How to TEFL: Teaching English as a foreign language

0 Like

Word education displayed in the dictionary

Teaching English as a foreign language is a great option if you’re planning a gap year, either overseas or in the UK. It can also be a flexible longer-term career choice for many people.

In this article, we look at the difference between TEFL, TESL and TESOL and how you can become a TEFL teacher to teach English abroad or at home.

'How to teach English abroad or become a TEFL teacher in your career'

Click to tweet this to your followers

What is teaching English as a foreign language?

TEFL, TESL, TESOL – there’s a lot of confusing jargon that litters this area of work.

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is probably the most well-known specialism. This involves teaching a basic level of working English to people for use in work and leisure.

Teaching English as a second language (TESL) is usually carried out within the UK and other English-speaking countries and is offered to non-native English speakers who need to be able to speak English to function in their everyday lives.

The general term teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) refers to both of these specialisms.

Can I teach English abroad with a TEFL qualification?

You can teach English as a foreign language by taking a
120-hour course full time, part time or online


English as a foreign language is taught all over the world to people who want to gain English skills so they can speak English in order to get by in their work or leisure lives.

People mainly choose to teach EFL abroad and this is a great option for many gap year students. You could also teach English as a foreign language in a language school based in the UK, such as one of the many in places like London, Oxford or Cambridge.

Countries where TEFL teachers are in high demand include Japan, China, countries in the Middle East, countries in Eastern Europe, Spain, Italy and Germany.

English as a second language (ESL) is generally taught in the UK and other English-speaking countries.

How do I teach English as a foreign language?

It may be easier for you to become a TEFL teacher than you think.

To teach English as a foreign language anywhere around the world, you will usually – but not always – need some kind of qualification. TEFL qualifications can be gained easily through a college or training provider. A full-time course takes about 4 weeks to complete (120 hours), while the part-time option takes between 12 and 36 weeks.

You can also do a distance learning course. For this, you may need to organise your own teaching experience.

To get onto a college course, you will usually need 2 to 3 A-levels (or equivalent) and good command of English.

The most prestigious qualifications are:

  • Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA), awarded by Cambridge English.
  • Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL), awarded by Trinity College London.

CELTA and CertTESOL are offered by colleges and private training providers around the UK and even the world.

You will have to pay for your course, with costs varying depending on the college you study at and the mode of study you choose (online, weekend, weekday). Typically, costs range from £200 to £500, with online courses being cheapest.

There are cheaper alternatives to CELTA and CertTESOL which may be more suitable if you’re just planning to teach English abroad or at home during a gap year. These include:

  • English Language Centre (CIC)
  • i-to-i
  • International House
  • International Teacher Training Organisation (ITTO)

University route

To teach in a state school, you will

probably need qualified teacher status

Some colleges expect you to have qualified teacher status (QTS) in order to teach English as a foreign language. This will almost certainly be required if you would like to teach in a UK state school.

In order to gain this, you will need to complete a university degree which gives you QTS. Subjects include:

What skills do I need to be a TEFL teacher?

You will gain many of the skills you need from your TEFL course:

  • Good knowledge of English
  • Experience of teaching
  • Good communication skills
  • Patience
  • Good planning and organisation skills
  • Cultural sensitivity and understanding
  • Creativity

What is the pay like?

Pay varies widely depending on the job you undertake.

Most jobs will be temporary contracts and some will pay hourly. There is longer-term work available and even permanent contracts if you look carefully.

Given the nature of the job market, it's important you know your rights. Make sure you know what the minimum wage is in the country where you're working and also understand your employments rights. Workers in the UK are legally entitled to equal treatment.

How do I gain work experience?

Any kind of work experience tutoring, working in a summer school or volunteering abroad will help you gain access to TEFL work. Shorter-term TEFL jobs, such as in summer schools, may not require any experience at all.

To learn more about careers in teaching, visit our Education & Teaching Career Zone.


Teacher in classroom by woodleywonderworks via Flicker


  • No new comment

Sign up to receive careers advice and info about apprenticeships & school leaver jobs.

Sign up now