Why Everyone Talks About CELTA and What You Should Do If You Don't Have One

Why Everyone Talks About CELTA and What You Should Do If You Don't Have One

Hey Folks.  Steve here. You know… the bearded half of Hal and Steve English. Today we’re going to talk about ESL teacher certification, specifically CELTA and what it should mean to you.  If you’re too busy to read this all at once, no worries. Just download it here... or click the image below.

Alright, let’s dive in…


If you’re an ESL/EFL teacher, then you’ve probably heard this term tossed around a time or two.  

For our European friends, CELTA is just another entry level job requirement.  Like passing an exam to become a licensed Microsoft Office wiz, CELTA is a pre-requisite for becoming an ESL teacher in many European schools, academies, and universities.

I had the opportunity to chat with Richard Kelly of Language Link, a London based CELTA teacher training center, to get to the heart of what CELTA is and isn’t.

What is CELTA?


CELTA is a TEFL certificate.  The acronym itself means Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  It was developed as an entry level qualification for ESL teachers just starting up. It was designed by Cambridge English Language Assessment, which is part of the organization responsible for many of the world’s standardized English tests, including IELTS.

Ninja Edit: I made a mistake!  CELTA was started by John and Brita Haycraft from International House in 1962.  It was later taken over by Cambridge English Language Assessment in 1988.   Thanks to Sandy Millin for pointing this out!

CELTA isn’t just any TEFL certificate


TEFL programs are a dime a dozen.  A quick search on the internet reveals there are at least a few hundred of them promising great results to prospective teachers.  That’s not quite true, though.

In the world of ESL, many of those online TEFL courses are treated with the same reverence that any old diploma mill deserves. You might have better chances of handing over a McDonald’s receipt with “I teach English” scribbled on the back than you would with many of these certificates for sale online.
Many of them are disreputable simply because of their method.  Richard summed it up for me best,

“The major difference between the two is the practical element of a CELTA course. Much of the theory and information will be similar and for online courses that have live tutors and assignments will be even more similar. With a CELTA course though trainees have to actually put those ideas into practice under observation. Many of them feature teaching practice from the second day of the course to (volunteer) learners.”

You’re in the thick of it.  Day in and day out. For a solid month.  

Much like any intensive course, the full time program CELTA is a month long bootcamp.  That’s a far cry from the casual nature of many online TEFL courses, where you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home.   Not only do the trainees follow a rigorous agenda, but the trainers are also regularly evaluated.

Should I take it?


You shouldn’t feel any less of a teacher for having never taken a CELTA course.  The program itself is meant for folks just starting to teach.

Where are you on the path of becoming an ESL teacher?  If you haven’t accepted your first job, then absolutely!  There’s no better program than CELTA.

Have you been teaching for a few years?  Well, in that case, you’ve got to consider the pros and cons.  Richard put it bluntly:

Potentially a teacher with a CELTA and a teacher with an online TEFL, after a few years working and both following through on their professional development, shouldn't be that different but that initial training makes it much easier to get started and hopefully corrects the formation of bad teaching habits (just like teachers need to correct mistakes so learners don't develop persistent errors).”

So if you’ve been teaching for a while, and you’re really killing it at your position, then CELTA might not add to much value to your career (might want to look at DELTA in that case).

However, let’s be critical of ourselves for a moment.  Do you regularly lesson plan?

I mean… do you actually write thorough lesson plans for your curriculum?

Or do you just show up, jump into the classroom, and teach a full shift without any preperation?

In that case, you are still a fine fit for a CELTA course.  

There are plenty of other situations, as well: f you’re unorganized, if you don’t fully understand the differences between ESL and EFL, if your kids aren’t progressing well.  

Hell, maybe you’re unhappy in the classroom and you need someone to put your head back on straight.  CELTA might be something to pursue.

And there’s NO WAY that I can just do this online?



You are requried to regularly attend in person classes and perform observed instruction in a designated test center.

Sorry folks, but that’s just the way it is!

Where can I enroll?


You can join a CELTA program at any accredited prep center.  The Cambridge Assessment website has a pretty awesome search engine that you can use.  Just type in your region and have a look.

Click here for the Cambridge Teaching Certification Search Engine.

For all of our ESL teachers in East Asia, I’ve got some sad news… there aren’t too many centers out there.

Hey! I'm in Korea. Why aren’t there many CELTA centers in Asia?


Well, there isn’t really a high standard for ESL teachers in Asia.

Don't’ take that the wrong way. I’m one of the CELTA-less teachers in Asia, as well.  But the truth is, Europe and the United States hold their ESL teachers to a much higher standard than Asian countries.

For China, South Korea, Japan, usually a 4 year degree from one of the 5 Native English speaking countries is enough to get you a job.  Some claim to require some sort of TEFL certificate as well, but as I’ve previously said, you can basically print those things off the internet.

If you’re a citizen from one of those countries, then simply knowing English is enough to get you a job.  I live in Korea. I own academies in Korea. Whenever I’ve had a teaching job open, I’ll receive dozens of applications.  Not a single one of them has ever held any type of TEFL certificate, let alone a CELTA.

The entire industry is pretty relaxed in regulations.  And until they get a bit more selective with their teachers, there won’t be much need of CELTA centers.

Don’t worry, you can still find a few centers in China and Vietnam


As long as you’re in the area, then you can enroll in one of the programs available in China or Vietnam. 

Unfortunately, if you’re a South Korea based ESL teacher like me, then your options are pretty limited.  You might have to take a 1 month break from your job just to hop over to Seoul or another country for the intense CELTA course.

Steve, what do you think?


Buckle in, kiddos… because you’re in for a bit of a rant.

What do I think of CELTA?

To be entirely honest, I hate that I don’t have a certificate.  I’ve never been one to ‘half-ass’ anything. Whenever I choose a project or career, I go 100% in on it. I’m the type of guy who picks a new interest and immediately subscribes to 100 youtube channels to learn as much as he can.  And I usually make sure I have something to show for all of that effort.

I never really had an opportunity to do that with ESL.

As you’ve probably read in my other posts, I didn’t consider ESL teaching as a career.

I was just one of thousands of American kids who decided “I’m going to take a gap year after University and travel!”

And that’s exactly how ESL recruiters described teaching abroad when I first inquired.  

I was fully invested in the ‘travel’ aspect of ESL abroad, but I wasn’t fully invested in the teaching. 

If you think that sounds superficial, then you’re right.  It is.

After my first year in the Korean countryside, teaching a batch of “Teacher, CANDY!!!!”-shouting middle schoolers, my perspective changed.  I wanted to become the best teacher possible.

But my options were limited.  I can’t really take a month off of work, not now that I’m married with a kid.

Given the time and the opportunity, I’d JUMP at the chance to enroll in a CELTA program.  Even though I’ve been teaching ESL for a while, it’s one of those ‘life experience badges’ that I really regret missing.

So, what’s my opinion?

Enroll in a CELTA program, especially if you live nearby a center.  Just do it, as the folks at Nike like to say. You never know when you’ll get the chance.

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