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What is TEFL and what is a TEFL course?

What is TEFL? It’s confusing, I know. You’ve heard the term, you’ve listened to the buzz, but what is a TEFL course?

In short, TEFL is an acronym meaning Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification.

A TEFL course is a qualification that allows you to teach English to foreign students anywhere in the world. And don’t worry, you don’t need to speak their language. The lessons you teach will be 100% fully immersive in English. So if you want to teach English overseas. And you want to travel the world while you work.

You also want to live in far-flung and exotic countries and you want to enhance your CV and learn a language. Perhaps you even want to have a host of small Asian children running around with an Irish accent (ok that last bit was just me). Then the whole ‘teaching English overseas’ thing can be far too confusing.

A google search offers a horde of mind-boggling acronyms (TEFL, CELTA, IELTS, TOEFL, DELTA, ESL) arrrrrrrgh! What does it all mean?! Let me help you out once and for all.

What is tefl
Me teaching English in South Korea

So to recap:

What is TEFL & What Does TEFL Mean?

It means ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’

What is a TEFL course? 3 Types

What is a TEFL course? Well first, there is no one specific TEFL course. A TEFL course is any diploma/certificate/qualification that teaches you how to teach English overseas. There are literally thousands of different teaching courses available (much in the same way that there are many different types of degrees available) so which TEFL should you choose and how do you distinguish the legitimate offerings from the cowboys?

To simplify things, I have crudely cut the TEFL world into 3 main sections below:

1) In-Person TEFL courses (CELTA or Trinity):

The type of TEFL course that I personally did. These are the most expensive, most difficult, most internationally recognized and, all in all, the best TEFL courses you can do. There are two main courses that will have the schools fighting to hire you, Trinity College CertTESOL or the Cambridge University CELTA. You don’t study online, you have to physically attend the courses in-person. 

In-person TEFL courses currently cost around $1600 USD for one month of intensive learning with 2 full-time tutors ($2k to $3k if you study overseas and include accommodation). They are audited by the universities during every course to ensure the school is delivering the course as directed,. Also, ALL schools which offer the CELTA or Trinity MUST follow the exact guidelines or they will be dropped from the franchise. They offer a minimum of 120 hours of in-class instruction (which many reputable schools actually demand a minimum of in their job specifications).

2) Independent Language School TEFLs:

A growing industry. When you sift through 10 billion Google results for TEFLs the majority you see will be independent language schools that offer certification in teaching English. They are often legitimate schools offering legitimate courses but make sure you do your research before you commit to one of these as many of them can be 2bit operations where the TEFL isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

3) Online TEFL courses:

The type of TEFL course my mum did. A great option for getting qualified inexpensively and quickly. A TEFL from an online provider will permit you to work in countries where a TEFL qualification is a prerequisite of a work visa. Thailand and China for example. They are relatively easy to pass, inexpensive, fast to obtain and allow you to tick the right box in your teaching application. Ideal for someone who isn’t entirely sure if they will teach as they travel around the world but would like that extra string to their bow should they require a job at any point on their trip.

Some of these are better than others, some are internationally accredited, and some not. Personally, I think these guys offer the best online TEFL course around and would suggest if you’re going to do an online TEFL, that’s the one to do. 

teaching english overseas
TEFL courses open your world

Which TEFL is for you?

There we have it, folks. I hope that answers your ‘What is TEFL’ question. The entire TEFL world sliced neatly into 3 perfect piles.  Which one is best for you? Check which one you are below.

  • If you are thinking about teaching English as a career. Or you dream of working in more than one country. Maybe you want to work in a university then CELTA or TRINITY is for you.
  • You plan to take a year out teaching English in one country and want a guaranteed job on arrival. Sign up for a specific local LANGUAGE SCHOOL TEFL and you’ll be all set to go.
  • If you want to have a teaching certificate on your resume just in-case. Or you are thinking that at some point you may teach for a few weeks or months to supplement your income on your gap year, get yourself an ONLINE TEFL.

I hope this has helped clear up the teaching English world for you guys (partially at least). Feel free to email me on johnny ‘at’ onestep4ward ‘dot’ com for any further questions, I’m always happy to help.

Don’t forget to check out the 16 FAQ ABOUT TEACHING ENGLISH OVERSEAS for further info on this awesome industry. Good luck and happy travels =)

Travel Insurance While You Teaching English in Thailand (or anywhere)

When I was teaching English in Thailand, there was no online insurance that would cover me for traveling AND being based somewhere else. At least nothing that was for people on a tight budget. I broke my leg in a tuk-tuk crash, and thankfully my school covered the hospital bills. Now though, living in Thailand, you can have proper insurance for $9 a week. You can check it out here. I call it my digital nomad insurance, and you can check out my review too.

what is tefl

Remember, never travel without travel insurance! And never overpay for travel insurance!

I use HeyMondo. You get INSTANT quotes. Super cheap, they actually pay out, AND they cover almost everywhere, where most insurance companies don't (even places like Central African Republic etc!). You can sign-up here. PS You even get 5% off if you use MY LINK! You can even sign up if you're already overseas and traveling, pretty cool.

Also, if you want to start a blog...I CAN HELP YOU!

Also, if you want to start a blog, and start to change your life, I'd love to help you! Email me on In the meantime, check out my super easy blog post on how to start a travel blog in under 30 minutes, here! And if you just want to get cracking, use BlueHost at a discount, through me.

Also, (if you're like me, and awful with tech-stuff) email me and my team can get a blog up and running for you, designed and everything, for $300 - email to get started.

Do you work remotely? Are you a digital nomad/blogger etc? You need to be insured too.

I use SafetyWing for my digital nomad insurance. It covers me while I live overseas. It's just $10 a week, and it's amazing! No upfront fees, you just pay week by week, and you can sign up just for a week if you want, then switch it off and on whenever. You can read my review here, and you can sign-up here!


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5) Be free of offices and ‘real world’ rubbish

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Got a question? Wanna comment? I'd love to hear from you

30 thoughts on “What is TEFL and what is a TEFL course?

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  7. Hey John, I like the way you broke it down to the big 3! Too easy! Does getting one of the two biggies (Trinity College Cert-TESOL or the Cambridge University CELTA) make up for not having a Bachelors degree? Also do you see having a AA degree help at all! Thanks

  8. I was looking for some pictures of Spain and I stumbled upon your site —- and now, I am slowly re-designing my life. Thanks to you, my friend (reading your post, I kinda assumed you can be one of my good ones hahah!) Feeling frustrated after how many years of corporate life has taken its toll on my adventurous and creative spirit. And I plan, no I intend to listen to my instincts now. I know you’re saying that non-native speakers may have a hard time getting teaching jobs around Asia, but I’d still want to give it a shot. Yeah, I’m that optimistic because I really want to give this a shot. Thanks to your blog, it gave a first hand look on how to start and what I need to consider. Looking forward to your write-ups and pics, all the best to you! Keep insipiring people.

  9. Hello. Johnny!
    It must be a really nice and helpful site for native speakers. I wish I was one. I wonder if a Ukrainian girl who has a degree in English and at least 10 years of teaching experience could find a nice job there? Thanks for your answer in advance!

  10. Johnny,
    I’m 17 and still thinking about what career path I’ll go down, however, I’m really leaning towards majoring in English and possibly teaching over in Europe (France, Spain, etc.)
    Would you recommend taking that career path?

    How difficult would you say the “big players” TEFL courses are?

    If I major in English would I have a better chance of teaching in a foreign country?

    (Sorry for all the questions, I’m just curious)


    1. no probs Mariah, English as a major isn’t that important but it still looks good 🙂 The TEFL courses are tough, but they’re short so you can suck it up easily enough 🙂

  11. Hey .. I already took TOEFL but I’m thinking about a TEFL qualifications because I plan to travel in Asia and some additional income wouldn’t be bad. Could you recommend me some online program? I already have some experience teaching English on a volunteer project in Poland.
    Waiting for your reply 🙂

  12. Hi Johnny, I am really enjoying your website. Your articles have been helpful. I am in the planning stages of my RTW and TEFL. I just applied to a CELTA program in Thailand. I plan to retire early in July and then do one or two laps around the world staring in September. Can I ask your advice? Is it acceptable to wait some time between certification and looking for a teaching position? Or would you recommend waiting until I have gotten some of my planned trips out of the way? I am fortunate as my pension is sufficient to travel on. Also, do you see many ESL teachers in their mid fifties in your experience?

    1. Hey Starr,

      Thanks for your email! What a great retirement plan you have! Once you have your CELTA in the bag, you can wait as long as you need before applying, no stress at all. If you have your pension, i’d get the course, travel a little until you want to ‘settle’ for a while, then hit the classroom. Mid fifties is the new 30 Starr, i see people in their golden generation dotted all around the world, you’ll be in great company =)

  13. Terribly intersting site, well done.
    Reading about your life is very enjoyable.

    i have a question: could you list, work wise, which jobs you have worked in order to sustain yourself for six years?! i’m fascinated.

    I once travled and worked, for little over a year and a half.
    After a few auspicious life choices while on the road, i ended up returning to the UK – panicking about a ‘career’.
    Four or so years on, after realising how degrading a neutral life, consisting of whimsical mediocrity and harsh realities can be, i’m ready to again travel, with hope of restoring my confidence about the present.

    kudos and long may it reign.

    1. hey mate – thanks for the comment 🙂

      My jobs – ok,cool: i worked in chiang mai, thailand for a year teaching english in 2007 and i worked in sales in sydney, australia for a year. I also did some medical research in Ireland in 2006 (one month) and i worked on an english camp in korea for a couple of months. I also worked in pensylvania and new york as a counsellor for a couple of months two. All in all i’ve probably worked about 30 months or something since 2006, but hopefully i won’t have to do it anymore!

      I say hit the road mate, if you’re thinking about it then just do it 🙂

  14. Whoa!! I truely LIKE this topic! Because I’v been confused about the differences between TEFL and IELTS and wondering why to take courses and the exam is that bloody expensive 😛 But I have to do it anyway :S

    It’s really useful, thanks 🙂

  15. WONDERFUL article for introducing the TEFL 🙂 thank you so much!!! im thinking to get working holiday scheme fm my country to Australia/ Canada/ Germany. n of couse, im always thinking how to make money during the trip!!! it’s really helpful!!! im thinking to take the Language School TEFL or Online TEFL courses before the scheme, thanksssss 🙂 xxx

    1. i know how confusing the big bad world of TEFL is, and there are so many cowboys out there too, tread carefully and if u need any help, gimme a shout 🙂

    1. Hey Rafael, Thanks mate – thats good to hear, i remember how confusing the TEFL world was when I began looking :S Glad it helped

    1. hey mate, no probs – if you have any more questions just email me and i’ll try to help you out! johnny ‘at’ 🙂

  16. I love the picture! This is good stuff that I’m going to pass on to Deborah. Your blog is great and it keeps reminding me of all the options I have (i.e. I don’t have to work in a horrible office all my life!). Keep having fun, taking good picture, and writing and hopefully we’ll see you and some of the camp korea gang next year.

    1. hey Ryan,

      cheers mate – wot are u up to at the moment? One life mate, that’s all we have – we gotta do all we can with it 😛 I might most over to Korea for the summer if u fancy it?!


  17. Jonny,

    Well done mate. You have achieved what many aspire too and never have the courage or the tenacity or the individuality to pull it off.

    The world is a large place, and when you are stuck behind the confinds of four blue walls and surrounded by labels it shrinks to an inch beyond your own nose. Soon it seems that you are constantly looking forwards or reminiscing about the past without any emphisis on enjoying the moment.

    There are times when I wonder what the hell I am doing here trying to forge a ‘career’ living amongst people who don’t really care, and sometimes simply don’t ‘get it’. Life is short, and the road should be long and filled with jouneys. I definately enjoyed reading about a few of yours.

    Goodluck with your travels, I may bump into you on the road somewhere!

    1. hey Nat,

      thanks for your words =) what you say is soooo true, it sometimes takes a lot of work to realise it but once you do, a whole new world is possible, for all of us! you’ve got a great outlook so i really do hope our paths can cross! where r u at the mo?


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