My CELTA experience: 4 years later.

Interested in teaching English? What is the Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, is it worth the money/time and why ?

(I do not recommend teaching in a kitchen — Photo by Lonely Planet on Unsplash)

The picture above is how I pictured myself after getting my CELTA certification: inspiring people, empowering my students with cool activities, and rocking eccentric yet very cool hats.

Instead I ended up wearing sweatpants on weekdays, clocking in at the unemployment office to collect social welfare every month, and was never able to teach English abroad in my life.

But let’s start from the beginning.

According to the Cambridge Assessment English website, CELTA is “the essential TEFL qualification that’s trusted by employers, language schools and governments around the world.” It’s basically a teaching certificate allowing you to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL).

You might be interested in getting a CELTA because:

  • You’ve been teaching English abroad without a certificate and want to make it your “real” job — and get paid more.
  • You are considering a career change and think teaching English to foreign learners sounds pretty sweet.
  • You’re not sure what you want to do in life so you decided to travel to a foreign country and use teaching as a way to fund your hedonic lifestyle.
  • You’ve always wanted to live in [insert name of country] (probably Japan or Korea) and teaching English could allow you to do just that.
  • You’re a twenty-something French guy naively seeking validation from everyone in your life, and since your fluency in English is one of the only skill that stands out, you figure teaching it could be a great way to shine among your peers.

All are very valid reasons, one of them somehow fitting quite accurately my own predicament. We established that teaching English is the plan, now how to go about it?

The very first thing to consider is that if you’re a native English speaker and just want an income during your gap year abroad (that you plan on spending hooking up with tourists and taking synthetic drugs at EDM beach parties), you might not even need a certificate to get a gig.

Being a native speaker (not “native level”, actual native speaker), specifically from the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada or Australia is in itself enough of a qualification for a lot of school to have you teach, particularly kids. They might even train you there, all you need to do is really show up.

But as your mom might have told you growing up, a diploma can always come in handy. And in my opinion, a bit of training before jumping in front of a classroom with a bunch of people expecting you to teach them a language really can’t hurt.

So what are the options?

  • TEFL

Basically, TEFL = “Teaching English as a Foreign Language”, meaning this is just an umbrella term with no consistency across providers. No single educational body, fixed curriculum, assessment rules, degree, etc.

This makes the quest for the right training course quite challenging as there are many many providers with varying quality, expertise and legitimacy. On the other hand the courses are usually cheaper than a CELTA course, and can be more flexible in terms of scheduling, offering online options, part-time classes or weekend courses.

I was initially looking at enrolling in a TEFL course but was unable to find the right fit among the hundreds of schools to chose from, and was turned off by the customer reviews often referring to scams, bad quality courses etc.

  • TESOL

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It’s basically the exact same thing as TEFL, just another name. Same benefits, same questionable aspects.

  • CELTA

Contrary to the other options (except Trinity TESOL in Ireland which is similar), CELTA is accredited by Cambridge.

This fact by itself justifies it for me because I’m very shallow and really into titles, trophies and status symbols. Nothing like casually mentioning my Cambridge-accredited teaching certificate during a completely unrelated social interaction to make me feel like the man.

(Me after someone asks me for the time in the bus)

But mostly, the fact that it was a certification delivered by a renowned educational institution, through accredited schools, reassured me. I knew that the curriculum was thorough and recognised, the method tested, the trainers qualified, and I knew I was getting what I was paying for.

Because yes, it’s important to mention that CELTA is significantly more expensive than the other courses, up to thousands of euros according to the internet. I personally paid 1500€ for the 4 weeks intensive course, which included 120 hours of training, 6 hours of teaching practices and 4 written assignments (you can find the full breakdown here).

Finally a very important element is that CELTA is more catered to people interested in teaching adults, whereas TEFL courses can be aimed at pre-school and younger classes in general. And ain’t nobody got time for that.

All the elements were gathered for me to become the next great EFL teacher of this generation, so I found a local course provider and went with the CELTA.

At the time (in 2015), I was living in Galway, Ireland. I had been working for Electronic Arts for a couple of years and was slightly burned out and ready for a change. I was considering a career switch that would allow me to travel, and started looking at the options available to get an English teaching certificate.

Why English and not French (I’m a French native speaker)? For one because French is super hard, and because I strongly believe I’m not in the best position to teach it as a native speaker, since I barely understand its rules and how I speak it correctly myself. Unfortunately this seemingly logical (to me) explanation would prove to be shared by no one and become the downfall of my budding teaching career.

I went through the full-time, 4 week training CELTA course at the Bridge Mills Institute in Galway. I was going to school from Monday to Friday and working 10-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays, and looking back it was probably one of the most challenging thing I’ve done. The workload was significant and the teaching practices quite nerve-wrecking for novices, but it was as exciting as it was exhausting.

(totally inaccurate reenactment of our group preparing classes — Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

One of the things I really enjoyed was the interactions with the other aspiring teachers. The trainee class was composed of 7 teacher trainees, mostly Irish except a Colombian, and myself. Some with light teaching experience, some from completely unrelated backgrounds. The experience was quite bonding and some of us are still in touch to this day, I even lived in Germany with one of them years later!

The other huge benefit of the program was the teaching practices. Every week you’d have to teach topics you’ve just studied yourself, to actual students of the school. They were all adults learners from all over the world: Europe but also Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America… Needless to say there’s a big difference between being able to speak good English and teaching grammar rules to a group of 10+ adults, including some older than you.

But you know what? I liked it, and I pretty much killed it as well.

(my students after I gave a sensational class about the past perfect continuous)

It was a great feeling and the students were very interested and engaged, which I am sure is one of the big difference between a bunch of kids that would rather be playing outside, and a group of adults who paid cold hard cash to improve their language skills. Maybe more expectations (and definitely harder questions), but I wouldn’t have it the other way. Sorry little kids, you guys are just too annoying.

I can only speak from my own experience and I might have romanticised the course in my head years after the fact, but I remember it being quite intense and requiring a lot of work, forcing me to spend several sleepless nights preparing assignments and teaching practices.

While it was fast-paced and very demanding in terms of absorbing knowledge, you have to keep in mind that the course is quite pricey, and trainees’ failure is not in the best interest of the school. You go through a light interview process (interview + language test) before enrolling to ensure that you’re able to handle the workload and level, and the staff is extremely supportive and ready to help if you’re facing any difficulties. No one was left behind and as mentioned the group aspect was very valuable, all the trainees sticking together to make it through.

So yes the course is hard but if you commit to it, work hard and genuinely focus, you’ll be just fine. I’m not even a native speaker, it can’t be that hard.

(me after every assignment and teaching practice I passed)

Now let’s get to the nitty gritty of it because that’s what it’s all about: Will a CELTA get you a teaching job abroad?

Of course there is no definite answer. As mentioned in other great articles on the topic, each school is accredited by Cambridge but operating independently so while the curriculum and content of the course is set in stone, the career services are completely specific to each school. One school might find you a placement or be connected with employers after the course, others might not.

In my case, about half of the students in my class ended up getting a teaching job. Some were able to teach within the school directly after completing the course, while others found jobs in Nepal, Spain, and more. You will find a lot of offers online advertising for teaching jobs abroad requesting a certificate or even specifically a CELTA.

In my case however, I discovered an awful hidden truth: the fact that all EFL teachers are not created equals.

(me shedding a tear after my EFL dream shattered — by Tom Pumford on Unsplash)

There’s a harsh yet simple truth that needs to be addressed when it comes to CELTA and other EFL certificates: They’re mostly useful to native English speakers. And when I say native speakers, I mean British, Americans, Canadians, Australians.

Why is that?

It’s mostly due to the schools. As it turns out, hiring a French guy to be an English teacher sounds kinda weird. I could have guessed it, but I didn’t think it would be a problem.

Well, it was. After graduating I had countless interviews (which I might also have simply failed, to be honest), but was systematically denied for not being a ‘real’ native speaker, or offered bogus contracts (shoutout to the lady in China who sent me a contract made in MS Paint).

Another thing worth noting even though I might be the only person that thought this way: a CELTA or TEFL certificate does not matter AT ALL outside of the teaching world. It seems so obvious yet at the time I naively felt like a teaching diploma would legitimise my English proficiency with employers (since my TOEIC and TOEFL did not seem to do much), but no one ever even mentioned it to me, which leads me to think no one cares.

At the end of the day I never had the chance to use my CELTA to teach English abroad, but I don’t regret going through the course. It helped with my public speaking, my English grammar, my understanding of a class setting and was one of the experiences which led me to develop my first educational project a year later.

To sum it all up in a couple of key things to consider if you’re thinking of taking a CELTA course:

  • Are you a native speaker? Good.
  • Do you want to teach English abroad? Great.
  • Should you get an EFL certificate? Yes, you should.
  • Do you specifically need a CELTA? Probably not.
  • Should you still take the course? Hells yeah.
  • Is it hard? It’s really not that bad.
  • Is it worth it? It might be for you!
  • Can I persian snap? Absolutely.

Thanks for reading! If the post helped you at all, drop some 👏👏👏 and feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comment! For more content, find me not teaching EFL on Twitter, LinkedIn and here on Medium!

📝 Read this story later in Journal.

🗞 Wake up every Sunday morning to the week’s most noteworthy Tech stories, opinions, and news waiting in your inbox: Get the noteworthy newsletter >

Jack of all trades, master of some. Vancouver-based, I write about tech, business, MMA and education. Mostly in English, but sometimes in French too.