TEFL is an acronym for Teaching English as Foreign Language. Most people that take an accredited TEFL course and get certified to teach as native English teachers in countries in; Asia, the Middle East, South America or even Europe, do so to travel, experience different cultures and make money. With teaching English being the means to an end instead of a goal or a career choice. Getting a TEFL certificate allows one to capitalise on being a citizen of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States of America or South Africa because these countries are recognised for having English as a national language. With English having positioned itself as the universal means of verbal communication, it has become very important for non-English speaking countries to prioritise it as an academic subject. Thus, non-English speaking countries have made use of fresh graduates, adventure seekers or those looking to change careers in the aforementioned English-speaking countries to help students in non-English speaking countries to become acquainted with speaking, reading and ultimately comprehending English to empower them with access to more information, opportunities and give them exposure to people of different backgrounds.
There are varieties of TEFL courses taught but the minimum requirement for most jobs is a 120-hour course
There isn’t necessarily a preference to recruit educational professionals as individuals with no criminal records that are native English speakers from one of the seven countries mentioned, that have a diploma or a bachelor’s degree, and the basic ability to manage a classroom and teach a language that is unfamiliar to students are deemed acceptable – hence the TEFL certification. There are varieties of TEFL courses taught but the minimum requirement for most jobs is a 120-hour course. You are required to fulfil 120 hours of teaching time so that you get a comprehensive understanding of teaching English to non-English speakers. Different teaching methodologies and techniques are taught to allow prospective English teachers to optimally engage with students.
In contrast, a teaching degree is a more structured and set qualification that is attained with the primary intention to teach long-term. I completed a 120-hour TEFL course at the UCT Language Centre and that was over the course of a month whereas a teaching diploma takes 18 months and a degree in teaching takes 4 years. My reasons for moving to South Korea to teach English were; to get an opportunity to live in a country with a rich and fascinating history and socio-political arena; have a change in scenery; eat all the delicious foods I saw in K-Dramas; have an opportunity to earn a very comfortable salary; and to indulge my love for English through teaching elementary students.
Prior to starting the TEFL course, I deliberated what it means to be a part of an international project to mainstream English and I felt like there was an element of perpetuating the idea of English as a superior language that has the power to determine one’s access to a career and/or academic opportunities. This feeling was informed by my experience as a Xhosa person and how I had once internalised the idea that my English abilities directly correlated to my intellect at the expense of my mother tongue. I did not want to impose a language and marginalise the native language of the country I would teach in.
However, my experience in South Korea showed me that learning another language does not need to come at the exclusion or erasure of another; it is simply an additional skill that one can gain. Whilst I was there, I came across people that were fresh out of university, people that intended to teach for a gap year and ended up staying for many years and those that realised that they have a passion for teaching English and pursued teaching qualifications whilst teaching English as a foreign language. So, if you are unsure about which route you’d like to take, career-wise, I would recommend doing a TEFL course then teaching in that capacity to test the waters whilst making a decent living and enriching yourself through cultural exchange and travel. If your dream is to be a teacher, I would suggest that you get a teaching degree and gain experience in your home country because a TEFL certificate does not allow one to teach in English speaking countries whilst a teaching degree will be a great addition to a TEFL qualification should you decide to move elsewhere.
If you would like further information on the process of doing a TEFL course and reputable institutions in countries like Brazil, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam or Spain, check out the UCT Language Centre. If you want to teach English in South Korea or China, Goldkey is a brilliant organisation with legitimate ties to the respective countries that assists with application processes at no costs.