How many TEFL hours do I need? Most important things to consider.

This is a common question posed by those wishing to start their journey into Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Here, we will look at the courses out there and the requirements set by the industry itself to help you figure out which is the best first step for you to take.

What courses are out there and what’s the difference?

There are a wide array of courses available for those wishing to start their journey into teaching ESL, whether it’s online or overseas. With no industry standards set, it can be really confusing knowing which course will meet your needs with such a variation, from “professional” courses, to “diplomas” and “master” awards. That’s before you even start to explore the more specialised areas!

As each of these course names will mean different things, dependent on who you study with, it’s best to focus more on the hours of study and what’s included in the syllabus itself.

Looking across the TEFL courses available, you can study anything from 20 hours up to 600 hours. These can cover anything from the basics of teaching English as a Foreign Language if you’re interested in getting a basic understanding of the subject, to much more in-depth techniques for those looking to specialise and further their careers.

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Is a Master TEFL course equivalent to a Master’s Degree?

With the inclusion of the word "Master" appearing in many TEFL course names, there is a lot of confusion as to what this really means. In fact, it can cause issues if your certificate contains the word "Master" when it comes to legalise your document for use overseas.

Unless your course is OFQUAL regulated or studied at a recognised university, it’s important to remember that a TEFL award is a training course and not a qualification in itself. Therefore, a TEFL company can not award a Masters Degree which will be recognised by the UK Government.

What are the important modules a course should cover?

Any course you study should include at least the methodology of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, as well as a module on grammar. It makes sense to cover teaching methods in a TEFL course, especially one geared towards this specialism, but why would native speakers need to cover grammar?

Well the majority of those who decide to teach ESL won’t have studied grammar in-depth, let alone have an understanding of how to teach it to speakers of other languages. English grammar can be notoriously difficult to non-native speakers, so gaining a good foundation is imperative to make you effective at teaching it to others.

Beyond these two core modules, you can decide which suits your needs best. If you feel you lack knowledge and confidence in lesson planning, choose a course which offers a module dedicated to this skill. You may decide that managing a classroom in-person is something you need to equip yourself for, and there are courses who focus on refining this technique.

There is a course out there to suit everyone; start by making a list of what matters most to help guide your search.

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How do I decide which course and how many hours I need?

Answering the questions “how many TEFL hours do I need?” entirely depends on what you plan to do with your training after it’s been completed. Things you need to bear in mind when choosing a course include:

  • What mode of teaching you’d prefer (online/in-person)
  • Which country you’d like to teach in, if in-person
  • Whether you want to work as a teacher officially or simply volunteer
  • If you want to teach adults or children
  • If you’d like to teach in a language school or higher education institution
  • Whether you’d like to teach general English or specialise in a certain area

One thing is certain: if you plan to teach in person in one of the most popular TEFL destinations, such as China or Vietnam, you should aim for a minimum of a 120 hours in a course.

This is because 120 hours is now seen as the industry standard. If you want to keep your options open, without having to complete further courses if you decide to change jobs, destinations or mode of study, a course of this level will stand you in good stead.

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Minimum requirements to teach in China

To teach ESL in China, teachers will need to have 2 years teaching experience (which can be demonstrated through a legalised letter from your former employer) or hold a minimum of a 120 TEFL course, as well as a degree in any subject. The TEFL course you complete can be online, in-person or blended learning.

If 120 hours is the industry standard, why do both longer and shorter courses exist?

Good question. Some courses which are less than 120 hours are “tasters”, if you would like to gain a little bit of experience as a hobby or would like to get an insight into what’s involved before committing. You may also have previous experience and just want to refresh your knowledge and ensure it’s up to date.

A few countries offer positions, either paid or volunteering, which will accept short courses. These can include destinations such as South Korea (Republic of Korea), South America, Thailand, and Taiwan to name a few.

There are also short courses which specialise in certain areas which are designed to be an add-on to your standard learning. These include teaching children, adults, class management, business English or online teaching. Whilst these aren’t necessary, they can certainly help boost your CV and give you more confidence in your work.

Longer courses are usually studied by those who wish to teach in the upper levels of the education system, such as universities, international schools or in higher paid business settings. An individual may also choose to pursue a more advanced course for their own personal progression and understanding.

Starting with the most basic course isn’t a bad thing, as you will gain most of your experience when you’ve actually started to teach. You may decide to specialise later, at which point you could choose to study further.

How long does a 120 course take to complete?

The course “hours” are a throw-back to when TEFL study was purely in-person. The standard length of a course ran for 5 days a week, 8 hours a day for 3 weeks. As courses moved online, it was difficult to control the length of study time as naturally some students will work through certain sections more quickly than others.

Now, the hours stated in a course are more a reflection of the depth of information included and the amount of topics covered. No one is going to time you when you move through the modules to ensure you’ve spent the full time quota!

If you are able to dedicate a lot of time to studying, you could complete a 120 hour course in as little as a week. It’s important to make sure that you don’t rush through the content and give yourself time to absorb the information, however. Don’t worry about doing some further study if you feel the need to clarify something or expand your understanding in a certain area.

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Looking for a TEFL course in the UK?

Check out our easy to use list of government-recognised UK TEFL courses. You can easily filter the variety of courses to find what you’re looking for!

Remember that this list is constantly being updated; if you would like a TEFL certificate legalised which isn’t on the list we may still be able to help. Get in touch with our team who will be able to advise you.

Does it matter if the course is online or in-person?

In terms of finding a job, no. Whether you would feel more confident taking either of these routes is down to your personal preference. If you’ve never taught before, and you’d prefer to get in-person experience of managing a classroom, you may opt for attending a course near you.

On the other hand, if you’re confident you could teach a class but simply need to learn the methodology of TEFL, or only plan to teach online once you qualify, there is an array of purely online courses available.

There are also several blended learning options, where you do the majority of learning in your own time, followed by workshops you can attend to put your skills to the test.

key takeaways

Key Takeaways

Whatever your situation, make sure the course you choose ticks the boxes for what you want to get our of your journey. An extended course might seem like a great idea, but could end up costing a lot of money whilst not providing any additional benefits. At the same time, try to commit to at least 120 hours. This will put you in the best position when it’s time to look for your first job role, wherever and however you teach.


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Ashraf Vachhiat
Ashraf Vachhiat

Ashraf is the Marketing Technologist at Vital Consular, which means he handles all the technicalities involved in bringing this blog to life! He also enjoys creating in-depth articles around current affairs which impact the travel and relocation industry. In his free time, Ashraf relishes travelling as much as possible, and is always looking for quirky spots to take some great photos.

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