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What is TESOL Certification? [Full Guide 2023]

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Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

When people think about a career in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), they imagine taking off a year or two to relax on sunny beaches, find inspiration in ancient ruins, learn a new language, or get lost in an exciting location abroad.

While that’s not so far from the truth, there is more to TESOL than teaching English abroad during your gap year. There are plenty of lucrative jobs in over 30 countries and plenty of career advancement opportunities to choose from.

Table of Contents:

What is the Difference Between TESOL, TEFL, and TESL?

What is TESOL exactly? TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. TESOL, TEFL, and TESL are acronyms that refer to the same industry. English language teaching can be a very rewarding profession, but admittedly the terminology surrounding it isn’t very consistent.

If you started your journey for English teaching certification by doing research, you likely encountered a wide and puzzling variety of acronyms:

  • TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language. In Canada, accrediting and professional groups carry the TESL designation (i.e. TESL Canada, TESL Ontario, ATESL, and TESL Toronto).

These designations are most widely used to describe a professional certification in the field of English language teaching. For the most part, there is no substantial difference among them: it is often a matter of personal choice on the part of the institution offering the certification. For example, OnTESOL offers accredited online TESOL and TEFL courses that lead to TESL Canada and TESL Ontario accreditation . All our courses are accredited and valid for teaching jobs in Canada or the United States , obtaining the work visa in foreign countries, and online ESL teaching jobs. Should a prospective employer require certification, the source of the certification is far more important than the acronym used on the certificate . A teacher training school accredited by a recognized examining body will yield the best responses from employers.

There’s no need to worry about TESOL vs TEFL when you choose an accredited course with OnTESOL. The methodology of TESOL, TEFL, and TESL is the same. Whether you want to teach English abroad or teach in an English immersion program in North America, the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) method prevails all over the world. So, what matters most when choosing a TESOL, TEFL, or TESL course is that you learn to use the different ESL lesson planning frameworks that you need to teach different levels and that the course is fully accredited for teaching positions worldwide.

You can get an in-depth look at what is TESOL, TEFL, and TESL here .

Types of TESOL Courses and Accreditations

The international standards of the TESOL/TEFL /TESL methodology were set by TESL Canada, Trinity College London, and the University of Cambridge. A 120-hour course accredited by one of these three organizations provides a great foundation in grammar, phonology, and methodology, as well as an in-class teaching practice module with real ESL students. You can also take a 250-hour, 500-hour, or even a Master’s degree program through an accredited course provider.

Keep in mind that in the U.S., course accreditation is managed state-by-state, not through the federal Department of Education. You may see confusing claims in this regard. At the low end of certification courses, you’ll find courses below the widely recognized standards (often 60 hours or less), which lack accreditation from reputable bodies.

Top Accrediting Bodies

Here you can get to know some of the most widely recognized accrediting bodies in the world that offer Adult ESL/EFL Teacher Accreditation:

Accrediting Body Description
TESL Canada A Canadian accrediting body that validates on-site and online/distance learning programs all over Canada at three levels: Professional Standard Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.
TESL Ontario Teachers of English as a Second Language Association of Ontario, which validates on-site and online/distance learning programs in Ontario at two levels: Adult ESL Teacher Accreditation OCELT Level 2 and Adult ESL Teacher Accreditation CTESOL Level 1.
www.t e slontario.org
Trinity College London, UK A British accrediting body, which validates on-site and blended programs all over the world at two levels: Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL.
Cambridge Assessment English, UK A British accrediting body, which validates on-site and online CELTA certificate, and DELTA (Diploma Level)
ACCET US-based Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET)

To be clear, the accrediting bodies listed above do not offer their own courses. Their job is to validate the schools that, in turn, offer the courses. They complete validation by setting minimum standards for a TESOL course curriculum and then verifying that a particular school is meeting those standards. Generally, this verification is done by some combination of auditing course materials and visiting the schools that provide the courses.

The most widely recognized accrediting bodies have roughly equivalent criteria. They require between 120 and 250 course hours and might include a practicum. The practicum involves guided observation of certified teachers in action and at least six hours of practice teaching.

What’s the difference between UK, Canada, and U.S. TESOL certification courses?

Quality English teacher training courses are standard across the world. They cover grammar, phonology, and methodology. Some courses include a Practicum module, while others offer the option to take it after they complete their certification. Others do not offer this module at all.

It makes absolutely no difference where the program comes from. In grammar and phonology, the rules of the language are learned. As you know, these rules are standard, meaning that they are not specific to any native-speaking country.

To be clear, methodology is the main focus of a TESOL or TEFL course . Methodology is for trainees to learn how to use different methods in their lesson plans. The methods for teaching English are standard across the world and the quality of the course depends on the course material and the teacher trainer.

The best programs are those recognized by TESL Canada , Trinity CertTESOL (UK), CELTA (UK), or SIT TESOL (U.S.) . They are independent organizations that only recognize courses with a minimum of 120 hours of advanced training and a Practicum section. TESL Canada is one of the leading TESL organizations in the world for advanced certification courses and Master’s degree programs.

Remember that while advanced courses that include a Practicum module provide an excellent level of training, their tuition fee may cost up to $2,500. Such high costs may not be justified for gap-year teachers who want to get an entry-level job in countries where a 120-hour certificate is more than enough.

How to Start Your Career

You have several options to jumpstart your ESL teacher career. Once you’ve gotten your certificate, you’ll be able to apply for teaching jobs in a variety of areas, as defined below.

Teaching English in Immersion Programs

Native speakers can start their career at home.

Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom have the largest TESOL markets in the world, offering immersion programs to millions of students who want to study English abroad, take their TOEFL or IETLS test, or get ready for university.

The TESOL industry in native-speaking countries is quite large and lucrative. Some language schools incur annual revenue upwards of $30 million with just one location.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of career advancement opportunities in this lucrative industry. Teaching experience is not required to start a teaching career in native-English speaking countries. All you need is a university degree and an accredited TESOL certificate .

Teaching English Abroad

Starting your career as an English teacher abroad is a great way to prepare for a successful career in education. ESL teachers in immersion programs encounter students from all over the world. Those who have had experience teaching English abroad are better able to understand their students’ language and cultural challenges.

Starting your career abroad will give you a deeper understanding of the methodologies employed in the ESL classroom and help you advance your career in numerous ways. For example, when you go abroad you will encounter the same experiences that your ESL students experience when they take an immersion program in your home country. Experiencing culture shock will give you a sense of compassion that you can only get by living in another country for an extended period of time.

At the same time, it will also give you great insights into new language acquisition and the methodology of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, as you learn to speak a new language as well. For these reasons, we recommend teaching English abroad in two or three different countries to make the most of your TESOL career.

Teaching English Online

However, you don’t have pack up and move to another country to build teaching experience. Nowadays, you can start your career by teaching English online. This is an excellent way to earn a full-time income or simply some extra money in your spare time – all from the comfort of your home.

Teaching English online is a popular option for both English native speakers and non-native speakers. Unlike teaching English abroad, you’ll have greater flexibility to set your own schedule, work as much or as little as you want and work from anywhere with good internet.

The option to teach English online is also ideal for instructors who would like a flexible side gig. For example, it’s the perfect job for stay-at-home parents who need stable income, new TESOL graduates who want to gain teaching experience before going abroad, or expats who need a good-paying job while traveling abroad. By teaching English online, you can get a steady stream of income, make your own schedule and work under your own terms.

Career Opportunities for ESL Teachers

Every teaching journey is unique. When you’re first getting started, you’ll likely have several options for teaching English. The most common types of jobs you can get with a teaching certificate include teaching:

  • English online
  • At an English language institute
  • At an international school (K-12)
  • At a public primary or secondary school (K-12)
  • At a community or refugee center

These opportunities can help you gain experience in teaching and build confidence in your skills as a teacher. You’ll also get a chance to learn from your fellow teachers, as well as earn a steady income.

Over time, you may also become interested in other education-related careers. Having a TESOL certificate can be a gateway into other opportunities. In fact, many English teachers transition into other career paths thanks to their teaching experience, as listed below.

1. Teacher trainer or headteacher of a language school

Once you get solid experience, you may qualify to become a teacher trainer or headteacher at your school. This means training and managing other teachers, preparing curriculum materials and handling scheduling and staff problems. A headteacher typically earns a much higher salary.

2. ESL administrative support role

Language school don’t just need teachers – they also need support staff. This includes employees working in human resources, marketing and logistics. Understanding the inner-workings of the school can help you transition to one of these administrative roles.

3. ESL managerial role

All schools need great principals and directors. These managerial roles are well-paid and involve great responsibility for the seamless running of the school and staff. Director of Studies roles are common abroad and in English language schools within native-speaking countries.

4. University or college lecturer

TESOL teachers may also get the opportunity to lecture or teach at the university level. This is especially true after establishing a proven record of teaching and publishing articles about education.

5. Educational author or speaker

Educational thinkers are another popular job prospect. Teachers who write books, speak at conferences or otherwise share insights on education can get income in this way.

6. Private freelance tutor

You can also start your solo career as a freelance tutor. This individualized method can also earn you more, as one-on-one sessions cost more.

7. Curriculum designer

If your skills lie in making great lesson plans, you might consider designing curriculums. Often language schools will pay for great curriculum content, especially if it’s specialized.

8. Teacherpreneur

Finally, you may become a teacherpreneur and start your own language institute, curriculum website or tutoring service. You can use your strengths and insights to run your own education business.

As you can see, career opportunities for TESOL certified teachers are truly endless. After getting solid experience in the classroom, you may be ready to shift into one of these education-related roles.

What Type of TESOL Certification do I Need to Teach in…?

The certification level you require will depend in large measure on your own background and the region where you plan to teach English. Demand is very high in fast-growing economies such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and many Latin American countries.

Generally speaking, the minimum entry-level requirement for English teaching jobs is a 120-hour TESOL, TESL, or TEFL certificate. Some schools prefer to hire teachers who have more than 1 year of teaching experience and/or completed a teaching practice module of 20 hours.

Of course, academic requirements will vary tremendously based on location. The higher-end schools in the more desirable locations can (and will) demand a Bachelor’s degree, TESOL certification and teaching experience. In locations where demand for teachers outstrips supply, there are still some prospects for those with lower qualifications. In this case, certification is a plus but not mandatory, and candidates will be judged on a case-by-case basis. Find teaching jobs on our job board .

Asia :

  1. Minimum 120 hour TESOL certification.
  2. Teaching practice or experience not necessary for about 90% of entry-level jobs in Asia.
  3. A Bachelor’s degree is required for the work visa. Some places like Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia may accept college diploma or associate degree. Contact the embassy for more information about the requirements for the work visa. Some programs, such as the NETs program in Hong Kong, prefer to hire people who have a BA degree in Education.


  1. Minimum 120 hours. Advanced training with Practicum, such as courses approved by TESL Canada or CELTA , are preferred.
  2. EU citizenship is required for most countries. Germany and the Czech Republic have more flexible immigration options for qualified candidates.

Latin America:

  1. Minimum: 120 hour TESOL certification.
  2. Teaching practice or experience not necessary for about 90% of entry-level jobs in Latin America.
  3. A BA in any area is sufficient for about 90% of entry-level jobs in Latin America. Some countries do not require a university degree to issue the work visa. Check with the embassy if you do not have a degree.

Middle East:

  1. 80% of all jobs in this region are in the public school system. Some countries offer lucrative contracts. These public school jobs require a BA in Education or a Teaching license. Teaching practice or experience not necessary for about 90% of entry-level jobs in the Middle East.
  2. Master’s degree preferred in some competitive jobs. Teaching experience preferred.
  3. TESOL Certification is highly recommended for those who teach primary and secondary classes in English to non-native speakers.

North America, UK, Australia, New Zealand, And South Africa:

  1. Minimum 120 hours and a 20-hour Practicum. (TESL Canada or CELTA equivalent). A BA in any area is sufficient for language academy and English immersion jobs. MA degree preferred in some competitive jobs. Teaching experience preferred.
  2. For the public school system, a teaching license or MA degree in Education is required in native-English speaking countries.

Online Worldwide:

  1. Minimum: 120-hour TESOL Certificate
  2. Most established online companies required a BA in any area. There are companies that will accept current university students, while others do not require a degree at all.

In addition to the academic qualifications listed above, a love of teaching is probably the best qualification you can have. A teacher with a strong emotional core, a desire to serve and a personal sense of achievement when students succeed will reach the highest levels of the profession, beyond anything a TESOL training course can provide.

Should I Get My Certificate Online or With an On-Site Course?

In essence, there shouldn’t be any difference between on-site and online TESOL courses. Thanks to current technologies, it is possible to deliver top TESOL/TEFL training online without lowering the quality of the course.

Moreover, online TESOL certification is equally recognized by accrediting bodies. For almost two decades, TESL Canada has accepted online TESOL courses offered by the most reputable Canadian universities.

However, the main problem with TESOL certification online is not the delivery model. It is the content of the course and the level of the assignments. Few online schools have experience delivering advanced programs such as TESL Canada, Trinity CertTESOL, or CELTA.

Getting Your Accredited Teaching Certification Online

The online TESOL certification courses offered by OnTESOL were designed by Coventry House International. We use their Trinity CertTESOL syllabus to offer the best TESOL training in an online format. All our courses are recognized by TESL Canada.

The courses offered by OnTESOL go beyond the theory and methodology of teaching English. All our online TESOL courses are assessed through practical lesson planning assignments that will prepare you to use the Communicative Language Teaching method anywhere in the world.

120-hour Advanced TESOL Certificate:

Fully accredited for teaching jobs worldwide! Few online TESOL/TEFL schools have experience delivering advanced courses such as Trinity CertTESOL, TESL Canada, or CELTA. Coventry House International-OnTESOL offers more than 18 years of experience delivering the top TESOL courses in the world. We’ve taken elements from our advanced Trinity CertTESOL and TESL Canada courses and compiled a standard 120-hour TESOL course that truly teaches trainees how to create professional lesson plans. (View course)

168-hour Hybrid TEFL Certificate:

Better than CELTA! Combine the 120-hour course with the live 10-hour Lesson Planning Workshop to become an expert on lesson panning frameworks and complete the course faster. This TEFL certification also includes 3 specialists to prepare you for teaching jobs abroad and online ( View course ).

250-hour TESOL Diploma:

This program covers more than any 4-week TESOL course, including CELTA. We’ve taken Coventry’s 5-week Trinity CertTESOL and TESL Canada Standard 1 and included more advanced materials and assignments. This program is recognized by TESL Canada Professional Standard 2 after completing a 50-hour Practicum. TESL Canada Professional Standard 2 is offered by some of the most reputable Canadian universities. Coventry House International-OnTESOL offers a great level of training for an affordable price. (View course)

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Do I need to be a native English speaker to teach ESL or EFL?

No, absolutely not. Non-native speakers are more than welcome to apply. In fact, a large percentage of our online student-teachers in the various courses we offer are non-native speakers of English from a variety of countries: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, India, Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

Non-native speakers should possess a strong command of both written and spoken English. Graduates who wish to pursue TESL Canada and/or ACTDEC UK accreditation after the TESOL course with OnTESOL, need to meet proficiency requirements set by the respective accrediting body.

2. Why are online TESOL courses more affordable?

The price of an expensive on-site course is not indicative of quality. Online TESOL courses can be offered for a much lower tuition fee because the need to rent expensive downtown classrooms is eliminated. Furthermore, online education provides great economies of scale because schools have a global reach.

We’re convinced that online instruction is the way of the future. In fact, TESL Canada and CELTA recognize some online TESOL courses that maintain higher levels of quality.

3. How does OnTESOL compare with CELTA?

Our 120-hour Advanced TESOL Certificate is academically equivalent to CELTA. Our 168-hour and 250-hour TEFL / TESOL courses are more comprehensive than the CELTA certification course .

TESL Canada is the national accrediting body and they accept CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL as equivalent to Standard 1 for those who took CELTA/Trinity abroad and need to get the equivalency to teach in Canada. For international jobs, 120 hours with Practicum (with real ESL students) is considered equivalent to CELTA.

In terms of course content, our online courses are based on the in-class Trinity CertTESOL which has a stronger focus in lesson planning than CELTA. CELTA trainees do lesson planning as part of the Practicum but the course assignments are reflection papers. In our online courses, trainees get to do lesson plans in various formats prior to the Practicum (and more lesson plans during the Practicum). Those who don’t do the Practicum after the online course get to practice lesson planning and receive feedback.

As for the Practicum, class observation and teaching practice need to take place in a real setting. This means that our trainees need to teach all 10 hours of the teaching practice portion. Teaching Practice in CELTA is 6 hours and in a real class setting. Lesson plans have to be submitted for our Practicum and CELTA’s. Other online courses with blended option and no accreditation offer “workshop” style of Practicum with peer trainees and basic lesson planning.

4. Why is the teaching practice optional for OnTESOL?

There are many teachers who already have experience and others who are planning to teach abroad where teaching practice or experience is not required by their future employers. For this reason, OnTESOL has separated this module from the FULL Course. However, if you are planning to apply with TESL Canada to obtain the National Professional Certification Standards For Instructors Of English As A Second Or Foreign Language In Adult Programs, teaching practice is a must.

5. Can I teach English without a degree?

Candidates without a degree can register in the 120-hour Advanced TESOL Certificate program. Most of our students have a degree but others are either at college or university, or they do not have any formal qualifications beyond a high school diploma. However, most employers require applicants to have a degree and in most countries a degree is necessary to obtain a work permit.

It is important to highlight that if you are interested in applying for the TESL Canada Professional Certificate Standard 2, you must hold a university degree or equivalent.

6. What type of university degree do I need to get an English teaching job?

The university degree can be in any subject.

A BA in English, Education, and or Linguistics is not usually required for English teaching jobs because an advanced TESOL certification program will give you the skills that you need to follow and adapt an ESL curriculum. A TESOL course recognized by TESL Canada, CELTA, or Trinity CertTESOL will teach you how to create lesson plans using the Communicative Language Teaching Method. You will also get training in grammar and phonology.

TESOL is a very specific subject, so a degree in English, Education, and/or Linguistics would not make much difference in your development as an ESL teacher. However, some entry-level programs in the UAE, Hong Kong, and South Korea prefer to hire teachers who completed a BA in one of these subjects. In addition, some career advancement opportunities are open only to those who have a Master’s degree in one of these subjects on top of their TESOL certification.

6 thoughts on “What is TESOL Certification? [Full Guide 2023]”

  1. I am looking for a teaching position here in Seoul and have seen amazing reviews from teachers! I would love to apply!

    1. Hi Samantha!

      If you already have a TESOL certificate, we recommend that you apply with EPIK (Public Schools) or
      Teacher Tech (Hagwons/Private Schools)

      Both may be able to offer you a position in Seoul.

      If you still need to get certified, we recommend the 120-hour TESOL certification course with TEYL package because most entry-level jobs in South Korea involve teaching English at elementary and primary schools. This course will provide you with everything that you need to start your career in Japan and it is recognized worldwide, so you can use the TESOL certificate to continue your career in another country.

      Don’t hesitate to reach us at info@ontesol.com if you have any questions!

  2. I am a trained Primary school teacher from Kenya, Africa; working in a government school. I also hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management. I am aTESOL certified with Trinity College, London. I am looking for an opportunity to teach English language abroad. Any recommendations please?

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