TEFL Courses

What does a TEFL course consist of?

Any Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course is designed to help develop an individual’s teaching skills through a combination of theory and practical work. During the course one learns about specific topics such as grammar to acquire metalanguage, classroom management skills and job preparation. There are several different TEFL courses: Grammar Course, Basic TEFL, Advanced TEFL and Professional TEFL which all contain specific units depending on which level an individual wants to take. A quality TEFL qualification enables an individual to teach English as a foreign language throughout the world. So where should I take a TEFL course: is it worth considering TEFL courses online?

What is a TEFL course

Basic TEFL:

Amongst the cheap tefl courses available, there are short or Basic TEFL courses which consist of  approximately 80 hours of online-based theory and include units of Grammar, Methodology, Language and Levels and Classroom Management. A current TEFL stated in December 2015: “I completed my Basic TEFL Certificate in 2013 and I really enjoyed the course. As I had studied a foreign language, I had always been exposed to the teaching of a language therefore I was interested to know what it was like to be able to teach a foreign language rather than to just experience the learning of the language. In 2014 I did some work experience in Sevilla as a teacher. Therefore the Basic TEFL Course was the ideal preparation for me. It made me think about life in a classroom from a teacher’s point of view rather than from a student’s point of view which I had always been accustomed to.”

Advanced TEFL:

The Advanced TEFL builds on the knowledge which has been acquired from the previous course but can include an internship. Doing an internship is very important because it is the practical side of teaching and not just the theoretical aspects and it is great for aspiring English teachers because it allows them to see how the theory works in practice. Here are some tefl course reviews: “Being able to teach has also improved my understanding of the theory, especially regarding class structure. In my first few classes as a teacher I struggled with the timing of the class and had to use lots of fillers at the end of each lesson.” Or: “Having completed the advanced TEFL combined with plenty of classroom practise, I have a deeper appreciation of the structure of a class. For example spending around 10 minutes discussing new vocabulary. I now realise the necessity to ask for synonyms, antonyms and paraphrases instead of just asking for basic translation of a particular word. Asking for these rather than just the translation also helps to improve students’ understanding of a particular word, this is especially useful if the vocabulary is new.”

Professional TEFL:

The Professional TEFL is the highest certification which is currently available in for Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language. “The TEFL Certificate is evidently purposeful for me because it will allow me to teach English throughout the world, giving me opportunities to travel and experience new cultures whilst simultaneously being able to work.”

So what are the best tefl courses?

There is plenty of disagreement about the value of exclusively online TEFL courses. While some argue learning the ins and outs of teaching English is quicker, easier and more accessible online, others claim that without genuine classroom experience it is impossible to gain the skills required to be a compelling English instructor.

“Before starting my placement I completed an online TEFL course. I found it extremely helpful in helping me refresh my knowledge of English grammar and the advice it gave on lesson planning was extremely useful. I was living out of the UK at the time and accessing a face-to-face training course would have been impossible so the ease of access the online course provided was perfect.

However, although it gave plenty of information on things such as classroom management and how to communicate through a language barrier, I felt that without experiencing a real-life classroom I just wasn’t fully prepared to start teaching. Personally, I learn through doing rather than just reading information and it was for this reason that I applied to this internship, which I feel has helped me gain the practical experience I needed.”

Another thing to consider what your objectives are in terms of TEFL – do you plan on teaching English for just one summer or while travelling? Or are you considering making it into a long-term career? If the former then maybe an online course could suffice, particularly as they are often much cheaper and still valued in underdeveloped countries. It is true that some of the more intensive courses are very expensive and that might make them out of limits for people on a budget – although they mean access to well-paid jobs as a result. On the other hand, certain schools may well ask for particular qualifications as a minimum requirement for teachers, such as a degree on top of a TEFL certificate.

So are online courses worth it?

The answer is no if that is all you are thinking of doing. I would say it depends on you: perhaps you are someone who already has experience teaching or training in different areas and just want to brush up on your English language knowledge before you start teaching TEFL. Because the demand for English teachers worldwide is so great there are certainly schools out there that will hire you with only an online TEFL qualification (or even with no qualification at all!). But for someone who has never taught before I wouldn’t recommend relying solely on an online course as you might be in for a shock when you arrive in a classroom surrounded by a group of students who don’t speak a word of English! And that is something that language schools themselves are more and more aware of. Hence the questionable quality of online courses.

Polishing up on your own English before and during TESOL courses

Being a native English speaker isn’t always adequate when it comes to teaching English as a foreign language. People always take their knowledge of their native language for granted. We never stop to question why a certain grammar point is the way it is, we feel as though knowing how and when to use it is sufficient. The majority of people couldn’t tell you the names of different tenses from their own language, purely because they have never been required to know. It is only when you have to try and explain the difference between certain grammar points that you realise you don’t really understand your own language.

“I have been quite favoured apropos, given that I study Spanish and Portuguese, so I have been forced to learn various names for grammatical areas in my own studies. This meant I wasn’t so taken aback when someone asked me about demonstrative pronouns or the three conditionals as I may otherwise have been if I didn’t have any prior knowledge of grammar rules. Having said this, my basic knowledge of grammar rules hasn’t always been enough to make me feel sufficiently prepared to teach someone who has paid for this time with me. A re-read of my University grammar notes combined with the grammar units of the online TEFL course became very useful here, as I have learnt several little rules which I can now tell the student if they are struggling with which tense to use, for example ‘past simple’ with ‘past continuous’.

Not only have I had to review my grammar knowledge, I have also had to adapt the vocabulary that I use depending on the situation. As my usual conversations are with other native English speakers, I have never really had to think properly about the vocabulary I have been using, until now. Without even realising it, I have started to change my level of English based upon the person I am talking with.

When presented with a C1 student, I subconsciously speak to them as if they were an English person, in order to really stretch them to their full potential. Having said that, I also lower my level for low level students. I think this is vital, as they do not need to learn complex vocabulary, before learning its simpler equivalent. An example of this being, in a C1 level I would be more likely to use a word such as exhilarating, whereas I would stick to its simpler version ‘exciting’ while in a lower lesson. Although in some cases this is natural, I think it has helped me expand my own vocabulary as I am constantly searching for new synonyms or different ways to explain words.  

Yesterday, I had to attempt to teach the ‘passive causative’ to one of my students, something he tells me, doesn’t actually exist in Spanish. In cases like these where there is no direct translation, it can be particularly tricky to explain as they don’t fully understand when to use it. This meant I had to have a thorough enough understanding to explain the grammatical structure, instead of merely showing when to use it. Although he was confused as to what this seemingly baffling piece of grammar was, after walking through the structure (Subject/causative verb/object/past participle), and making him put this structure into practice, he soon understood that he was describing how someone ‘hired’ or ‘made’ someone else do something on their behalf. I think this would have been extremely difficult to teach without polishing up on my English, as I wouldn’t have had the knowledge as to when to use terms such as ‘subject’ or ‘causative verb’.”

To conclude, I strongly stand by the statement that being a native speaker isn’t always enough to give lessons in your native language. You have to adapt to the needs of the student, and be equipped with either many examples of grammatical elements, or learn the rule by which you form

  1. I think this is vital, as merely explaining the situation in which you would use it, isn’t always enough. Furthermore, it is crucial to expand your vocabulary in order to accommodate the needs of the student.

Learning about exams during a TEFL Course is key!

Let’s take the example of B1 and B2 exams and their importance in Spain. You will then come to realise that vetting the content of a teaching course is essential. If the course only touches upon official EFL exams, then it is not up-to-date and therefore of poor quality!

B1 and B2 exams in Spain are becoming increasingly important, this may be partly due to the fact that now all public sector jobs in Spain require a B1 or preferably B2 level of English. Many of my students tell me they are studying TEFL Courses because their jobs now require it. I have also noticed that many students are learning English because they are moving to English speaking countries in order to find work, most often England, Germany and the U.S.A are mentioned. From 2008 – 2015 Spain suffered a huge economic crisis. According to a Huffington Post article the number of Spaniards emigrating out of Spain was up by 44% in the first six months of 2012.
Unemployment in Spain increased by 24.7% from 2008-2009 and in 2010 more than 40% of Spanish youth were unemployed (Scarpetta, Sonnet & Manfredi, 2010). It has become increasingly advantageous for Spanish people to learn English. This pressure to learn English did not really exist prior to the crisis, and in terms of level of English, Spain is far behind other European countries. For example, in Sweden 86% of the population speak English, in Germany 56%, France 39% and Italy 34%. Spain is the second lowest with only 22% of the population able to speak English, and Hungary is the lowest at 20% (Eurobarometer, 2012). It is now difficult in Spain to get a job without a good level of English with B1 and B2 being the most commonly required levels. Not only do the Spanish need B1 and B2 exams in order to find employment, but it is now common for University courses in Spain to require English as part of the course. For example, Erasmus students at the University of Valencia are offered the chance to do both B1 and B2 exams, furthermore many Masters Degrees have an entry-requirement of B2 English (Universitat de Valencia online, 2015). As clearly evidenced above B1 and B2 exams are extremely important in Spain, and I predict this importance will only increase, as Spain’s economic crisis continues.

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