Definition of TEFL: The acronym means the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language, usually in a country where the first language is not English. It could therefore be applied to any teaching situation where the English Language Learner (ELL) has a first language which is not English.
Who can be a TEFL teacher?
The profession of teaching is regulated throughout the world, although the level of regulation varies from country to country. This is also true of the EFL teaching sector, however, there are some differences. The teaching of EFL has two main sectors, public and private.
The public sector mainly includes government institutions such as schools and higher education institutions.
The private sector includes private schools and language centers and a large number of self employed freelance teachers.
Each of these sectors is regulated in slightly different ways. This regulation includes employment issues such as, who is qualified to teach, visa and work permit regulations for foreign teachers and so on.
As there are regulations for each country and different regulations for each sector it would not be possible to indicate all the possible variations here. We can however make some general statements to answer the question posed.
In general there are a number of factors that are used by employers to determine suitability for a teaching position and these include:
1) Age: You will see maximum and minimum ages for some teaching positions.
2) Nationality: You will see some preferred nationalities stated for some teaching positions.
3) Qualifications: You will see that most jobs require a minimum of a 120-hour TEFL certification.
4) Experience: You will see that some jobs require some previous teaching related experience.
Why is TEFL certification important?
As mentioned and as we might expect, education is a highly regulated endeavor. As you would expect in any profession, whether educational, medical, or legal etc, practitioners need to have some training in order to provide a safe and useful service.
For the teaching of English as a foreign language it is expected that teachers have the subject knowledge needed to teach effectively. They also need to demonstrate some knowledge of general teaching theories and methods in order to deliver a structured curriculum.
TEFL courses have been designed to specifically cover these areas, giving an overview of each of these topics to allow a new teacher to enter the classroom and start to learn their craft.
Do you have to be a native English speaker to teach EFL?
For the majority of teaching positions around the world including online teaching, you will find that being a native English speaker is not a requirement. Having the language level of a native English speaker is however a requirement. One of the ways of showing you have a suitable language level is through gaining a TEFL certification, which includes some form of language awareness testing.
There are other English language level testing examination systems that as a non-native speaker you should also consider, these being systems such as IELTS and TOEFL.
For native speakers you should also be aware that you may have a good practical knowledge of English, but do you know enough theory to explain conditionals, active and passive sentence construction and the tenses of English, to a class of adult English language learners?