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What do you need to know before you take CELTA?

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I assume that since you are here, you already know what the CELTA is. If you don’t, then that is the first thing you need to know. I give a brief overview of this qualification here.

The next question I will address then is “Is the CELTA right for you?”

Is the CELTA right for you?

The CELTA is really designed for first time and inexperienced teachers who want to work for language schools abroad. It was originally designed for native speakers who were often career changers and therefore had no pedagogical background. Many native speakers also have a limited linguistic background, having only successfully learnt their mother tongue (although in some cases, this may even be questionable).

While the CELTA was designed for native speakers, many non-natives now take it. I would advise non-natives to continue taking CELTA as this will aid in getting equal recognition with native speakers one day. Even if you are a non-native with substantial experience in teaching English, a CELTA will make you more employable.

What about the required English level?

Non-native teachers should consider their level of English before taking the CELTA. Courses may demand an equivalent of 7 at IELTS (C1 CEFR). I would really advise against taking the CELTA (or any course) if you don’t meet the language requirement. You are clearly setting yourself up for failure in such a situation. It’s like signing up for a 5km run when you know you get out of breath after 1km, only with £1000 or more at stake.

Isn't CELTA for teaching adults face to face?

You may also have read or concluded that CELTA is aimed at teaching adults and in classrooms. Those are valid points too. Since a lot of teaching is being done nowadays with children and online, you may question the value of CELTA. At the moment, there are few quality options out there for qualifications in teaching young learners or online. Many teachers work in these areas do still take a CELTA and then learn what they need to about teaching these other lessons on the job.

Do I have time to do CELTA?

Finally, before you take CELTA you should know that it will consume a good portion of your time. If you are doing it full time, you should not make any other plans during this period. Part time you will be able to complete it while studying or working a job, providing you are not doing the CELTA at a busy time (e.g. while you have university finals).

How can you prepare for the CELTA?

There is no reason why you can’t do some pre-reading before you start the CELTA course.

Do I need to know about grammar?

For native speakers (especially those who are mostly monolingual), getting a firm grasp of the grammar of English language is highly advisable. You should at the very least be able to recognise parts of speech and tenses. However, the more you know the better. Getting hold of a good grammar book is therefore strongly advised. Non-natives typically have more than enough grammar knowledge for a CELTA from studying the language as a student to an advanced level. However, if you know this does not apply to you, then working through a grammar resource is also recommended.

What about the teaching side?

As for the pedagogical content of a CELTA, the two books that you should really read are Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching and Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching. These are two standard books recommend by many CELTA providers which cover much of the content of the course. Of course, the content of these books will come alive when presented by a decent CELTA trainer on a course. Reading beforehand will however allow you to take more from the in-course presentation.

What will you have to do to get on the CELTA?

I can’t say for certain that all CELTA courses have the same requirements, but providers tend to vet candidates. This is not a conspiracy as some people may be quick to assert. They want to take people who stand a chance of passing the course. For my course, many moons ago, there were two requirements – a pre-course task and a kind of open day and interview.

What's in the pre-course task?

A copy of the pre-course task can be found here. As you will see, it contains 50 tasks in 5 sections which you are expected to complete. There is no time limit to it, and they do suggest you do it in several sittings. Tasks test your knowledge in a number of areas, such as what is important to know about your learners, identifying and explaining the role of different parts of speech, understanding the difficulties students have and professionalism of teachers.

What do I do at an open day?

For the open day, I was told I needed to prepare a 5 minute lesson teaching people to do something. We presented this to a room of around 20 potential CELTA candidates before having individual interviews. My advice here is don’t teach English. That might sound counter-intuitive, but most of the people in the group did exactly that. Out of 20 people, only myself and one other didn’t teach English, and we were two of only three people that ended up on the course.

I’ll tell you why this happened. The people who taught English decided to teach a tense, or an obscure grammar rule, or in one case palindromes (and he got it painfully wrong). This meant the entire 5 minutes was swallowed by them explaining something. I chose to teach the group to play a 4/4 rock beat on air drums, while another candidate (who worked in restaurant), chose to teach how to fold a napkin. What was different about our concept of teaching was that we had less explanation, step by step instruction and, crucially, more doing. In short, during our 5 minutes, everyone was involved (including the tutors).

How do I prepare for the interview?

By the time I got into the interview, I’d say there was no doubt I was on the course. My air drum lesson had impressed the tutors. I probably would have needed to give a terrible interview to not be accepted at that point.

Nevertheless, the interview is not unimportant. The CELTA provider are at this stage trying to determine if you can meet the demands of the course, and you need to show them that you can. You can do this by:

  • showing you have read about the course and understand that it is a demanding course;
  • having some ideas about what makes for good teaching and what helps or doesn’t help students;
  • giving examples of times when you have accepted feedback or criticism and used it positively;
  • having some idea how you might explain something to someone who doesn’t know English;
  • having some ideas about how you would correct students.

When having ideas about the above points, it is not necessarily a case of being right about these points. Simply showing that you have some thought about what makes teaching effective is likely to be enough.

Finally, don’t underestimate the chance to ask questions in the interview. As someone who regularly interviews teachers for jobs I do judge candidates by the questions they ask (or lack of them). Some useful questions you might ask are:

  • What do teachers usually find most difficult on the CELTA?
  • Were there any areas on the pre-course task that you would advise me to take another look at?
  • How do you help teachers to find work post-CELTA?
  • Will I get any feedback on this interview?

The questions above show that you are interested in working out if the CELTA is a good fit for you, are open to feedback and have serious intentions to work in this field post completion.

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