CELTA or CertTESOL? What’s the difference?


The two leading qualifications in TESOL, offered by Cambridge (CELTA) and Trinity College London (the Trinity CretTESOL) both have the same broad outcomes, and lead to the same level of qualification, but what (if any) is the difference between the two?

Is it possible to choose fairly between these benchmark qualifications in the industry?

Both of these qualifications aim to produce high-quality teachers who are dependable and whose knowledge and skills can be trusted by employers worldwide, so they are both highly regarded in the TESOL industry.

This means that both the Cambridge and Trinity qualifications involve some very intense, high-stakes training.

  • Both courses are typically delivered in 4 weeks (full-time intensive) or around 12 weeks (part-time).
  • Both are accredited at level 5 on the UK Regulated Qualifications Framework, meaning that they are equivalent to the second year of an undergraduate degree.

When you consider that this level of training is delivered in only a month, it gives you some idea of how intensive the course experience can be.

Also Read: Things you should know before joining a CELTA, CertTESOL course

Different styles, similar outcomes

The main difference between the two courses is the slightly different approaches that they take to the course experience.

This is demonstrated by the course content, the types of activity which are assessed on each course and the ways in which these are assessed.

Cambridge CELTA:

  • Overall, it is commonly agreed that the Cambridge CELTA is more proscriptive than the Trinity CertTESOL; grading criteria and expectations for trainee performance are perhaps more tightly defined, and Cambridge ESOL typically take more control of how course content is delivered and trainee performance is assessed.
  • This means that on a CELTA course anywhere in the world, the expectations will be very similar, the training style will be basically the same, and everyone knows exactly what to expect. This is a good thing in that everyone involved in the course knows what they are getting, and expectations are tightly met according to the same stringent criteria.

Trinity CertTESOL:

  • By contrast, Trinity College London typically take a more flexible approach to assessment. Assessment criteria are similarly thorough and adhered to tightly, but centres are perhaps allowed more leeway to interpret how the course is delivered in different ways.
  • This has the benefit of allowing the trainees themselves more freedom to develop their own teaching styles according to the profile of the centre and the students they are teaching in the setting where they are training. The result is often a more diverse range of teaching styles which takes into account the personal preferences of trainees and the centres in how courses are delivered.

As long as the strictly defined course outcomes are met, the path to success can take many forms.

External assessment

As far as grading is concerned, the types of assessment found on these courses are slightly different.

Cambridge CELTA:

  • Final assessment on CELTA courses is performed by an external examiner who visits the training centre, assesses trainees’ portfolios of work and observes every trainee teach their final lesson.
  • This summative teaching assessment can be very nerve-wracking and affects performance, though is a god reflection of the kind of observation which happens in schools as managers regularly go into classrooms to assess the effectiveness of teaching.
  • After all, at the end of a training course such as this, with repeated observations and open feedback sessions, trainees should have the confidence to teach in front of anyone to gain certification.

Trinity CertTESOL:

  • At the end of a Trinity CertTESOL course, a Trinity College moderator also visits the centre in person for assessment, but this is carried out differently.
  • The moderator samples all assignment work submitted throughout the course, as in the CELTA course, but does not observe the trainees teach.
  • Final assessment is held through a combination written and oral assignment based around a piece of teaching material which has been designed and used on the course by the trainee. This takes the form of the material itself, a 500-word rationale and evaluation of the material’s design, and is followed by a 15-minute interview with the moderator to discuss this and other aspects of the course.
  • The principle behind this mode of assessment is that an expert moderator, through asking the right questions, can gauge how much the trainee has developed as a teacher on the course, and how deeply they are processing teaching and learning as they have experienced it for themselves. A less daunting task than teaching a full externally-assessed lesson, but by no means less stringent as a form of assessment.

Assignments and written assessments

Another noticeable difference between the CELTA course and the CertTESOL is the relative assignment load.

Cambridge CELTA:

  • Where the CELTA requires trainees to write four assignments of approximately 1000 words each, including a needs analysis/recommendations for a real learner, as well as writing reflections for every taught lesson.

Trinity CertTESOL:

  • The CertTESOL’s four written assignments range from 2000 to around 6000 words, and require trainees to take part in practical research and a more in-depth case study with a real learner, giving an extended analysis of their language issues, transcribing chunks of their speech for pronunciation analysis, and teaching a 1-1 lesson based on their identified weaknesses.

The main difference is that the CertTESOL has a heavier assignment load, though as stated above, there is no pressure from any externally-assessed teaching practice.

In assignment work and teaching, a final difference is the level of focus given to phonology and pronunciation teaching. This is a core aspect of the CertTESOL, and runs across almost every aspect of the assessed work trainees do, with transcription and phonological analysis of one sort or another expected to support any comment on pronunciation in teaching and in learner language.

The CELTA does develop phonological awareness in similar ways, especially for application in teaching practice and in the focus on a learner, but the weight given to phonology and pronunciation is perhaps less broad than on the CertTESOL.


In conclusion, both courses aim at the same high quality of teaching in their candidates, and both are desirable qualifications for employers worldwide. The CELTA course is typically more standard across centres around the world, though this means that it lacks some of the flexibility that is shown on CertTESOL courses in their style and delivery.

Whichever course you choose, it will be an incredibly rewarding experience that prepares you for the breadth of experiences which will open up to you as a result.

For more information about the CELTA course, visit https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/teaching-english/teaching-qualifications/celta/, and for more on the Trinity CertTESOL, visit https://www.trinitycollege.com/site/?id=201, where you can find a lot of further resources and FAQs about the courses.

Also Read:

This article was originally published in Jan-2019 and was last updated in Dec-2019.

Author: Tom Garside

Copyright © 2022. All Rights Reserved.