Like many other traumatic, fearsome, paradigm-shifting life events, the CELTA course is enshrouded in myths of varying degrees of absurdity and truth. Below is our top-five list of such myths, and our efforts to dispel them.
Myth 1: The CELTA course is for native speakers
Not only is the course not reserved exclusively to native speakers of English, you don’t even need to have “native-level proficiency” in the English language. In fact, a high C1 on the CEFR[i] is acceptable, provided you have what it takes to meet the course requirements. You will have to study your target language closely before each lesson, and monitor your classroom language attentively, and of course multi-task, mime, and do occasional hand-stands to pass your Teaching Practice — but a native speaker you do not have to be.
Myth 2: It doesn’t matter where you do your course
The CELTA certificate is a beautiful document that you receive as a reward for your weeks of sleeplessness, anxiety and suffering, and while you will be pleased to note that it states both your grade and your name, you may be surprised that it does not mention the centre where you did your course. This is because the CELTA syllabus and requirements are set by Cambridge, and all courses are rigorously standardised by Cambridge. So, in theory, it doesn’t matter where you do your course.
In practice, though, each centre has its own style and approach to training its teachers, different quantities and quality of free refreshments, pricing policies, equipment, furnishings and geographical locations (of course). In fact, choosing the right centre is fraught with uncertainty, which just goes to show: it’s never too soon to start losing sleep over your CELTA course!
Myth 3: You have to be an experienced teacher to get a Pass A
Though only slightly more difficult to reach than the top of Mount Everest on a pogo stick, don’t lose hope: the Pass A grade is indeed out there, and some people actually do get it! Pass A descriptors only differ from a Pass by a few adjectives, such as “very good” awareness of learners as opposed to “some” awareness[ii], but it’s true that those adjectives are pivotal when you’re starting from scratch. However, the CELTA is an initiation course designed for people who have no previous teaching experience, and there are candidates who have never taught before who achieve a Pass A. In fact, previous experience is often an obstacle for teachers, because they often have to unlearn bad teaching habits while trying to pick new good ones (read: replace the pogo stick with a skateboard!).
Myth 4: The CELTA course will not help you teach children
Some of you may remember the Young Learner Extension to the CELTA course, a two-week course for in-service CELTA-qualified teachers who wanted to branch out into teaching young learners. This course was discontinued in 2016, but the good news is that a lot of the lesson planning and classroom management techniques you learn on the CELTA can be transferred to the young learner classroom. In addition, even when applying to teach only young learners, all other things being equal, employers will definitely put the CELTA-qualified candidate at the top of the interview pile, ahead of those who don’t have any qualification at all.
Myth 5: On a CELTA course, you will learn the “CELTA method”
Teaching Practice is sometimes described, by candidates with previous circus performance experience, as an exercise in “jumping through hoops.” According to these Renaissance men and women, if the CELTA trainer says: these are the assessment criteria (the “hoops”), the trainees must respond: which hoops, please? In fact, those “hoops” (such as pair work, asking concept-checking questions, keeping teacher talk low) are the trees that hide the forest of communicative language teaching; this “CELTA method” has in fact been the dominant paradigm in language teaching for at least the past 30 years. The “hoops” actually loop together into the lush foliage of teaching and learning for teachers and students to walk through together. No jumping in the forest!
And no mixing metaphors!
[i] Common European Framework of Reference for language learning; there are six levels, from A1 (complete beginner) to C2 (native level proficiency).