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The REAL difference between CELTA, TEFL, and TESOL

English as a Second Language Teacher

Once you've decided to embark on the career path of teaching English abroad, determining what certification you should get to do so can be a bit confusing. This article clears it all up by defining the 3 standard terms you're likely to come across as you a figuring out which teacher training course to take.

What is CELTA and TEFL?

  • They are the same type of certification, simply 2 different names

  • Used for entry-level English teaching credentialing

If you have done any research on getting certified to teach English as a second language, then it is highly likely that you have heard of Cambridge CELTA. CELTA is an acronym that means, Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.

Cambridge CELTA is one of the most widely known, and most expensive entry-level English language teaching certification programs out there, on account of its affiliation to Cambridge University. You can think of Cambridge CELTA as the brand name of TEFL certification courses. The courses and practicum provided by the Cambridge CELTA program would be comparable to any competent TEFL program that you may choose to take. The name CELTA doesn't imply a different or higher certification than a TEFL certification but is only a GREAT marketing strategy by the Cambridge brand to differentiate itself from the tons of other TEFL certification programs out there.

All of the non-Cambridge, English teaching certifying bodies call their certification the TEFL. TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language. With both certifications, you can teach English to adults, children, online, for businesses, and to whoever else may need your services. No one gets this certification believing that they will be teaching English to native English speakers, so whether the certification says English as a foreign language or not, it is being taught as a foreign language.

Once the acronyms are explained, it is pretty clear that TEFL and CELTA are the same certifications just with different names.

Cambridge CELTA Pros

  • You learn three solid teaching strategies

  • A practicum that gives you the classroom experience

  • Lots of feedback from your peers

When I first started my journey as an ESL teacher and was weighing the options between CELTA and TEFL courses, I initially settled on an online TEFL certification course, that didn't even have a practicum. I had paid for it and everything. The 2 nearly 3,000 dollars that it would take to get CELTA certified in the USA was out of my price range. I couldn't afford that. However, I soon learned that the CELTA certification in Hungary was $1,500, much cheaper than the course in America, and somewhat obtainable, so, I took my income taxes, and went to Budapest to become CELTA certified. Luckily, the TEFL certification program that I initially paid for was kind enough to refund me my $500, which I then added to my CELTA certification fund.

A pro for Cambridge's CELTA program is that the 3 teaching strategies that I learned during my study are solid. I still use the test teach test method to this day. Having those strategies made me feel prepared to go out and teach English. Besides those teaching strategies, they also give us some techniques to teach English to beginners whom we did not share a common language with. That gave me the confidence to believe that I could teach English to someone even if they did not speak English and I could not speak their native language. We were also given a brief overview of teaching English to children and teaching business English which allowed me to expand the types of English learners I could teach beyond adults, and I felt that the ability to teach business English gave me a specialty.

But perhaps the biggest pro is their practicum. My fellow classmates and I were able to start teaching intermediate English learners almost immediately, giving us the opportunity to connect our content knowledge to the skill of teaching. We were observed by our peers, and we observed our peers and gave feedback on what we thought was good, and what needed work. The instructor gave us feedback as well, so there was plenty of tips and advice to hone our skills before we head out into the English teaching world.

Cambridge CELTA Con's

  • It's unnecessarily expensive

  • Its curriculum is not culturally responsive

  • Doesn't lead to a higher teaching qualification

  • Is not a teaching degree, equal to a tutoring certification

Now, I reckon, a question that may be on a lot of your minds is whether it necessary to pay a high price to get a name-brand TEFL certification? At least, that question was on my mind when I first started out, and is what ultimately led to me paying triple the amount to become certified.

Well, the answer is........absolutely not.

In a showdown between someone holding a CELTA certification and someone having a TEFL certification, the person with the CELTA certification will have little if any advantage over the TEFL-certified person based on the certifying body of their certificate alone.

I know this because a friend of mine, whom I met while teaching English at one of the top private kindergartens in Budapest, got her job without a college degree, and with only a TEFL certification. Now, getting an English teaching job abroad without a college degree is another blog post entirely, which I will write, but in this article, my focus is on clarifying the real difference between CELTA, TEFL, and TESOL.

The point I'm trying to make is, despite not having a B.A, and a CELTA certification, my friend was able to get hired into the same school that I did having those things. She did not have more teaching experience than I, nor other qualifying credentials that could have given her an edge. She simply spoke English fluently. That was four years ago, and unless the industry has made some drastic changes within the past four years, which I highly doubt since change does not happen that fast, this is an indication that an ability to speak English fluently is the most important credential you must have. However, obtaining either a CELTA or TEFL certification is important for establishing your credibility as a teacher.

Another con would be that Cambridge's CELTA curriculum is not culturally responsive. Therefore it allows for outdated and harmful prescriptive language ideology to continue. If language variety is not discussed and a new English teacher is not aware of descriptivist language practices, chances are, they will end up fostering an inferiority complex within their students, and sometimes even themselves, and will never be able to help their students achieve fluency.

Last, but not least, Cambridge CELTA does not lead to a higher teaching certification. The reason this is important is that, if ever you should decide that you would like to make more money, or advance your career by becoming a more skilled teacher, the time and money that you will have spent in this program will be just that, time and money spent on the brand name, rather than containing the investment of higher education. The course subjects are not reflective of anything you would see in a University level ESL certification course, thus, you will not be educationally prepared for more advanced teaching certification, making it harder to make the transition out of the entry-level teaching arena, and into a mid-level, or executive-level position in the language teaching field.


  • Prepares students for higher certifications

  • Rigorous curricula

  • Flexibility in certification costs

  • Accreditation

As I said before, there are a ton of TEFL certification courses. You could fill a phone book with a list of all the TEFL organizations that are out there to choose from (remember phone books from before cell phone times?). While most TEFL curricula contain more or less the same subjects, the TEFL programs that really stand out above the rest, are the TEFL programs that provide training that leads to higher certification programs, such as a TESOL M.A for example. That's because, in order to give credits that can be transferred to a University course, these TEFL programs' subject matter has to be up to date, and research-based to be on par with University courses. The subjects in these TEFL courses generally reflect what you would see in a university ESL certification course, making their subject material more rigorous.

Unlike the CELTA, many TEFL programs offer various teaching hour levels. These hours generally go from a minimum of a 60-hour TEFL certification to a 300-hour TEFL certification with, as I mentioned above, pathways into a university certification. The price of your TEFL will vary, based on how many hours you choose for your certification. This can be considered a pro for those who may not be able to afford the high cost of the courses that contain more hours, giving students the ability to choose their TEFL certification around their budget.

Lastly, having accreditation is also a factor that many students depend on to be sure of the legitimacy of the program they are seeking out. Not having the affiliation to an ivy league university such as Cambridge CELTA, most TEFL programs seek out accreditation to affirm their legitimacy.


  • TEFL certification is not equal to a teaching certification

  • Will not allow you to teach alone or within American schools

  • The TESOL M.A is an almost useless degree

When I returned to the USA after teaching abroad, I wanted to continue teaching, but I didn't have a traditional teaching certification, and the only certification I had was a CELTA certification with is actually more like a tutoring certification. Without a teaching certification, I was unqualified to teach in the USA. The same would have been true if I had a TEFL certification. Even in Europe, teaching having only a CELTA or TEFL is not enough to teach a classroom without a headteacher (a teacher with a teaching degree), at any reputable school. I was the equivalent of what would be called a paraprofessional in the USA school systems. That is, a teacher's assistant.

Yes, I was able to teach English to private students without a teaching degree, but teaching private students after school, or adults is tutoring. In other words, I was not certified as a teacher, but as a tutor in the eyes of the law of education. Regardless of the fact that my job title was an English teacher.

Though having a TEFL or CELTA certification alone is not going to help you work as a teacher in American schools, it will give you an advantage if you would like to work as a paraprofessional, or teacher assistant in American schools. It can also be useful if you are willing to obtain your teaching certification as well.

Finally, after returning to the USA, and knowing that I wanted to continue my career in teaching, I initially decided to get a TESOL M.A. However, it wasn't long before I realized the limitations of a TESOL M.A.

The first problem with it is that it is NOT a teaching certification. Without a teaching certification, the best option you have for getting a job in teaching with a TESOL M.A is as an adjunct professor. Adjunct professors are not professors in the sense of researchers with Ph.D.'s that teach courses in Universities. Not only are adjunct jobs very limited, but the salary is also much lower. A certified teacher with a TESOL M.A, will make more money in the long run and have more job opportunities than an uncertified teacher with a TESOL M.A.

The second major problem with the TESOL M.A is that it doesn't actually teach you how to teach. I was very disappointed when I began my TESOL M.A course and realized this. In fact, I began to desperately look for alternative M.A's for language teachers, believing that I may have to resign myself to getting the degree, for the purpose of appearing legitimate, despite not feeling that the program was in touch with the reality of the language teaching field. There was some useful background knowledge that I was able to obtain, and some useful best practices for lesson planning to keep in mind, overall, having worked in the language teaching field for several years, it was obvious to me that the questions that I had after working in the real world and observing the problems in the field, would not be answered there. In fact, universities have just recently, caught up with the true skill-sets needed and knowledge necessary to be a successful English as a second teacher due to the work that language teachers, language students, and content creators like me have done to raise awareness of the issues we are facing in the field.

For the first time, it seems that some linguistic programs in the USA have begun to recognize that language teachers need a background in linguistics, and not only linguistics but sociolinguistics, and have been incorporating these components into their applied linguistics curricula, which traditionally did not have a path that was just right for language teachers, marking the soon to be death of the TESOL M.A. I am glad to say, I was happily able to change my master's to applied linguistics, and found the perfect degree course for the work that I do.

What sets American English TEFL Apart (Pros)?

  • Culturally responsive

  • A TEFL certification program with a pathway to a teaching certification

  • Will help you become employed in American schools

  • Rigorous curriculum

  • Everything you need and more for a lower cost than MOST other TEFL certification

If you don't know what culturally responsive teaching is, then you should definitely click the hyperlink to read Culturally Responsive Teaching: It's Not What You Think! because you should know about it if you are going to enter the world of teaching, especially if you are going to be working with linguistically and culturally diverse students. But to give a brief overview, culturally-responsive teaching is a set of strategies and knowledge that allows teachers to use culture to connect with their students. This is important because traditionally, education has been used as a tool by ruling cultures to spread their cultural ideology to their advantage (Onyije, 2011). Culturally responsive teaching strategies and knowledge transform education from a tool of colonization, into a tool of equity by creating a space for students' cultural input to be validated and recognized as legitimate.

By giving TEFL teachers the tools they need to become culturally-responsive teachers, American English TEFL gives its students the tools they need to combat the linguistic discrimination that is prolific in the language learning field as an effect of the genteel cultural apparatus (Drake, 1977).

Another way American English TEFL stands out from the crowd is that our rigorous curriculum will prepare you to take the MTTC 86. In fact, we would highly suggest that once you earn your TEFL certification you register to take the MTTC 86.

What is the MTTC 86? The Michigan Test for Teacher Certification or MTTC is a test you will need to take in order to satisfy the academic requirements set by the state of Michigan that would allow you to teach in Michigan public and charter schools. Passing this test is necessary in order to obtain the ESL endorsement on your Michigan teacher's license. Unlike a TESOL M.A, this certification ensures that you will have a job upon your return to the USA. The 2014-2015 school year marked the first year that more ethnically and linguistically diverse students enrolled in schools across the nation than the previously prevailing majority of white American students enrolling. As an effect of these demographic changes in the USA, American schools are experiencing a shortage of qualified ESL teachers, making ESL certified teachers highly sought after. While a TEFL certification is an entry-level certification that will allow you to gain international teaching and cultural experiences, the ESL endorsement certification is a mid-level certification. But, the icing on the cake may be that obtaining this certification will also allow you to snag headteacher teaching jobs abroad, and command a higher salary.

And if it couldn't get any better, you will get this training all for one low flat fee. At American English TEFL, we know that in order to be a competent and well-rounded teacher, ready to change the world, even at the entry level requires a minimum of 300-course hours. Unlike our competitors, we won't make you pay more to get the necessary foundational education, nor will we take your money for a course that we know does not give you enough hours to be an effective teacher. However, our full-intensive course, including the practicum will cost you much less than any of our competitors, we guarantee it. If you can find a course that offers everything we do at a lower cost, we will match that cost minus $10 for our program.

Our primary goal is to combat linguistic discrimination by producing culturally-responsive language teachers. To do our part in making the world a better place, we want to help people like you by offering a highly competitive, and affordable TEFL certification program, as well as provide you with the pathway into higher certifications as you progress through your career as an English as a foreign language teacher.

American English TEFL Cons

  • Not accredited

  • Pathway into teaching certification is limited to Michigan

  • No guaranteed teaching placements

While it is our plan to become accredited, American English TEFL is a start-up, teacher-led, small and local Michigan, certification course. In order to be accredited by reputable accreditation bodies, we will need to be in business longer than we have been so far. Once we meet the time requirements of ACCET, an accreditation body that is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency, it is our intention to apply for accreditation as we strongly believe that we meet the other components of the criteria.

Since we are a small start-up, we would like to ensure the quality of our program in our home state before we move to expand the teaching certification pathway to licensing in other states, as every state has a different set of requirements for teacher certification. Though, Michigan is one of the most difficult states to gain a teacher's license. However, our TEFL certification program is not limited to any state or country and will be accepted globally by any institution requiring a TEFL certification of its prospective employees.

Although can and will support our teachers in finding a job, by sending job opportunities to our teachers, our teachers will need to apply for the positions on their own. We cannot guarantee placements as some of our bigger competitors can. However, many of those programs charge a fee for placement, and their teachers are often paid less than a teacher who found a job on their own and was able to negotiate their salary.

That sums up the difference between CELTA, TEFL, and TESOL. Hopefully, you feel much more prepared to make a choice of what program will be the best fit for you.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact us at


Nwanosike, Oba .F, Onyije Liverpool Ebo. (2011). Colonialism and Education. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 2 (4).

Glendon Drake. (1977). American Linguistic Prescriptivism: Its Decline and Revival in the 19th Century. Language in Society, 6(3), 323–340.


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