Lessons from Abroad: Why You Need a TEFL Certification

Written by Abroad101 All-Stars, Sarah and Tami

Having both taught English in Asia, we’ve spent many a lunch hour arguing over which country has the wildest, wackiest open-air markets.  Tami may have bargained her way to a pair of Buddha-shaped sunglasses in Korea, but Sarah haggled over smiling pig heads in Thailand.

One thing from our time abroad that we absolutely agree on though, is the advantage of having a TEFL certification.  Without one, it’s hard to be an effective ESL teacher in the classroom, and as one student put it, TEFL doesn’t mean Teaching English For Laughs.  Ok, maybe sometimes it does.  But with a TEFL certification, you’ll learn how to apply humor in a way that reaches your students, so you’re not left with a room of blank stares after making a witty pun.   We want to share some of our own personal stories that reflect our reasoning to why we think obtaining a TEFL certification is so valuable.  Sarah, who taught in Thailand, received TEFL training before teaching abroad, while Tami taught in South Korea without a certification (though she wishes she had).

A TEFL certificate will help you think on your feet: Sarah’s thoughts
During my TEFL training, I was sometimes frustrated with the copious amount of ice breaker activities I had to learn.  It felt like I had an ice breaker for every occasion: ice breakers for when it’s hot, ice breakers for when there’s no electricity, ice breakers for when it’s a Wednesday afternoon!  I didn’t appreciate these until I found myself teaching on a random hot Wednesday, and the power went out.  Thanks to my TEFL training, I had a plethora of activities in my back pocket to draw from, and like a trooper I ‘kept calm and carried on.’

A TEFL certificate will give you confidence: Tami’s thoughts
When I was thrown into my first class with NO preparation, NO books, and absolutely ZERO confidence in my ability to teach a class, I quickly realized how valuable TEFL training would have been.  I was fortunate that I had incredibly understanding, adult students who appreciated learning about superlatives through numerous examples of why I had the craziest and worst boss ever.  With a TEFL certification, I could have been the most organized and effective teacher they had ever had!

A TEFL certificate will teach you how to teach English: Sarah’s thoughts
Sure, I can speak English, but can I teach it?  I quickly realized the answer was no.  Despite “youtubing” School House Rock for hours, I couldn’t figure out why my students weren’t getting the function of a conjunction.  After my TEFL training however, I discovered the intricacies of linguistics, and a new way of thinking about my own language.  And that made me a better teacher.

A TEFL certificate will teach you intercultural sensitivity: Tami’s thoughts
Going back to Teaching English for Laughs…I certainly had a few of those. When having a discussion about Western vs. Asian dining customs, I asked students if they preferred to sit at the table or sit on the floor when they eat.  When I came to my last student, I was literally brought to tears when one student proclaimed he liked to “shit on the table”.

IF I had a TEFL certification, I may have learned a thing or two about intercultural sensitivity and how laughing with (ok, maybe at in this situation) your student is an absolute no-no and will almost always result in your student resenting you. I later had a taste of my own medicine when I was practicing my Korean and accidentally told a student to come to bed with me in Korean….but that’s another story.

And if you need more reasons on why you should teach English overseas, read more teach abroad posts here!