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ESL Certification : What It Is, Why You Need It And How To Get It

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ESL certification is the most important thing you need to teach English as a second language. We’ll go over where you can get certified, what it entails, how much it costs, and how long it takes.

Having proof that you completed the standardized training to teach English as a second language – to people whose primary language is not English – is the best, and often only, way to start a career in this rewarding profession.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

What is ESL Certification ?

ESL certification is testament to your achievement of completing a standardized course to teach English as a second language.

Before we get into how to get ESL certification, let’s identify a few acronyms related to teaching English as a second language.

ESL is the acronym for English as a Second Language.  When thinking about teaching English to foreigners, this is what most people think of.

TESL means Teach English as a Second Language and is the catch-all term for most ESL companies.

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. These programs are intended for teachers who plan to go abroad and teach English on an academic level to students whose primary language is not English.  Think of it like your High School Spanish class; your teacher was fluent in Spanish and taught you the proper use of grammar and pronunciation.

TESOL is the acronym of Teaching English to Speakers of a Other Languages and is the training for teachers who work with non-native English speaking students who live in an English speaking country.  This is more of a daily communication methodology

All of these acronyms satisfy the same basically criteria: you’ll teach English to someone whose primary language is NOT English.  However, the differences in the degree of teaching determines what type of course you choose to take.

And when it comes to certification, TESL, TEFL, and TESOL are frequently used interchangeably because there is a lot of overlap in grammar, pronunciation, and overall usage.

Why You Need ESL Certification

You need ESL certification to teach English as a second language for many popular companies.

In fact, for a lot of companies, it is the main requirement no matter if you’re teaching online or in a classroom setting. 

Also known as TESL certification (teaching English as a second language), It is the one thing that will almost guarantee you a good ESL job (with a few exceptions: iTalki or PalFish)

Let me explain further:

Most countries require English language teachers have a Bachelor’s degree – or you’re in the process of getting one – as well as prior teaching experience. Therefore, it stands to reason that companies that specialize in ESL expect those requirements, too.  And because ESL companies look for the best-of-the-best English speakers to teach their students, the more education you have, the better for them.

For example, here’s a look at DaDa’s ESL requirements:

So yaaa…you really need ESL certification if you’re serious about teaching English as a second language.

ESL Certification Requirements

ESL Certification must meet certain standards and be internationally accredited; such standards are validated by ESL companies and include:

  • Training must be at least 120 hours of coursework.
  • At least 6-20 hours of live practice teaching and observation with a non-native English speaker that is not role-playing with fellow TEFL classmates.
  • An accredited curriculum from a recognized, independent organization within the English teaching field.
  • Instruction provided by a qualified instructor who has an equivalent to a Master Degree in TESOL or related field.

How Much Does it Cost to Get ESL Certified ?

ESL certification will cost anywhere from $200.00 for the bare-bones-120-hour-reguired training up to $2,000.00 for much more thorough certification.

The cost of certification depends on the type, or the combination of, teaching you plan on doing as well as how you get your certification.

Let’s go over the types of training:

  • Local (your home town) on-site certification can run you $1,500-$2,000 and is university level training that usually takes four weeks of intensive study.
  • Abroad on-site certification can cost $1,000-$2,000 and consists of similar level training as on-site local. The difference in cost between local and abroad certification is primarily due to lower tuition in other countries.  But, don’t forget the cost it takes to travel to another country.  Besides the lower tuition cost, another plus to training abroad is the ability to become immersed in the local culture and environment.
  • Online certifications cost between $200-$600 and is by far the cheapest option.  However, when looking for online certification courses you’ll want to be on the lookout for a few things:
    • is the course accredited?
    • does the course meet the 120 hour training requirement validated by employers?
    • is the instructor qualified?
    • how long do you have to complete the course?
    • is it interactive, meaning you have assignments to complete as well as quizzes and ways to track your progress?
  • Hybrid Certifications, a combination of on-site and online training, typically costs around $300-$1,000.  This is an interesting type of training because it allows you to travel to your desired country and participate in an online course with face-to-face classroom experiences.

There are a few other things to consider when it comes to figuring out the cost of TESL/TEFL/TESOL certification.  Travel and lodging, books and other course material, and the cost of the actual certificate (which is usually around $50-$70) are add-ons that will increase the overall price of certification.

How Long Does it Take To Get ESL Certification?

ESL certification from an accredited school is lifelong, meaning it never expires.  As far as how long it takes to complete a TESL, TEFL, or TESOL training course and receive certification, 120 hours is the typical required minimum and plan on spending at least 4 to 6 weeks of hard study time.

That said, some on-site courses may take longer due to the extensive classroom time and practice sessions while some online courses claim to last only two weeks.

For example, tell us you have 6 months to complete this course and most of their students finish within 10 to 12 weeks.

Premier TEFL’s online course, on the other hand, has several levels, with up to 290 hours of self-paced training that takes 3 to 8 weeks to complete.

Let’s go over the two main factors to determine how long it takes to get an ESL certificate:

#1, the minimum number of hours for training,


#2, the type of training for the teaching you want to do.

#1 Minimum hours of ESL training

The standard requirement of ESL companies is 120 hours of certified training and many ESL training courses have levels up to 240 hours.  Some online courses certify you with considerably fewer hours, however, getting a job with a legitimate ESL company may be difficult.

#2 Type of training

Choosing the certification you need depends on the type of teaching you want do.

For instance, do you plan on going abroad to a non-English speaking country ?  Then a TEFL-centric course is for you.

Do you plan on staying in an English speaking country and teaching to non-English speakers ?  TESOL certification is your best bet.

Now let’s go over where you can get the right ESL certification.

Here’s Where To Get Your ESL Certificate

All TEFL training courses go over the same principles, with each company offering different packages with additional learning material.

The main learning material contain:

  • The four key areas of language acquisition: reading, speaking, writing, pronunciation.
  • Understanding the nuances of teaching English to non-native speakers.
  • English grammar terminology and know how to teach it to students of all levels.
  • How to manage classroom and student behavior effectively in school and business settings.
  • How to plan and deliver fun and engaging lessons to young learners.
  • Where to find and create effective learning materials, text-based and digital to target language use.
  • Where to find the best jobs through each program’s jobs board or social media profiles.

Here are the 5 best places to get your ESL teaching certification.  These training programs are accredited and offer in-person and online certification.

#1 The TEFL Academy

The TEFL Academy specializes in accredited Level 3 and Level 5 TEFL courses, taught by qualified as TEFL teachers with years of actual teaching experience.

On completion of one of the TEFL courses, you will be fully qualified to teach children and adults, offering endless opportunities for employment across the globe.

Offering support across the USA and UK, The TEFL Academy boasts more jobs than any other TEFL training program.


  • 3 TEFL training levels:
    • Level 3; 120 hours of training.
    • Level 5; 160 hours of training.
    • Combined Level 5; 168 hours of training.
  • Internationally recognized.
  • Approved by US Department of Education and regulated by UK government.
  • Free access to international jobs database.
  • Specialized grammar unit.
  • Teacher support.
  • 20 classroom practice course in the combined program.


  • $432.00 (on sale for $125.00) for the level 3 training.
  • $500.00 (on sale for $206.00) for the level 5 training.
  • $880.00 (on sale for $405.00) for the combined level.

Check out The TEFL Academy here.

#2  Premier TEFL

Premier TEFL is another well-established and accredited online TEFL course but what sets this one apart is their 3-levels of training.


  • 3 level-5 courses of training:
    • 180-hour course that takes 5-8 weeks to complete and 6 months to access the course if you need to refresh. There are 70+ page Grammar eBook, In-depth Lesson Planning eBook, and a TEFL app offering 24/7 study access.
    • 240-hour course that takes 5-8 weeks to complete and 6 months to access the course if you need to refresh. Covers everything in the 180-hour course with an additional 30 hours pro-level English teaching and 30 hours teaching business English.
    • 300-hour course takes 7-11 weeks to complete with 6 months to access the course if you need to refresh. Covers everything in the 240-hour course as well as 30 hours teaching young students and 30 hours dedicated to the International English Language Learning Testing System (IELTS)
  • English Government regulated.
  • Internationally recognized.
  • Personal tutor support
  • Experienced DELTA qualified teachers
  • Organized teaching practice
  • Internships available.
  • Jobs board.


  • $659.00 (on sale for $285.00) for 180-hour course.
  • $800.00 (on sale for $305.00) for the 240-hour course.
  • $1,100.00 (on sale for $335.00) for the 300-hour course

In addition to these 3 courses, Premier TEFL offers virtual and hybrid courses, ranging from 130 hours to 320 hours with prices from $649.00 to $1,699.00.

Study From Home! Shop Premier TEFL Courses Now!

#3  myTEFL

myTEFL has a 4.8-out-of-5 star reputation score from some of the leading certification review sites.  This place is a close match to the other 3 companies I mentioned, with similar course curriculum, course lengths, and price.


  • 4 course levels:
    • Fundamental Classroom Management, 40-hour course
    • Advanced Approaches and Grammar, 80-hour course
    • Professional TEFL Instructor, 120-hour course
    • Master TEFL Instructor, 140-hour course
  • Member of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL).
  • Recognized and moderated by the Online TESOL and TEFL Standards Agency (OTTSA).
  • Online or on-site training.
  • 24 hour tutor support. 
  • Job placement.
  • lifetime access to course and library.


  • $139.00 for the Fundamental Management course.
  • $249.00 for the Advanced Grammar course.
  • $299.00 for the Professional course.
  • $349.00 for the Master course.

Check out myTEFL

#4  Lets TEFL

Lets TEFL is an accredited 120-hour TEFL course that focuses on the basics of the English language.  Covering everything from vocabulary to reading to listening to writing, this is a company that puts an emphasis on preparing you for the different teaching techniques you’ll use as an ESL teacher.

Using their online teaching video guide, you’ll learn how to teach English to foreigners both online and in classrooms around the world.


  • Extensive training material, including:
    • How the ESL industry works.
    • Material students need.
    • How to teach grammar and tenses.
    • Ways to practice speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.
    • How to create and use lesson plans.
    • You’ll learn motivation and management techniques.
    • Techniques to teach kids, teenagers and adults.
  • Job placement service
  • Resume and CV guidance
  • Access to live chat tutors.
  • In-depth review and feedback of your assignments.


$179.00 for the entire 120 hours.

Check out LetsTEFL

Over To You

As you can see, the first step to becoming an ESL teacher – and working from home or abroad – is a big one.  One that must not be ignored.

Excited to get your first ESL teaching job ?

Are you ready to start training to become an ESL teacher ?

Feel free to leave a message below and let me know where you are in the process.

First Step To Become An ESL Teacher

4 thoughts on “ESL Certification : What It Is, Why You Need It And How To Get It”

  1. Hello,
    I have a question. I am an ESL teacher but not certified. I have my master’s degree on TESOL at CCNY. Do I still need to get those courses to get certified as an ESL teacher? I am also teaching ESL at a college in NJ.
    What do you recommend me?


    1. Hi Tulin,

      An ESL certificate is a requirement for many companies, although some companies will hire ESL teachers without certification as long as you have at least a Bachelor’s degree and teaching experience.

      For instance, QKids does require ncertification before lessons are assigned and SAY ABC doesn’t require certification but a Bachelor’s degree is necessary.

      To help you decide which company to consider, my post on the best ESL companies to work for outlines the requirements of several popular companies.

  2. Camilo Esteban Vélez Marín

    I really found this so useful. I have been teaching English for almost 10 years and now, I feel I can improve y teaching skills by getting one of the mentioned courses. From Colombia, greetings and blessings.

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