120 hour TESOL* – Do you need it? Do you get what you paid for even if it’s cheap? 

 120 hr TESOL course takes 7 hours!

120 hour TEFL or TESOL Certification


[*TESOL and TEFL are interchangeable terms that refer to the teaching of speaking English to non-English speakers. It’s a narrow slice of the whole subject of English this concept of TESOL. Many times what is required by a language school are teachers who can coach a student to use spoken English more effectively. TESOL doesn’t always include the separate skills of reading and writing English.]

Are you a recruiter for a language school? Perhaps you’re an English teacher looking for professional development? Maybe you’re just getting started looking for TESOL certifcation online. The host of available TESOL courses are many and varied leading to confusion and unrealistic expectations. This post will focus on the concept of 120 hour TEFL and what it means and whether it’s necessary to be able to teach effectively.


20 or 120 does it make a difference to the quality of the teacher? It may but often doesn’t. However, it will make a difference to your bank account. How so? Well 120 hours = 3 full-time work weeks. If you take that time off to do your course (assuming it does actually take 120 hrs) that’s time for which you’re not getting paid. If you do the course around your work and it takes a lot longer, that’s an extended period of time you’re not being paid to teach. It’s called opportunity cost. But that’s not the real issue here….

If the 120 hour TESOL certification is genuinely 120 hours of instruction, mentoring and assessing, including a practicum component, then of course a graduate of that kind of program will be more qualified than one who has only 20 hours of exposure. The problem is it’s very difficult to determine if a program is genuinely 120 hours or not. Most courses we’ve looked at don’t actually stipulate an hour quantity, relying instead on the nomenclature for qualifications such as certificate (insert number here) for basic qualification, diploma for more advanced and from there we go up to bachelor’s, masters doctorate degrees. For this areticle we’re focusing on the certificate level qualification. It may or may not be post grad.

Do all English language schools require at least 120 hour TEFL course certification?

Kemp Carroll, the founder of the FlashStart TESOL Certification online course says this:

“Some students have asked this of us as they contemplate in which course to enrol. Their online research brings up results that may indicate 120 hours is a requirement.

While it may be true that some schools may require a 120 hour TESOL Certification course, it would be difficult to know which schools in over 138 countries worldwide hold to this so called ‘requirement’. Certainly not all do and in Southeast Asia and in other developing regions of the world in particular, this seems to be seldom true. Second, as to the 120 hour requirement one might ask, “Is it the website selling the 120 hour course that makes the statement that a 120 hour course is more highly regarded overseas or is it a school’s website that makes that statement?” You might ask yourself: What material and content do those 120 hour online TESOL courses cover that is of actual benefit to a TESOL teacher?


The truth is … well judge for yourself. Let’s illustrate it this way: Suppose you want to be a swimming instructor. The training course consists of 120 hours which breaks down this way: 20 hours of swimming theory – Aquatic Ape Theory: a critical examination of the Aquatic Ape Theory and whether it relates to the physiology of modern man 20 hours of the history of swimming which includes: – European Olympic breaststroke gold medalists of the 20th century – English Channel solo swimmers – Trans-Atlantic swimmers that failed 20 hours of essays, multiple choice exams, quizzes, student reports and videos 20 hours of swimming statistics i.e. – how many swimmers live in Northern Europe vs. Southern Europe – how many pools are in New South Wales, Australia 10 hours of pool plant operations – chlorine content – microfiltration processes etc 10 hours of Swimming Finances – the future of the swimming industry in the next century – Kinesian Economics and the impact on Swim Schools 20 hours of actual training in the water with a hands-on instructor….

Total 120 hours – 100 hours of swimming theory + 20 hours of actual swimming instruction

Do you really need the first 100 hours of instruction listed above in order to teach a child to swim? If your answer is Yes, then take a university level course because this is the kind of content that these courses usually offer. If your answer is No, then an effective certificate level course will be sufficient just as it has been for thousands of others. This course should be experiencial in nature giving you the practical tools you need to take a class easily.

Effective TESOL Certification courses are not online digital experiences that focus on **glottals, ***fricatives, ****sibilants, and other extremely rare and irrelevant concepts that are useless in the vast majority of teaching situations. They are not based on textbook theory, and mind numbing lectures given by tenured academics out of touch with realty. They are more akin to European style teaching courses that focus on developing real-world skill sets and actionable knowledge as opposed to unactionable theories.

In case you are dying to know: **“Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants uttered with the glottis. ***Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of [f]; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German [x], the final consonant of Bach; or the side of the tongue against the molars, in the case of Welsh [ɬ], appearing twice in the name Llanelli.This turbulent airflow is called frication. ****A particular subset of fricatives are the sibilants. When forming a sibilant, one still is forcing air through a narrow channel, but in addition the tongue is curled lengthwise to direct the air over the edge of the teeth. English [s], [z], [ʃ], and [ʒ] are examples of this.” Wikipedia)  

Note: an education professional we know took a 4 week on-line course from Cambridge University in England. He comments: “It didn’t prepare me in any way for actually what I would do once I got into the classroom, but instead covered a bunch of theories. I wasted my time and money.”” Kemp Carroll, FlashStart Language Tools’ FAQ www.tesol-certification.com

But suppose you do want to work for a school that requires you to have taken a 120 hour TEFL course. How can you know you’re getting what you paid for? Sadly many courses are not transparent and some are downright deceitful when it comes to hour requirements. To find out more we tested one such course that is promoted with Groupon – the IOA’s (International Online Academy that sells courses in many genres) 120 hour TESOL Certification Course.

Our tester timed each session and made extensive notes on the content. Here is the conclusion they reached…

  1. The course from start to finish took only 7 hours.
  2. This is a text only course, so no illustrations or graphics meaning this course is manageable for those who enjoy reading, but (most teachers acknowledge that we cannot rely on reading for effective retention of learning material).
  3. Not good for auditory or kinaesthetic learners.
  4. Lots of the content is about reading and writing. This is OK if teaching that area of English, but the course doesn’t even go near the needs of teachers who are employed to teach spoken
  5. The course cannot be annotated or downloaded for future reference. No manual was provided.
  6. There is a limited time of 60 days to complete (since it only took 7 hours it really didn’t matter though).

In review – do you have to have a 120 hour TESOL certification to be hired as a teacher online or in an English school? The answer is: sometimes but rarely. However, the school would be wise to check the quality of the course itself to see what it’s graduates are bringing to the table. It’s pretty hard to quantify how long it takes a person to read a bunch of pages. If you’re a student you’d be wise to do due diligence checks if you’re relying on a certificate of this kind in a foreign country to obtain work.

In conclusion, realistically, most schools will only hire a teacher after they’ve demonstrated they can teach. So if you’re looking to get a teaching job, the 120 TESOL Certification course from IOA won’t give you any clues as to what to do on your first day in front of the class. You’ll have to work that out yourself. (They tell you that throughout the content).

Wendy Finlayson – FlashStart Language Tools