Want to Teach English Abroad? Pack a CELTA.

Want to Teach English Abroad? Pack a CELTA.
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Mickey Gast December 1, 2015

If you’re thinking of teaching English as a foreign language abroad, you’ll come across a lot of acronyms. The most common of acronym will probably be CELTA, which is often a requirement for instructors who teaching English in countries where English isn’t a primary language.

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What is CELTA?

The Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA) is an intensive 120-hour program for people who want teach English as a foreign language (EFL). The certificate is administered by the University of Cambridge through accredited teacher training centers throughout the world.

Why should I work toward the CELTA?
If you plan on teaching English as a foreign language, having a CELTA will open many doors. While the certificate is not mandatory, it’s listed as a requirement in job advertisements throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In some countries, possession of a teaching certificate is a work visa requirement.

The CELTA signals to potential employers that you’ve met an international standard of practice in teaching English. Plus, jobs that require this credential generally pay better than those that do not.

Finally, being a native speaker does not mean you’ll be a good teacher. This is where the CELTA can help. Pursuing this credential can help you start your career on the right foot, studying the ways language works and the best ways to explain it to non-native speakers.

How do I complete the CELTA coursework?
You can take the CELTA full-time (four to five weeks) or part-time (from a few months to a year). Another option is to use blended learning, in which the reading and studying components are completed online and through self-study, then combined with hands-on teaching practice in a classroom.

There will be no indication on your diploma whether you took the course full-time, part-time, or through blended coursework.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that taking the course in person may help you to learn from and network with your peers better than taking an online course would. Since you’ll also be observed by peers during your teaching practice, getting to know them beforehand might help ease your nerves when it’s time to stand up and teach in front of them (not to mention a class full of students).

What should I look for in a CELTA center?
The center must be certified. Only official Cambridge English CELTA centers can grant the credential. After the course, the University of Cambridge will issue your diploma (it will actually ship from Cambridge). Before you commit to a program, be absolutely sure it’s accredited.

All official centers have standardized syllabi, meaning that centers in Bangkok, Istanbul, and Seattle will all teach the same curriculum through the same methods. All CELTA centers must guarantee a minimum of 120 classroom hours (called contact hours), which includes observing experienced teachers, getting individual consultation from educators, planning lessons, and learning other practical skills. Those seeking the certification will also spend a minimum of six hours teaching while being observed by peers and teachers.

How do I choose a CELTA center?

With around 350 certified centers in 70 countries, picking a center that suits your needs and your budget may be daunting — there are many, many options.

Three sound criteria to keep in mind are the price, the reviews, and the center’s location and resource offerings. The Cambridge English Language Assessment website includes an up-to-date list of accredited centers.

The price of the CELTA depends both upon the country where you take it and the individual center. Some may offer accommodations and amenities while you are in the program, for example, while others only charge for the curriculum. Of course the price will also depend on the cost of living in the country where you’ll be working toward the CELTA. For example, one program offered in any of four Vietnamese cities charges about $1,625 for a course, while a center in southern Thailand asks students for $2,600 (which also covers an apartment, meals during the week, and access to extensive athletic facilities). There is similar variation among European centers, though prices tend to hover around the $2,000 mark.

No matter which program you choose, be wary of any center that asks for a deposit before you’ve been accepted into the course.

An important thing to bear in mind is that the observed teaching component of a CELTA course will take place with real students. (In other words, it won’t be mock teaching a group of your peers or supervisors.) What this means is that the types of students you teach during your program will be the same types of students you’ll teach if you get a job in that country. This is why most trainees recommend that you take a CELTA in the country where you intend to teach.

Before selecting a program, you should look into its reviews. Certificate recipients often post online about their experiences at a given center, and this can help you to get a better feel for what your course will be like. CELTA is standardized, so what you’re learning will be the same, but different centers have different facilities, resources, and instructors, all of which will play huge roles in your eventual course of study. Since a given program may be halfway around the world (and visiting more than one may be impossible), these reviews are an important glimpse into the workings of a center.

How do I get admitted to a CELTA course?
Officially, the requirements for being accepted for a CELTA program are straightforward. First, you have to be 18 years old and must have graduated high school. Your English level has to be at least C1 or C2 on the Common European Frame of Reference for Languages (known as the CEFR scale). Speakers at this level are considered “proficient.”

Unofficially, each CELTA center sets its own pre-screening process. Centers stand the risk of losing their accreditation if their dropout rates are high, so they usually take the time to select applicants who are serious about the program, and who can cope with the rigorous demands of a CELTA course.

It is in the best interest of the centers to be highly selective, and they often are. In fact, if the center that you’re considering seems to not give much attention to pre-screening candidates, you might consider that a red flag.

Most application processes will consist of a pre-interview test (often called a task sheet) and an interview. The test is meant to gauge your knowledge of English grammar and your ability to find the right textual references to back up your claims. While previous teaching experience is not a requirement, you will need prior knowledge of English grammar and language acquisition theory. Your CELTA center will recommend the bibliography you need to be familiar with before the course starts.

Your interview experience will obviously depend on who the interviewer is, but its main purpose is to determine whether you’re a serious candidate and whether you are coming to the course with some knowledge of grammar and teaching.

The questions interviewers ask usually take the form of classroom scenarios. They’ll explain a situation and ask what you’d do in response. It’s also a test of whether you can think on your feet, as you’ll have to do in the classroom.

What will I learn?
The CELTA is geared toward beginner teachers, so you will learn the basics of teaching English. The syllabus is divided into five modules, called topics:

  • Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context
  • Language analysis and awareness
  • Language skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing
  • Planning and resources for different teaching contexts
  • Developing teaching skills and professionalism

Your course will cover a range of skills — managing a classroom, assessing student performance and achievement, planning for different teaching contexts, developing language awareness (grammar and pronunciation), and integrating all four language skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing) into your teaching. The final module of CELTA addresses ways of preparing for the job market and advancing your teaching career.

What is the assessment?
CELTA courses don’t include final exams. Instead, your assessment will be composed of four written assignments (usually around 1,000 words) spread throughout the program, and six hours of observed teaching practice. The course isn’t graded on a letter scale; students will either pass or fail. Passing grades include pass, pass with a B grade, and pass with an A grade, which is the highest distinction. According to 2014 statistics from Cambridge, roughly 5 percent of students fail or withdraw, and 5 percent receive a grade A pass. Nearly 67 percent of candidates pass, while almost 24 percent earn a grade B pass.

Here are four things to be cognizant of as you begin planning.

Preparation for the Curriculum
Nearly every center has a recommended bibliography or reading list that you’ll be able to access via its website even before you apply. If you’re really serious about getting a CELTA, you should start reading and studying well in advance. The more time you spend reading before the course starts, the less you’ll struggle in the midst of it.

Awareness of Time Commitment
It’s a really intense course. No matter whose CELTA brochure you read, all of them seem to mention this. The course requires an intense time commitment — usually classes and observed teaching for eight hours a day, followed by three to four hours of homework and individual study at home.

Cambridge explicitly warns candidates they should expect a minimum of 80 hours of homework throughout the program, so it’s in your best interest not to make other plans while you’re enrolled in a CELTA course.

Knowledge of the Course
CELTA instructors will teach and assess a certain method of teaching. The program teaches you to treat students as resources and to encourage communication among them. Lecturing in front of the classroom is a no-no; teacher talking time (TTT) should be kept to an absolute minimum. If you’ve been teaching without certification, you might have developed habits that CELTA assessors frown upon. It’s in your best interests to play by CELTA rules while you’re going through the program, even if you might not agree with some of them.

Overcoming Discomfort
A CELTA program will get you out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. Teaching requires some degree of public speaking and performance anyway, but while you’re taking the CELTA, you’ll face public scrutiny (with the goal of helping you improve, of course). You will be observed by your training teacher and by your peers while you’re delivering a lesson in front of students you’ve never met before.

During these lessons, everyone observing you will take notes on your performance — then they’ll discuss them. In other words, you’ll have many, many opportunities to receive feedback, but that feedback may not always be nice to hear. You must go into the course with the expectation that you’ll be a better teacher. The price of this new competence may be a few hits to your ego.

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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