Monday, October 12, 2009

Should You Get a CELTA or a TEFL Certificate?

If you're considering getting a certificate to start teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), you've probably come across the TEFL vs. CELTA debate. Which certification is better? Which courses are better? Which prepare you to teach adults ESL/EFL and which prepare you to teach children? Which certificate do employers prefer?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions take a lot of research and then most of the answers you find are subjective. If you ask someone with a CELTA, they're likely to say CELTA is better. If you ask someone with a TEFL certificate, they're likely to say TEFL is better. This is, of course, also dependent upon the student teacher's particular experiences at their particular TESOL certification course.

When potential EFL/ESL teachers write and ask me which I recommend, I cannot give a strong recommendation about which is best. (I can recommend my particular program, as I feel it did everything it promised and more.) I can only suggest factors to consider when making the TEFL or CELTA decision. You can read more about what to consider on my main website TEFL or CELTA page.

The one thing I strongly recommend is that after you've done your research, bite the bullet and just do choose a certificate and choose a course. Don't let the "paralysis by analysis" bug keep you from moving forward.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Choosing the Best TESOL Certificate

A TESOL certificate is one of the quickest and easiest ways to start a career teaching English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language. But with so many TESOL certificate programs to choose from, how do you choose the best one?

What type of certification is right for you? TESOL, TEFL, TESL, or CELTA? On-site or online?

Visit my Finding the Best TESOL Certificate page for tips on finding the right program for you and characteristics of the best TESOL certificate programs.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Using a Christian-Based ESL Curriculum

Sally in the U.S. wrote this question about a Christian-based ESL curriculum. Unfortunately, she didn't give me an email address to answer her. Hopefully, she'll come back for the answer.

Sally writes:

"I will be teaching ESL to Spanish speakers through my church.
I'm excited, but nervous. I've never taught ESL.

I taught HS 20 years ago -- Media and English degrees.

I have just found your site and think it will help me. I'm open to any other
help anyone wants to offer.

We don't have a curriculum or supplies. We have thought it would be good to be able to use a biblical, Christian based, curriculum. I haven't been able to find one. Any thoughts?"

My response:

Dear Sally,

That's great news, and you're right, teaching ESL is exciting. It seems that churches and other non-profit organizations are great places for non-English speakers to get low-cost or free English classes. And it also seems that these organizations are often expected to provide services with limited or no resources! That's a shame.

What and how you teach will depend upon (1) the English level of the students, (2) their age, and (3) their purpose in learning English.

You didn't mention the specifics of the first two items, but there are tons of free resources online to address the first two issues. It just takes time to find them. However, I want to address the third issue in more detail.

One thing that ESL/EFL teachers, especially teachers of adults, need to ask themselves is WHY are these students taking this English class.

In your case, Sally, is it to get a deeper understanding of the Bible or of their Christian beliefs? Or is it so that they can get a job or make advancements on their current jobs? Is it so that they can take care of the day-to-day tasks of living in an English-speaking country? Is it so that they can feel better about themselves and have more confidence in their English speaking abilities? Is it to gain "survival skills?" Etc.

The teacher has to put the students' needs first. While it's fine to approach a class from a particular orientation, in this case a Christian orientation, the lessons should be something that the students can use in the "real world," in their day-to-day lives. The material and topics covered should be transferable to the students' lives outside of the church.

I don't know of any Christian-based curriculum, Sally. You may be the person to create such a curriculum. I would just suggest that you find a way for students to transfer the English skills that they learn with you into their day-to-day lives.

Best of luck,


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Someone Has Stolen My ESL Blog

Yep. Some unscrupulous person has stolen all the content from this ESL blog and posted as his or her own. Amazing.

You can see the thief's blog at I guess he or she is a little behind, though. The last post the thief has as of today is only through February 1, 2009.

I've been writing this ESL blog since March 2007. For the first year, I wrote a post every day. It's a little disheartening to see that someone has stolen all of my work. But life goes on.

I've mentioned before how I advertise on and that I often get responses from scammers, people trying to steal money from other people. Now here's one more way for people to be dishonest.

With the internet there are just so many ways for unscrupulous people to behave. But there is a lot of good that can come from it, too. So I'll focus on that.

I suppose this world economic situation has people doing things that perhaps they would not normally do.


Monday, August 31, 2009

How Twitter Helps ESL Students Learn

Besides advertising for ESL students online and my ESL blog and websites, I must admit that I'm a bit behind with all the social networking opportunities on the web. However, there is no doubt that English learning opportunities abound with the world wide web.

Here's a post by guest author Donna Scott on ways to use Twitter to help ESL students learn.

Donna Scott writes:

Twitter isn't just for bloggers or niche networking: it's also a great educational tool. From sharing links and study materials during your off time to encouraging students to keep up the conversation outside of class, Twitter has unlimited potential for learning. ESL teachers can turn to the microblogging platform for word games, quizzes, contests and vocabulary challenges. Here are different ways Twitter can help your ESL students learn more effectively.

  • Students can't go over 140 characters. This fundamental rule challenges students to use the phrases, vocabulary words and abbreviations that allow for the character restriction.

  • Extra space for learning materials. On Twitter, you can link to supplemental online education materials, upload videos and photos, and add music to your posts so that your students can continue learning even after class is over.

  • Set up private groups. There are lots of ways to create groups on Twitter, allowing you and your students to play word games and talk about assignments in a shared space that's also private from the general public.

  • It forces them to become a part of the greater conversation. Connect your ESL students with native English speakers by encouraging them to follow celebrities, news feeds, and industry insiders from the subjects they like to follow.

  • Track words. With Twitter, you can track words to find out all of the conversations that incorporate that word or key phrase. This is an excellent exercise for ESL students, as you can show them all the different meanings of a word.

  • It provides a central place for messages and announcements. If your class or school doesn't have a website or a private spot for you to make announcements online, Twitter is great for sending direct messages to your students and giving them free access to chats, extra material, and more.

  • Use polls: Ask your student to participate in Twitter polls (Poll Daddy has a Twitter feed, for example) to get feedback from them about lessons.

  • Create group stories. One student will start writing a 140-character story, and each student will take turns writing the next "chapter."
This post was contributed by Donna Scott of She welcomes your feedback at DonnaScott9929 at

Please let me know your thoughts on this article or if you have any other suggestions for how to use social media to teach ESL to adults.--Thanks, Debra

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

10 Conversation Starters for the ESL Classroom

by Guest Author Karen Schweitzer

Getting adult ESL students to engage in conversation is a great way to promote classroom learning. The following article offers a list of 10 conversation starters to get things rolling in the ESL classroom.

1. What is your favorite thing to cook at home? Ask each student to name their favorite dish to cook at home. Encourage them to list the different ingredients and the different steps involved in making the dish. You can also ask students to use various words and phrases to describe how the finished meal tastes.

2. I've never… Ask one student to name something they have never done. For example: I've never been to New York. Afterwards, anyone who has been to New York or knows someone else who has traveled to this destination must tell a story about the experience.

3. If you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be? Ask every student to state what type of animal they would be if they could choose. Then ask them to explain their choice to the class.

4. Where are you from? Ask one student to state the name of the city or town they live in. Encourage everyone else to ask the student one question about this city or town. For example: Where is the best restaurant? What is your town known for? How many people live in your city? If everyone in the class lives in the same area, you can change the question to: Where did you live when you were ten years old?

5. What is your favorite movie? Ask one student to name their favorite movie. Allow each student in the class to ask one question about the movie. For example: How long is the movie? Have you watched this movie more than once? Where were you when you first watched the movie?

6. Name three things in your bedroom. Ask each student to name three things that can be found at home in their bedroom. You can make this conversation game more difficult by not allowing students to repeat any of the three things mentioned by a previous student.

7. What was the last item you purchased? Ask each student to name the last item they purchased from a store. Then, ask the other students to ask questions about the item. For example: Where did you buy it? How much did it cost? Was it on sale?

8. Pretend you are only allowed to use one of the following items during the next year: a computer, a car, or a flushable toilet. Ask each student to choose which one of the three items they would keep for the next year if they had to make a choice. Then, ask them what made them choose that item.

9. What is your dream job? Ask one student to tell the class what their ideal job would be and why. Then, ask the rest of the class to name jobs that are similar to the original student's dream job.

10. Describe your first job. Ask each student in the class to describe the first job they received payment for. Encourage them to share as many details as possible about the type of work they did and the people they worked with.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes about online colleges for


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Becoming Qualified to Teach ESL

Gail from the U.S. writes: How do I go about becoming qualified to teach ESL to adults? I have taught English for 30 years to junior high school students. I am looking for something rewarding to do. I've always enjoyed working with ESL students in my public school.

Dear Gail:

Teaching ESL to adults is certainly rewarding. And it sounds like you have a great start. As for "becoming qualified to teach ESL," it will depend upon where you want to teach. Will it be as a private ESL tutor such as myself, in an adult school, in a non-profit? The qualifications required will vary depending upon where you want to teach.

Please take a look at my page How to Start Teaching ESL for a more extensive answer.


AU Coupon Code: 879122

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Should I Start Another ESL Forum?

Does the Internet need yet another ESL forum? Here's why I ask. I receive tons of emails every week asking all sorts of ESL-related questions. Apparently, people aren't getting all the answers they need on the web.

Here are just two questions that I received today:

"Hi! I am a student who will be teaching English abroad for the next year and am interested in purchasing some of the books you describe on your blog. Do you know any place where I might find them cheaper than on Amazon? Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Thank you!"

"I am an American living in New York. Is it better for me to take my teaching certification here in N.Y or to go overseas and study over there? I am confused as to which is a better option in regards to being prepared to start initially in the country I want to teach in (does this give me a better head start?) or to start here and find a job through the internet once the course is through. Please help. Thanks."

While I love hearing from readers, I find that answering these questions takes A LOT of time. Plus, I just don't always know the answers.

So here are my questions to my readers:

1. Do you think it would be useful for me to set up a forum on my main website Teaching ESL to Adults so that readers can ask me AND other readers ESL-related questions?

2. Or are there already enough ESL forums out there?

3. Would you visit and participate in a new forum on my website Teaching ESL to Adults?

Please use the "contact me" link to your right to get back to me.

Thank you for taking the time to tell me your thoughts.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

ESL Students and Superbowl Sunday

In addition to learning English, many of my ESL students are interested in learning about American culture. Well, today is one of those days that I (previously) wouldn't have thought about as "culture." But when you have nearly one out of three Americans watching the game, I guess you can't say this is not a part of our culture.

For some reason, native English speakers who otherwise don't care at all about football are suddenly transformed into hard-partying-fans on this special day. Is it really about the game? Or is it simply a day that brings us all together and gives us some sense of "oneness" and belonging? And how does it do that?

Whatever this day is to us as Americans, it is definitely a part of our culture. And as such, the customs around this day can be shared with our ESL students. It also serves as a starting point to ask our students about similar events in their home countries and we can encourage them to practice their English by telling us about such events.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mr., Ms., Miss, Mrs. for ESL Students

The titles Mr., Ms., Miss, and Mrs. are often difficult for English language learners. And it's something so basic to native English speakers that ESL tutors and ESL teachers often take this for granted. Perhaps, I should speak for myself. I often take it for granted.

I usually notice that these titles are difficult for ESL students when they are reading aloud. This leads to an impromptu discussion about the pronunciation of each of these titles, as well as how to appropriately use them. (There's also an opportunity for a small reinforcement of the s/z distinction and voiced and unvoiced sounds.)

These titles can also lead to a mini-history lesson about the title "Ms." And even in how to address letters.

The two main points here are that for the ESL teacher or tutor, there are lots of ideas for lesson plans, and flexibility is important during a class.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Gung Hay Fat Choy! 2009

Happy New Year! The celebrations never end! This year is The Year of the Ox. We're just leaving my year, The Year of the Rat.

As I mentioned last year (I don't expect you to remember!), Spring Festival is one of the more (if not the most) important traditional Chinese holidays. It's also celebrated by other East Asian cultures and countries.

Holidays celebrated by ESL students, and in their home countries, provide great ESL conversation topics. Anything about which ESL students have a lot of knowledge are great conversation topics. People like to talk about things they know about. And there's an added pleasure, sometimes, in teaching another.

The task of the ESL teacher or tutor in a conversation class is to encourage the English language learner to talk by asking questions and showing their interest in what the speaker has to say.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration of Barack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the U.S.A. today. For this ESL tutor, last night and this morning was like Christmas-time for a child. I could hardly sleep and then I woke up at 5 a.m. I was too excited to go back to sleep. This is a day I never thought I'd see. The challenges are great, but it feels like there is hope in the air.

I'll be meeting with an ESL student later today. Although we're supposed to focus on job interview preparation, it will be hard not to include some discussion of today's events. Of course, as a private ESL tutor, the student's requests and needs are primary, so we will be sure to continue with our planned class, for the most part.


Monday, January 19, 2009

The Best MLK Day Ever, So Far

As the author of this ESL blog, I really try to keep the topics somehow related to ESL, EFL, or English Language Learners and I especially try to be helpful to other ESL tutors and ESL teachers.

And yes, Martin Luther King Jr. Day could be used as a conversation topic for ESL classes. This could lead to other ESL conversation topics such as race relations, racism, dreams, homogeneous and heterogeneous nations, American history and culture, "mutts," etc. In short, this day can be the starting point for many conversation and speaking topics in the ESL class. It's up to the imagination of the teacher.

However, since this is my ESL blog, I want to take the liberty just to write my own thoughts about this time in my life and in American history. In short, I'm stoked. The inauguration of our country's first African American president is something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. And for it to follow the day that we celebrate the man who had "a dream" is awesome.

While my nation still suffers from inequality in many ways, we have achieved a part of Rev. King's dream. He said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

We are on the eve of the day when our future president was judged by the content of his character, rather than the color of his skin.

To repeat, I'm stoked!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CELTA and TESOL Comments

Over a year ago I wrote an article called CELTA or TESOL for Private Tutoring. To this day, I continue to get comments from readers criticizing CELTA teaching centers and CELTA in general. Some of the emails have been quite strong and people have taken a significant amount of time to write their lengthy comments.

This blog and my site, Teaching ESL to Adults, are primarily for the benefit of ESL/EFL teachers and tutors, so I suppose this information from people who have studied for CELTA certification is useful to pass on to others. And the decision between CELTA and TESOL certification is an important one for the potential new ESOL teacher.

While the comments submitted have been critical of CELTA courses, I'm certain that there are many, many people who have had good experiences with their CELTA training. However, it seems to be human nature (or at least MY nature) that we take less time to praise something and more time to criticize.

Noteworthy to me is that there have been no complaints submitted against any TESOL certificate training programs. I know for myself, my TESOL training was some of the best training I've ever had and it thoroughly prepared me to start teaching English to speakers of other languages.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

ESL Accent "Deduction"

I recently received a response to one of my ads advertising my private ESL tutoring services. The potential student wanted help with "Accent Deduction." Of course, the proper term is "Accent REduction."

Not really much more to say about this...It's just one more of those things where word choice is important, but can sometimes be confusing for English language learners.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reader Asks How To Start Teaching ESL

An email from Eileen in the U.S. asks:

"I am new to Chapel Hill, NC. I want to return to teaching ESL (I taught at Berlitz in the U.K. many moons ago) and need to know whether I need to be certified, where to start, etc. I would appreciate any advice on what to do first. Thanks!"

The requirements for teaching ESL will depend on many factors, such as where you want to teach, the type of institution, students, etc. Please read my page on How To Start Teaching ESL to get more information to start teaching ESL.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"It Sure Has Been Cold Lately"

Yesterday at one of the coffee shops I use as an "office," the owner/server started making small talk about the weather. (It was cool and drizzly.) As an ESL tutor, these seemingly inconsequential conversations are not wasted on me.

"Small talk" is one of the frequent areas of concern for many of my ESL students working as professionals in the U.S. Native English-speakers take this for granted. No big deal. But for English language learners, small talk can be a challenge.

Appropriate topics for small talk, how much small talk to make, when is it appropriate. All these are concerns for my ESL students.

So when the coffee shop owner from Morocco started talking about the weather, it did not go unnoticed by me!


Monday, January 5, 2009

"Musical Offices" for ESL Tutors

As a self-employed ESL tutor, I have several "small offices" all over my city. To some, they look like coffee shops. In fact, they are. I have different "offices" for each part of my self-employed life.

I meet my private ESL students at one particular coffee shop that is convenient to public transportation and local colleges (to make it easier for my students who are traveling or meeting me before or after classes).

The coffee shop doesn't mind me sitting and meeting with students for hours on end. They also have the right size tables and decent chairs. However, amazingly, they don't have internet access. I guess people would never leave if they had internet access.

I'm currently in another one of my "offices." In this office, I work on my website (Teaching ESL to Adults) and other projects requiring internet access.

It's tough being a self-employed ESL tutor. ;-)


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I wish all my ESL students past and present (and all blog readers) a happy, prosperous and safe 2009.

With so much violence going on in the world right now, it's hard to focus on the good things, on the hope so many of us have for this coming year, for the world, and for Americans, for our country. I don't have any suggestions for focusing on the good things. But I do know from past experience, that life goes on.

For ESL teachers and tutors, students will still come to us with a desire to learn and improve their English. We will still take time to prepare lesson plans. We'll still look for ways to help our ESL students learn. Private ESL tutors will continue to look for new students. Teachers in public and private schools will continue to be underpaid. Life goes on.

May we all experience hope this year, and love and prosperity and happiness.