Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) courses are traditionally either short and practical or long and at postgraduate level. Undergraduate TEFL offers something in between, says Paul Fanning

Like most vocational degrees, TEFL courses leave you with a choice of careers after graduation. Many people explore various paths, enjoying for a few years the glamour of teaching in an exotic place and then finding something more secure and financially rewarding either abroad or back in Britain. It is relatively easy to find a first TEFL job outside Britain because nearly the whole world now makes English a priority language to learn. Jobs can be found in Britain as well but there is always competition here from more experienced teachers looking to return home after a spell abroad.

Studying TEFL will not by itself enable you to be a British state school teacher; the main source of UK work is private language schools and FE colleges. For these, it is important that your TEFL degree is recognised by the British Institute of English Language Teaching (BIELT) as at least a level-one qualification (for more information, see the BIELT website at: www.BIELT.org). This recognition guarantees equivalence with well-known non-university qualifications such as CELTA.

A university course that does not have this recognition will probably be aimed at overseas students, from whom there is much demand for UK-based TEFL training.

Career prospects

A newly qualified EFL teacher is not likely to earn a high salary or to have much responsibility outside the classroom. Yet, with experience, it is possible to take on a more managerial role (such as a director of studies in a language school) or to become involved in the writing or publishing of learning materials. The highest and best-paid positions require further qualifications, such as a postgraduate diploma or an MA in applied linguistics. The most prestigious jobs of all in this field are as consultants, project leaders, university researchers or editors within publishing companies.

Study strands

TEFL has two main study strands: language and language learning. Language study usually asks both general questions (for example, what is special about language and why human beings are the only creatures who speak languages) and facts about English, such as how sentences are put together or how sounds in English differ from those of other languages. Language learning will examine theoretical questions, such as the best way to learn a language, and will also cover the practicalities of teaching, with an element of actual classroom practice.

A university TEFL course can vary in length from a single elective module to an entire BA programme. Stirling and Buckingham are among universities that offer the latter. At Middlesex and Wolverhampton Universities, the course forms half of a degree, which means that it has to be combined with one other subject (preferably a foreign language) to make a Joint Honours programme.

Entry requirements vary for different courses. Most importantly, you will need to demonstrate some knowledge or awareness of how English, or language in general, works. Middlesex applicants need good passes in GCSE English language or an A-level in English language or literature. Foreign language A-levels are also useful, as they are known to guarantee some language awareness.

Career development

A special advantage of longer TEFL courses is their ability to cater for a wide range of professional needs. After satisfying the basic BIELT requirements, they have time to develop in-depth understanding of areas like English grammar and professional journal reading. These extras improve job prospects and also make a TEFL degree a viable option even if you already have a TEFL qualification but lack a degree. Many universities give credit for pre-degree TEFL training, allowing you to graduate more quickly.

TEFL can be a glamorous and exciting career, in which the obvious attractions are international travel and contact with people from a wide variety of cultures. It is important, however, to bear in mind the likely eventual need for a postgraduate qualification. An undergraduate TEFL course will lay a firm foundation for this.