TEFL/TESOL Courses are a Waste of Money

TEFL/TESOL courses are a waste of money? Say what? Fact or opinion? It's an opinion. Whether a course is worth it or not for you I don't know. I wrote this piece quite a while ago and it was inspired from my prior experience, which includes the frequent lies and bad marketing tactics that I see some TEFL providers tell to get you to buy.

If you're thinking of teaching English in Asia and taking a TEFL or TESOL course, you should be able to separate the facts from the fiction.

Know these facts about TEFL/TESOL/CELTA courses:

  1. They are not a legal requirement to teach English in Eastern Asia and other places
  2. They are usually just a preference
  3. There are other preferences
  4. Experience and education degrees are more valuable
  5. They do not replace degrees
  6. They can't guarantee a better job
  7. They can't guarantee more money
  8. Everything that you would learn from one you can find online for FREE

1. They are not a legal requirement to teach English in many places

Have you been told that you need to be TEFL/TESOL certified to teach in Northeast Asia? Well, that's lie number one and the person who told you that is probably working for a TEFL/TESOL certification provider or they are just misinformed.

Let's take for example Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. Have you thought about teaching in any of these places? Well you should know that the basic requirement for teaching English in these places is:

  • Be a native speaker
  • Hold a university degree in any discipline

I'd say in Taiwan, Korea and Japan that the schools that require one are less than 5% of the total job pool. So what about the 95%? Well the 95% or let's just say the majority doesn't care and is just looking for the basic qualifications.

"Wait! I thought you said the requirement to teach in Northeast Asia was a degree and...?" Yes, that's right it's a legal requirement. Without it the school cannot process your visa in order for you to stay and work in the country.

"But you just said that some schools require TEFL or TESOL certificates?" Yes, that's right, but they are not a legal requirement. An individual school can set it's own requirements and those may be different from the national requirements. But know that these requirements are basically just a preference.

2. They are just a preference

Some schools may prefer TESOL/TEFL/CELTA qualifications. However, it's just a preference and by the way if you encounter this you should still apply. Know that come time to process your paperwork for your visa for your new full time job that your TEFL/TESOL certificate will be left on some desk or in some folder (probably yours) because it is not essential.

3. There are other preferences

You should know that there are other ESL employer preferences as well. And that while some schools may prefer TEFL/TESOL certification, that preference usually takes a backseat to the preferences and biases below.

Like for example:

  • Likability - aside from the basic qualifications this is the single most important factor that determines who gets the job, pretty much anywhere
  • Age - they would prefer that you are young
  • Sex - some schools prefer females over males and a fewer percentage vice versa
  • Looks - they prefer that they find you attractive
  • Nationality - many will prefer US citizens or Canadians over other native English speakers
  • Race - many prefer Caucasians

For example, let's take a hypothetical situation. Amy is Canadian. She's 25 years old. She's tall thin and attractive and she has a degree in Biology. Jed is 35 years old. He's not especially attractive and he has a CELTA certificate and a year of teaching experience.

Jed's more qualified (from our standpoint), but who will get the job? Of course it depends on the school and situation, but unfortunately in many cases Amy will get the job. Many employers just care about how things appear. And it's not just them it's the culture.

4. They do not replace degrees

Well, one might help you to get a job in China - if you don't have a degree, but they are not going to replace a degree and help you to find a job in Taiwan, Korea or Japan.

5. Education degrees and experience are more valuable

Know that most schools value experience teaching (especially in their country) and education degrees more than TEFL/TESOL certificates.

For example in Taiwan, to teach in a public school you will need to be a certified teacher in your home country. Just a degree in any discipline won't cut it. A TEFL/TESOL certificate won't help. A degree and a TEFL/TESOL certificate won't suffice. Here you need to be a certified teacher to teach English in a public school.

Read more on advice for becoming an ESL teacher.

6. They can't guarantee a better job

Have you been told that being TESOL/TEFL certified will help you to get a better or more prestigious job? Well, that's lie number two. Know that the most prestigious schools (e.g. international schools and some universities) will require higher qualifications and experience. A reputable TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course might help you here, although there's more competition for these kinds of jobs. Competition that has years of teaching experience and/or that may have a background in teaching. A background in teaching means that they probably studied education and that they are likely a certified teacher in their home country.

In all honestly for these schools with or without a TEFL/TESOL and no experience, you could get lucky, but you probably won't stand a chance. But don't worry because they are less than 10% of the job pool.

Check this link out and "The Best Answer". Here's someone who took a CELTA course and taught in Korea. If you didn't know, CELTA courses are considered one of the best when it comes to English language teaching qualifications. Basically he says that he felt that it only made him "slightly" more marketable and that "you" might be paid only "very slightly" more.

7. They can't guarantee more money

Have you been told that you will make more money if you are TESOL/TEFL certified? Well that's lie number three. There are exceptions to the rule, like for example EPIK in Korea, but many schools won't care about your certificate or offer you any more money because of it.

I have worked in a total of at least 20 (documented) private and public schools as either a full-time, part-time, temporary, or substitute teacher in China, Korea and Taiwan. I have also applied to an estimated 500+ positions and interviewed at about 40 schools. And only one of those distinctly offered me more money because of my certification.

8. You can get all of this information for FREE online

Are there any other reasons why you might want to take one? Well, of course, you might want to take one for the teacher training. Well you should know that the information that they would teach in one including the usually pseudo in classroom training is already available online for FREE. No, you won't get direct feedback about your teaching online, but you will find all the information and more that they will tell you in one for FREE online.

It will probably take you time, to find what you're looking for and to sift through all the info available. But if that sounds daunting then I might suggest reading some ESL books or watching some videos about teaching English.

Are TEFL/TESOL courses worth it?

In summary getting a job teaching English in Asia is relatively easy. There is a large job pool with a high turnover rate. People are always coming and going. English teachers are in demand. If you're thinking of going abroad to teach English in Asia for a year or so, does spending thousands of dollars on a certificate sound worth it to you?

I spent a $1000 for in-class course that I felt was definitely not worth it. Courses should be more efficient and cheaper. ESLinsider also offers several online TEFL courses.

Anyways that's just my take on it.

Resources for ESL teachers

Online TEFL Course Get certified to teach English abroad

Starters Guide A guide to get started teaching ESL in Asia

The Ebook An all inclusive how-to guide for teaching English in Asia

The Summary A summary of Jeremy Harmer's "How to Teach English"

101 Teaching Tips A 101 essential teaching tips for the ESL teacher

How-to Videos A 100+ how to teach English videos: lesson planning, teaching tips, games & activities, classroom management, etc.

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