The importance of going beyond CELTA

It has been four years since I passed my CELTA course, which proved to be a life-changing experience because it allowed me to start working in a new field and move to another continent. It also gave me an opportunity to be trained by knowledgeable tutors who provided me with useful advice. I highly recommend this course to aspiring teachers.

That said, it’s important to note that CELTA is a foundation-level qualification with very low minimum entry requirements. I often compare it to a four-week boot camp that provides you with basic survival techniques. This blog posts focuses on the course’s shortcomings in order to demonstrate why it’s necessary to keep improving as a teacher after obtaining the certificate.

Tips for getting a CELTA Pass A

It doesn’t address the use of L1 in the classroom
My teaching practice group on the CELTA course comprised students from four different countries, so there was no other choice but to use only English in the classroom. Even if your group is monolingual and you speak the students’ language, CELTA promotes the idea of teaching English through English. Of course, this is something practical because your lessons are observed and you can’t require tutors and assessors to be able to speak all kinds of languages. Being able to teach English without referring to L1 is undoubtedly a very useful skill to have, but if you land a job in a country like Colombia, using the learners’ mother tongue in the classroom can be really helpful.

It doesn’t prepare you for teaching young learners
The A in CELTA used to stand for adults. The certificate’s official name now refers to speakers of other languages instead, but it still didn’t provide me with any kind of training for teaching young students. When I was assigned my first course with ten-year-olds, I was completely out of my depth because you simply can’t treat children as adults. You can eventually figure out how to deal with teenagers, but teaching children while equipped with just a CELTA can be a very challenging experience.

It doesn’t pay much attention to phonology
To be fair, we did have two input sessions on teaching pronunciation. The problem is that this area is so complex that you need to spend much more time on it. The sessions were mainly about having fun with the phonemic chart, which was quite confusing and I had no idea how to use it in the classroom. The observed CELTA lessons didn’t need to include any in-depth pronunciation teaching; simple drilling activities were considered to be sufficient. If you wish to help your learners improve their pronunciation, you need to understand how individual phonemes are produced and why being aware of features connected speech is crucial for understanding spoken English. It all started to make more sense to me a year and a half after my CELTA when I read Adrian Underhill’s book Sound Foundations.

It promotes a flawed approach to teaching skills
If you decide to take a Delta Module Two course, you will most likely be told by your tutors that you need to move on from what you were taught during your CELTA when it comes it teaching skills. This is particularly emphasised when it comes to receptive work because the comprehension approach with the usual pre-, while-, and post- stages is based on testing what the students already know, and that’s not good enough. You can actually do much for your learners by teaching relevant sub-skills and processes that can help them understand texts. I found John Field’s book Listening in the Language Classroom extremely helpful in this regard.

It doesn’t deal with SLA
CELTA is a very practical qualification, which is great because you learn a lot of useful techniques. However, it is quite prescriptive and you are just supposed to do what your tutors tell you. There is no time for reflection on why you are teaching in that particular way. If you are a curious person, you’ll probably want to know how people learn foreign languages. Being aware of the main SLA theories can influence your decisions in the classroom. Again, reading about this area takes a lot of time, so this is not something that can happen overnight.

It can lead to complacency
Obtaining a CELTA is very helpful in terms of career prospects. Even if you have an unrelated degree, you can take this short course and you will find it relatively easy to land an entry-level TEFL position in quite a lot of countries. Losing your job isn’t the end of the world because you are likely to find a new one somewhere else with this certificate. This safety net can have some negative effects, though. The last thing you should do after getting your CELTA is become overconfident, think you’ve made it as a teacher, and rest on your laurels for the rest of your career.

The point of this post is to emphasise that CELTA will show you only the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more to learn about ELT. Taking this course is definitely a good decision, but I think that it should be seen as a starting point in one’s professional development rather than something that will transform you into an amazing teacher. I believe that it’s important to build on the knowledge gained during the CELTA course and be open to learning new ideas about teaching English.

I understand that the idea of professional development may seem overwhelming to newly-certified teachers. There are so many books, articles, blogs, and other resources, and you may not know where to start. In that case I recommend reading the recently published ebook 100+ Professional Development Tips for Post-CELTA Teachers written by Pete Clements, which is a very useful resource for those who have just gotten their CELTA or CertTESOL. You can read my review of the book here.

Mike Long: Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching

When you start teaching English in Colombia in an entry-level position, you are usually given a coursebook and told how many units you are supposed to cover. I assume this is common in many parts of the world because it’s the most convenient way to teach languages. However, it doesn’t seem to be the most effective approach. It’s definitely a good idea to explore other options, so I would like to focus on a book written by Michael H. Long, a proponent of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT).

Long’s work deserves a lot of attention, and I recommend that you listen to this interview with him on the SLB Podcast. I had written a draft of this blog post about his book Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching several months ago, and this paragraph originally included more positive information. Sadly, Professor Long passed away in February this year. You can read more about this brilliant scholar and his impact on teachers around the world on this website created in his memory.

Mike Long: Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching

The first part of the book deals with second language acquisition (SLA). I find this topic fascinating because the fine details of our language learning process are still shrouded in mystery. Long does a great job of describing the main SLA theories and their practical implications. Even though I had previously studied ideas of well-known academics like Krashen and Prahbu, I learnt something new about their work. Right from the beginning, you will notice that Long is very diligent when it comes to referring to books and studies. In fact, there are no fewer than 56 pages of references at the end of Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching!

Long argues against treating languages as objects, and he is definitely not a fan of the synthetic approach. Dividing a foreign language into small pieces and teaching them one at a time doesn’t necessarily lead to good results. My own experience as a Spanish learner and an English teacher certainly confirms that assumption. Why do so many Colombian students say “he have” when the present simple is dealt with in one of the first units of every coursebook for beginners? I don’t think that we learn languages by simply imitating what the teacher or the coursebook says. Half of my students keep saying I am agree, but I have never taught them that and it doesn’t appear in the coursebook either. It seems that explicit teaching of individual items doesn’t always work well in real life.  

Obviously, Long proposes TBLT as a more appropriate way of teaching languages. What I love about his book is the fact that it’s not just about language. Long talks about the role of education and TBLT’s philosophical principles, and emphasises the need to treat students as rational human beings. Learning by doing, emancipation and egalitarian teacher-student relationships are one of the principles mentioned, and I think it’s difficult to disagree with any of them. I definitely feel more comfortable when my students see me as a communication partner rather than a person of authority who is meant to lecture them about the wonders of English grammar.

The book provides you with concrete steps for implementing Task-Based Language Teaching in a classroom setting. Long suggests abandoning coursebooks, which may seem like a radical idea, but there are pretty good reasons for that. If you want your course to be truly personalised and relevant, you need to conduct a needs analysis and design the course for your group of students from scratch. In addition to syllabus design, the book deals with materials, methodological principles and evaluation. It also provides useful advice related to focus on form and giving negative feedback to students.

Everything in the book makes perfect sense to me and I have no doubt that TBLT is very effective. Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching should be read by those responsible for the way English is taught in their organisation. That said, as Long himself admits, his version of TBLT is unlikely to replace traditional coursebook-driven teaching. To be honest, I can’t imagine many Colombian institutions spending money on needs analyses, course design and training teachers in TBLT when they can simply adopt a structural syllabus provided by a coursebook. It just doesn’t seem to be a financially viable option.

I would love to get a chance to work on a TBLT project at some point in the future. In the meantime, I plan to keep going beyond the coursebook as much as possible because I believe that my students benefit from using English in a meaningful manner. Even if your course ends with a discrete-point test of grammar and lexis, it’s perfectly fine to deviate from an externally imposed syllabus from time to time. Designing tasks and materials that are more relevant for your learners is undoubtedly more demanding than just following your coursebook, but it will lead to a more satisfying experience for both you and your students.