalent) qualifications are a bit like a driving licence - they give you the right bit of paper, but you still need to get a car, and you still need practice to build experience!
Your first TEFL job does seem to be the hardest one to get, but you'd be surprised how quickly you will find one. As there are a good number of English language schools in the vast majority of towns and cities in countries around the world, it's clear that there will always be a job out there for you.
There is plenty of choice around, but often the hardest thing is knowing where to start. You may like the idea of doing your course with a centre that will guarantee you work after your course, or you may prefer that a course does not tie you down to any particular school, or group of schools and leaves you totally independent.
- What's the best way to look for work?
We recommend that you decide where in the world you would like to go and do some internet research. There are many, many TEFL recruitment sites these days which advertise jobs all over the world. The country equivalent of the online Yellow Pages is also a good starting point, this way you can find how many language schools there are in your chosen destination. A general rule of thumb is to try and avoid the bigger cities, where everyone else is likely to head for.
If you have a specific destination in mind it is definitely worth doing your training course there if possible, simply as this gives you far greater access to any local job vacancies that arise.
Have a look at our TEFL Jobs section for more info on how to approach finding a job, and for current TEFL vacancies.
If you are interested in working for Cactus, please see Jobs at Cactus.
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