Saturday, December 26, 2015


This post is a request from Adam Simpson over at He wrote a post outlining all the reasons why the CELTA is not a waste of time. I commented offering a counterpoint, and he asked me to open up a more vivid debate. I agreed. I don't actually blog about EFL specifically, I blog about my life in Asia, and EFL when appropriate. So I am just hoping to offer my views on the CELTA, and see what others say.

I should preface this blog by stating that I don't disagree with everything (or even most) of what Adam wrote. It is a good foundation course. A job that demands a CELTA is *probably* not a Mickey Mouse operation. Where you do it, in an ESL or EFL context matters, and you need to research that before you jump in. However, there were two issues he brought up that I want to start with, and then I will open up a wider discussion. Because Adam did a largely pro-CELTA post, mine will take a more critical tone. This is in the interests of providing a balanced debate, rather than any vendetta against CELTA or any other 120 hour training course. I actually am largely happy that I did my CELTA, though if I had it to do all over again I am not sure that I would bother given my situation and context.

I will also state up front that I passed the CELTA (though just a pass) after finishing an MA in linguistics/TEFL and graduating with merit (3-3.5 GPA for those of us on the western side of the Atlantic). I also have six years of experience teaching EFL, mostly in Korea but some in Thailand as well. I did my CELTA in Vietnam. Therefore I came in not as a new teacher, but with a lot of experience. I wanted to break (or at least be made aware of) a few bad habits I had. I also wanted my teaching ideas assessed by a professional. I got my wish with the first one, but not the second. I figure and reader may want that info/bias up front. Anyway, to the discussion.

CELTA does NOT prepare you for real teaching.

Adam had a contributor who noted that CELTA does not prepare you for "real teaching" and this was one of my biggest issues with the CELTA. I remember my first day as a Korean cram school teacher: 6am (pacific NA time zone) Saturday morning flight to Seattle. Six hours in Seatac. Flight to Seoul Incheon. Transfer to Seoul Gimpo. Fly to Ulsan. Arrive Sunday at 9pm Korean time. Roll in to work the next day where I am introduced to my boss "Cristine" who hands me a book with a dinosaur on the cover and says "ok, go teach." Well that was brief job training. In I go with a bunch of 12 year olds. Would a CELTA have helped me with that? In the sense that I could have thrown a lesson together probably. But during the CELTA I was told that I would have time to prepare classes. I wasn't prepared for the one kid who decided to test my Korean knowledge by swearing up a storm. Behavioural issues, we didn't cover that. These students can't read the phonemic chart and they don't know what past progressive is. How can I teach them when they don't already know it and don't care to learn? My CELTA students didn't do this!

My CELTA students were all VERY motivated Vietnamese students. In six years of teaching I have NEVER had a whole class at any level this excited and engaged without any discipline issues (with kids) or just tired/very hungover (with adults). Individual students certainly, whole classes do happen, though not as often as most teachers would like. However, even in the best class problems do happen. Not with these students. It was amazing, it made my job easy. This class does not exist in real life. Rude, exhausted middle schoolers, hung over freshmen who have to take 6 credit hours of English, Businessmen who need a certain TOEIC score. These are also real students, and they can be a lot of fun, but it also requires skills that the CELTA does not even reference. Adam's third point, that the CELTA is a good indicator of whether you're up for the job, is totally undermined by the fact that the CELTA does not prepare you for the reality of teaching. I will revisit this claim later.

A final point with this is that most CELTA graduates will start off in private cram schools. These are businesses. CELTA needs to explain to teachers that it is a business and you will have to make business choices, or have them thrust upon you, at the expense of what is in the best interests of the student. In my CELTA we were given a list of things to do and not do in a young learner class, and we had to guess which we were to do and which we were to not do. One way, and I am paraphrasing here- change curriculum or level students up based on parental demands. I said you shouldn't but you probably will. Tutor and trainees (who have never worked in private education) objected. I answered that if you say no, the parent will go to you boss, angry, and demand that their student level up. Your boss, who is running a business, will say yes. This is because your boss has invested their money and family assets in to this business. Your boss may not appreciate your ethical stand, but will see you as a troublemaker. The correct answer is that you ask the parent to go to your boss and do what your boss says. My trainer and the two tutees decided I was wrong. Teaching that pedagogy is more important than business in a business. Lots of issues with that. The one that sticks out with me is the idea that a CELTA graduate knows more about what is good for their students than their parents and their boss, and that this is encouraged. Especially when it is not their money and reputation, but that of their employer, which is on the line. You won't do what your boss wants you to do and level that kid up because CELTA says so? Good luck with your first job at a private academy, you're gonna need it. This also leads me to my second point.

.... well maybe teaching English isn't for you.

This is what I wrote on Adam's blog, I'll let it stand as is:

"I’ve also found the arrogance of celta trainees hard to take. Like in jobs they have a celta and if you don’t, or you did it but have issues with it, you get the “well maybe you’re in the wrong profession” response. Yeah, I guess the three weekends we sacrificed makes us amazing teachers. I am sure your Japanese co-teacher with a BA in education, a teachers license, and seven years experience is very impressed with you. Get over yourself. If you weren’t a native speaker no one would even look at you. "

I'll temper that a bit by saying that this mythical Japanese co-teacher with her 120 weeks of experience probably started off with similar foundation courses, and that many CELTA grads will go on to get these things, I just find it comical that this 120 hours course (intense though it is) is considered so important. I think CELTA trainers would do a great service to their trainees by pointing out what it takes for non-natives to become EFL teachers... and how much money they make in comparison to us natives. Of course if they did they would also have to admit that....

......CELTA actively promotes native (caucasian) speaking accents and pronunciation

This, without a doubt, was my biggest issue with the CELTA. I've never experienced a context in which the phonemic alphabet is still used as a teaching tool. As a tool for linguists and educators sure, but to teach to students? I have certain issues with teaching pronunciation to absolute correctness anyway, mostly because there is no such thing. But more philosophically, because when it is taught, it is taught to promote the sort of accent that is only common among native speakers, and often only caucasian ones. As a simple example I offer the word "the." How do you pronounce "the?" Google offers this in phonemic script:
Is that correct? Well my North American, Anglo-Celtic accent says yes. However, I have heard it pronounced as Zhe, de, duh, and dah. So which is it? How do we decide who's English is correct? Do we go with what the majority of English speakers use? Well that means Indian accented English is correct, though even they are nowhere near a majority. Do we go with England's English, as that is where the language originated? I'll make sure to let the Americans know that 'water' is not 'wota', I am sure they'll switch over right away. Do we go with the accent that is most familiar to everybody and try to get everyone to sound like Anderson Cooper? Do we just try to make EFL learners sound as much like native speakers as we can by making them say "the?" That's the CELTA method, and that is how the British say it, how Americans say it, how African-Americans say..... oh wait...

The CELTA method still insists that we teach pronunciation in the MFP (meaning, form, pronunciation) hierarchy. To a point you have to, I mean how can you use English to communicate if pronunciation is such that two speakers can't understand each other? However, when you promote correct pronunciation to that degree, you indirectly teach that other accents are incorrect. This is especially true in test heavy EFL contexts such as China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan, where students are looking for, and trained to look for, a single correct answer. If your students can speak so you understand them, that is great. My Korean students all speak English with Korean accents. They said "de" and they are not wrong.

My CELTA trainer (who was actually an amazing guy) said that you just teach in your accent. This was evaluated fairly for all of the native speakers in our class.... much less true for the non-natives. Non-natives sometimes put the emPHAsis on a different sylLAble that a native speaker does. Are they wrong to say it that way? Furthermore, while my Canadian accent is, in theory, acceptable. The pre-course task had a section on phonemic script that I did with an American woman and we struggled.... until we realized that in the Queen's English, the "r" at the end of a word like "sugar" is dropped. I was also corrected on my phonemic script when writing the word "inviting" as I pronounce it with more of an "e" sound (envite). Sorry eh, my Canadian accent's wrong dere eh. But I guess this isn't a huge problem unless you work somewhere that demands a CELTA and wants you to follow the CELTA method. This brings up my next issue with CELTA (wow did I crowbar that transition in there).

It is NOT a requirement to teach

CELTA, contrary to what they say, is NOT a requirement to teach EFL. In fact, the overwhelming majority of teachers DON'T have one. On my last day of CELTA I was told by my CELTA trainer not to work for a company that doesn't demand a CELTA. Comically bad advice. This includes most university jobs, public school jobs in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan (who often want a 120 hour certificate, but make no distinction between a CELTA and Bill and Ted's Excellent Online TEFL) and the overwhelming majority of cram schools (of various levels of integrity). In fact, the only places that demand the CELTA also make a lot of money offering it. In fact I once had a boss in Korea who told me that she AVOIDS CELTA trainees because she has to spend so long de-programming them to get them ready for Korea. CELTA trains its trainees in ONE methodology. An effective one I grant, but it is only one. This creates two problems that I see, the first pedagogic, and the second legal.


Telling teachers that there is one methodology to rule them all is just wrong. Krashen argues that explicit grammar instruction is simply a waste of time. Others such as Ellis and Willis have conceded that it can be useful to teach it explicitly at times, but still largely argue against it and see it as a last resort. I mean if Krashen is saying to skip MFP in a lesson, the least you can do is acknowledge that that thought exists, even if CELTA won't cover it. My own personal view is that a class should open with the teacher at the front explicitly setting out what the class should be like. I love group work, and enjoy giving huge chunks of my class over to it, but I firmly believe, especially with young learners, that any lead in should be very teacher centred. The fact that none of these scholars, or at least their ideas, are even discussed in CELTA is scary, but it makes sense when you realize that.....


..... it isn't a general teacher training course. Since it is not a requirement to teach, in the way that medical school is a requirement to practice medicine, it seems less and less like teacher training and more and more like companies making potential employees pay for their own training before picking the trainees that they want. This is an illegal practice in many places where the CELTA is offered. If I want to work in the automotive industry I apply to companies. If I get hired by Toyota, it is their responsibility to train me in their company methods, values, and goals. These skills are not necessarily transferable to Mazda, Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai etc. Toyota may want me to have an engineering degree before they will hire me, but that is transferable to any automotive company. It is Toyota's responsibility to train me in what is required for their company, and they pay for it. In the same way I may require a BA to teach EFL, but CELTA is specific training for specific companies and may not be transferable to another company. Yet CELTA trainees still fork over $1700 for it.

Both of these points also undermine the idea that CELTA is a good indicator of whether or not you are up to teaching. It is an indicator of whether or not you can use CELTA's restrictive methodology well. The arrogance that assumes that CELTA is the only indicator of a good teacher is both scary and unjustified.

Is it a good choice to get one?

Again, I'll let what I said on Adam's site stand:

" is not necessary in the largest and most profitable EFL markets (China, Korea, Japan). Cram schools in Korea need a BA in any subject and the public schools just want a tefl certificate but make no distinction between the providers. Universities want an MA, the celta/delta is worthless. China you don’t even need that. a BA gets you in at a University, public school or a private school. You want to spend a few years abroad making cash and have a BA, go to China. You’ll be told exactly what to do and you’ll make serious cash. If you want to do efl for an extended period, it is a useful tool, but hardly necessary."

"You want a career? Skip the whole thing and get an MA in linguistics/TEFL. You want to start out 2k in the hole but do a better job than your coworkers, get a celta. You take pride in doing a good job? A celta will help. Will you be any worse of financially without it? Absolutely not. Will you be at a disadvantage in a workspace with a celta graduate? Really depends on the company I think, but in my personal experience no."

Of course, if you want to work somewhere that requires one, get it. If you're an experienced teacher and want to learn a new methodology, it might work for you. Overall though it is helpful, but by no means necessary. If you're planning to spend two years abroad to teach and pay off student debts, travel, and generally have an adventure you don't need it. You'll be better at your job initially, but quite simply you don't need it. If you want to become a better teacher, it will help a lot. However, unless you work at a university or a good public school you probably won't be doing that much lesson planning anyway. There is a whole debate that rages about whether English teaching is even a profession. I believe that at the university and public school level it certainly is, and it can be at many reputable private institutions, but for many people (most?) it is a few years abroad travelling and paying student debts. I'll hammer this point home, it is very useful, but you don't NEED it.

I want to wrap up by emphasizing that this is focusing on the negatives of the CELTA as a balance to Adam's blog. I could do another blog discussing the positives of it, for there are many. I guess for me, what it came down to was that what I gained from the CELTA was not worth the emotional, physical, and financial effort it cost me. Had it had been an 8 week, $1000 course I would still have these issues, but recommend it wholeheartedly. As it is, if I had it to do over again I probably would pass. Unlike my MA, which was rough at times, but in hindsight was one of the most amazing things that I have ever done, and can not recommend it enough, the CELTA just kind of happened, and looking back I think I miss the time and cash more than I would miss not having a CELTA. I hate to break it down to a cost benefit analysis, but I know of no better way to evaluate it for me personally.

I hope others find the time to comment and discuss. Anything I left out or am dead wrong about?

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