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A pre-course CELTA / CertTESOL preparation programme

reading This is a one-page guide.
For much more choose from:

This is a where we pull together guides in various areas of this site to help you prepare yourself to take an initial training course in English Language Teaching.
There are plenty of online pre-CELTA and pre-Trinity Certificate in TESOL courses out here on the web but this is, as far as can be ascertained, the only one that's completely free.
Why not take advantage of it?


Why do I need a preparation course?

You don't.

We should make it clear now that both the Trinity College Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) and the Cambridge Assessment English Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) are initial training courses which assume no prior knowledge of the profession so nobody is obliged to take a preparatory course at all.

Cambridge Assessment English describe the CELTA this way:

The Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA) is an introductory course for candidates who have little or no previous English language teaching experience.
Cambridge Assessment English, Certificate in Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages, Syllabus and assessment guidelines, July 2021 edition.

and Trinity College describe their initial teaching qualification in similar terms:

The Trinity CertTESOL is a pre-service teacher training course ... designed for those who have little or no experience of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages ...
Trinity College London, Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL), Syllabus — from January 2016, Second impression, April 2016.

Do not let anyone tell you differently.

We have focused on these two initial qualifications because they are the only ones accredited at Level 5 (i.e., one step below a first university degree) by Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation which regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England).
Only the first of these (CELTA) has a part of this site dedicated to it but the syllabuses of both courses are, perforce, very similar so there is no reason that the information here will not be equally relevant regardless of which course you are taking.

There are other courses, delivered online or face to face which purport to be recognised teaching qualifications at the same level which are no such thing, of course.  You are advised to steer clear of them.

However, all that said, many people like to hit the ground running so a little time preparing yourself in terms of background understanding of some key terminology and concepts and a bit more time spent thinking about how to approach teaching the English language will often pay dividends for these reasons:

  1. Even some familiarity with terminology will allow you to think about what you are being told on a course without having to worry too much about the terms in which it is expressed.
  2. A little time spent now thinking and learning about how teaching may be designed, planned and delivered on your course will allow you more time to think about getting attractive and useful materials together and planning a lesson logically and with the right level of slowly rising challenge.
  3. Getting to grips with the basics of English grammar now will mean you spend less time doing so on the course and can devote more to the important areas.  This is probably more important for native speakers of English or those who have acquired the language informally than it is for people who have learned the language formally and are already acquainted with most of its central grammar.


What do I need to know?

Those who design packaged courses and sell them on the web seem to believe that they know what you need to know.  They don't, of course, because only you know what you know already.
The premise in what follows is that you are a thinking human being capable of a little introspection and able to identify areas in which you know lots, those in which you know almost nothing and those of which you have some knowledge.  We will not presume to argue with you but we will set you some short tasks here to help you decide what you need to know.


What you need to know

First of all, we'll look at the grammar and structure of the language.
Think about the questions on the left and then click the eye open to reveal the answer and a little advice.

1 The English language
What are the 3 languages which have had the most influence on Modern English?
eye open
2 English tenses
Can you name these tense forms?
  1. I speak French
  2. She has arrived
  3. Mary had the idea
  4. John had lost his keys
  5. I will be 45 in March
eye open
3 Words 1
What's the relationship between these words?
  1. huge : enormous
  2. tiny : vast
  3. right : write
  4. vehicle : car, bus, lorry, truck
  5. pavement : sidewalk
eye open
4 Words 2
What sorts of words are the ones in red?
  1. The table is in the corner
  2. I don't smoke
  3. A blue pencil
  4. Go carefully
  5. Ouch!
  6. He is here
  7. on the table
  8. Mary and Peter
eye open
5 Sentences
What are the words in red doing in these sentences?
  1. Obviously, it's difficult
  2. I called but she was out
  3. Call me if you need help
  4. She spoke to the man in the corner
  5. She may talk to you
eye open
6 Sounds
  1. What sound makes the only difference between better and butter?
  2. What sound makes the difference between cap and cab?
  3. In:
    You told me, didn't you?
    what difference does it make if your voice tone goes up or down on the last two words?
eye open

There were six sets of questions and you probably found some more difficult than others.  Here is some advice about where to go on this site to learn a little more before you start your course.
All the links open in new tabs so you can shut the page to return to this one.

1 As we said, you don't need to know about the roots of English but there is a guide here which you may find interesting and helpful when students ask you questions.
2 This question focused on the names we give to the tenses in English.  There are more than have been given as examples here and there is a simple guide to the tense names with examples of all of them here.  Learning the names of the tenses will help a lot on your course and it's not very difficult.
3 This question focused on the relationships between words in English and the answer gave you some key terms.  If you understand what is meant by synonym, antonym, hyponym, hypernym / superordinate, dialect and homophone, that's enough before you start a course but there is a lot more information here.
4 This question focused on word class and the names are important to learn now so you are not confused during your course.  There are ten word classes in all, divided into two groups and you can find out about them here.
5 You don't need to know much about the first question in this set (the word is a disjunct, in fact) but you do need to be aware that words do very different things in sentences.
The way we connect parts of sentences is quite an important area (not vital at this stage) and there's a guide here.
Recognising what is the subject and what is the object of a sentence is important and there's a guide here.
Finally, verbs like may, might, can, must and so on have special characteristics which any good course will tell you about.  You can go here now to prepare yourself for that.
6 If you are taking the Trinity CertTESOL, you will need to learn quite a lot about the sounds of English and even on a CELTA course some knowledge is very helpful.  You can learn about the essentials of pronunciation here and teach yourself to transcribe English sounds here.

If you find grammar a challenging area (and many people do), there are some short courses on this site that will help you.  If you do one or two of these, you will be well prepared and can use what you get on your course as a chance for revision.
Here are the links (new tabs for all):

Guides What's in them
A pre-CELTA grammar course This is a short course with separate sections on:
    Word and phrase class
    Tense and aspect
and also has a link to
    An exemplified grammar glossary
A language analysis course This is a 10-unit course covering the elements of:
    word class
    content and function words
    subjects and objects
    tenses and aspects
    sentences (phrases and clauses)
    text structures.
A simple grammar This is in the learners' section of the site and is intended for students, not teachers, but you may find it accessible.
A basic training course Part of this focuses on subject knowledge (i.e., the language itself) and part on Procedural knowledge (i.e., how to teach the language).
It is a course for people who can't (or won't) take a proper training course.
The initial plus index This will take you to the index of all the guides in the initial training section of this site.

There is no need at this stage to do more than one or two of the suggestions above.
However, if you know what's contained in each of these areas and know where to look, you will find it easier to access things in the hurly-burly of your course.
The more time and energy you have, the better, of course.


What you need to know

It is, of course, more difficult to prepare yourself to teach on your course but there are some key terms and ideas that you will encounter so now is a good time to see what they are called so you can focus on what they mean rather than trying to learn the names at the same time.
As we did before, we'll present you with a little test and then give you some advice about where to look for more information and help.  Most terms and ideas referring to teaching are reasonably transparent so, even if you have never taught before, you may be able to have a guess at what is meant.

1 Focus 1:
If someone says:
    That's a nice hat!
we can describe it in two ways:
  1. The speaker has used the word that as a pronoun for the hat and then added an adjective (nice) to describe the hat.
    It is probably said with a rising tone.
  2. The speaker has given the hearer a compliment which will normally get a response such as:
        Oh, this old thing?  I've had it for years.
How would describe these different approaches?
eye open
2 Focus 2:
The teacher says:
Read the first sentence of each paragraph and then tell your partner what you think this text is about.
Then the teacher says:
OK, now read the text again and look at the tense of the verbs in those sentences.
Tell your partner what they are.

Then the focus of the lesson shifts from what to what?
eye open
3 Procedure:
In the last question, why do you think the teacher asked the learners to talk to each other and not directly to her?
eye open
4 Asking questions:
What is the difference between these types of teacher's questions?
  1. Did John want to go to the cinema?
  2. What time did Mary and John go?
  3. Why didn't John want to go to the cinema?
  4. When did you last go to the cinema?
  5. What did you think of the last film you saw?
eye open

There were four sets of questions and you probably found some more difficult than others.  Here is some advice about where to go on this site to learn a little more before you start your course.
All the links open in new tabs so you can shut the page to return to this one.

1 The distinction between a focus on form (structure, vocabulary, pronunciation etc.) and a focus on function (asking for things, offering help, making excuses, ordering things and so on) is a key one to know about.
Your course will tell you more but you can get a head start by following the guide to Form and Function here.
2 Another important distinction in language teaching is that between systems focus (grammar, structure etc.) and skills focus (reading, writing, speaking and listening).  Both targets can be broken down into smaller units for teaching purposes, of course, but the difference is an important one to grasp.
If you want to learn more about teaching skills, there is an introductory guide here.
To learn more about teaching grammar and structure, click here.
3 Getting students to work productively in pairs or groups is a key management skill in the classroom and allows the students to work at their own pace, get some useful speaking practice and cooperate with colleagues in their learning.
When the teacher is doing all the talking, the learners can become passive and switch off.  Just being aware of this is enough for now but there is a guide on grouping learners where you can learn more here.
4 Asking good questions is a key teaching skill.
You can learn more about how to do it here.

To prepare yourself for teaching on a pre-service course, there are lots of guides on this site to help.  Here is a selection of the most important but you can use the last two links to find more.

Guides What's in them
A teacher's toolkit This is a short course with separate sections on:
    Creating a good first impression
    Presenting and practising
    Using resources and aids
    Eliciting and questioning
    Giving feedback
    Summing up
Don't feel you have to do all of it now but knowing what's in the course will help you later to find what you want quickly.
Key CELTA concepts This is short guide which covers the important ideas that you will encounter on a pre-service course.  It includes the answers to most of the questions we posed above.
It will take you around an hour to absorb the content but that will pay big dividends.
The initial plus teaching index Browse this menu for areas which interest you.
Teaching on CELTA This is a one-page guide to how to plan, deliver and evaluate your teaching on a pre-service course.
Following it now will prepare you well.
The initial plus index This will take you to the index of all the guides in the initial training section of this site.


A word to the wise

You may feel, now or during / after your training course, that you can use the resources on the web to research areas of language and teaching that you need to master.
You can, of course, and there are numerous accurate, well written and informative sites out here (as well as this one).
However, you should also know that there are quite a lot of the other sort: badly written, uninformative, misleading and plain wrong.
For some advice and examples of whom not to trust try the guide to researching online, here.


Where next?

There are over 20 links to guides on this page and nobody is likely to have the time to follow all of them before a course begins.
However, doing the ones which are linked in the areas that gave you the most trouble is an achievable goal for most people.
Part of being a professional in any field comes not from knowing everything but from knowing where to look so use the indexes to see what's on the site, make some notes and come back to the individual guides when you need them.

We have introduced a number of key concepts and terms used to describe language and teaching in this short guide and if you would like to see how many you can remember, try these tests.

This is not a taught course because ELT Concourse is not a teaching operation.  However, if you want to ask a question, please feel free to use the Contact link below.

Good luck with your course.

The CELTA overview for more help and advice concerning the Cambridge CELTA qualification
The CELTA index for links to all the guides at this level