TESOL course in Cambodia – what to expect
Have you been thinking about doing a TESOL course in Cambodia, but are unsure what to expect and where to do it? In this blog post, I’ll share my view on what to expect and the best place in Cambodia to do your TESOL, based on my personal experience.
What does TESOL mean?
First, let’s start with the basics. ‘TESOL’ is an acronym. It stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. People like you and I do a TESOL course to learn how to teach English to students who are not native English speakers. In the TESOL training industry, there are essentially two types of courses: 1. those that are government-regulated and legitimate ESL teaching qualifications that come with worldwide recognition, and 2. diploma mill courses that might look enticing on a website page or in flashy videos but carry no academic weight.
What to expect from a TESOL course
Assuming you go down the legitimate path, refer to point one above; you can expect to acquire the knowledge, skills and government-regulated TESOL certification you need to secure a job teaching English in Cambodia or another country.
Your TESOL course in Cambodia will not be a ‘walk in the park’. Just as the provider of your TESOL course has responsibilities and obligations, for instance, delivering on job placement if promised from the outset, you’ll also have responsibilities and obligations. You’ll need to give your TESOL course your ‘best shot’. Professionally going about your business will be a core requirement from day one. Being realistic and adaptable will be expected. The entirety of your TESOL course will be one of those times in your life when you need to listen to the experts who deliver the training.
We’ve canvassed what to expect from the actual TESOL course – skills, knowledge, government-regulated certification and ‘hard yards’ – but what else can you expect given that the study programme doesn’t take place in a vacuum? You’ll be pleased to learn that your TESOL course in Cambodia won’t be ‘all work and no play’!
During your TESOL course, you’ll have ample time to explore Cambodia’s stunning landscapes and meet many amazing people, locals, classmates, and other folks who share your passion for adventure. The cost of living in Cambodia is a fraction of what it is in western countries, so your money will go further. I’m certain you’ll adore the food – think fresh seafood, crispy baguettes, and delectable fruits dripping with sweetness.
Cambodia has a rich culture and history. There are plenty of things to see and do – and getting around is cheap and relatively easy. Travelling to Cambodia for any reason, whether to do a TESOL course or otherwise, must include visiting the World Heritage listed Angkor Wat Temple, located a few kilometres outside of Siem Reap. It’s in the same ‘league’ as the Pyramids of Egypt, in my opinion, and I’ve had the good fortune to visit both.
Where to do your TESOL course
If you agree with the idea that it’s better to do a legitimate, government-regulated TESOL course in Cambodia, as distinct from a ‘diploma-mill’ course, check out the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.edu.vn
The TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL is accredited by the Australian Government. It’s equivalent to Cambridge University’s CELTA programme. Skills, knowledge and government-regulated TESOL certification – you will find all three and a lot more at AVSE-TESOL. Here’s a snapshot of what’s included: 150 hours of ESL teacher training over four weeks, 14 hours of practical teaching experience with actual ESL classes in a real school environment, certification under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), 25 nights’ accommodation within walking distance of the training location – and hands-on job support in AVSE-TESOL’s extensive network of partner schools located the length and breadth of Cambodia.
While the Australian Government accreditation says something about the quality of AVSE’s TESOL course, it’s the practical dimension of the programme and the meaningful job support that people rave above.
What are you waiting for? Start your adventure in Cambodia today and see where it takes you!
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I’d share my view on what to expect with your TESOL course in Cambodia – and where to do it. You can expect to acquire the skills, knowledge and certification needed to get a job and be a decent English language teacher, but you’ll need to ‘put your shoulder to the grindstone’. You can also expect time available to take in the best of what Cambodia offers. If you plan to go down the ‘legit’ path with accreditation and the like, I drew on my personal experience and suggested that the AVSE-TESOL programme in Cambodia is worth checking out.
About the blogger: Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Meg Innis has spent the past four years teaching English in Cambodia, Vietnam and most recently in South Korea. She’s an intrepid traveller who is always looking for the next teaching destination.
TESOL course in Cambodia – how to check if it’s ‘legit’
If you’re looking to do a TESOL course in Cambodia, no doubt the internet will be your first port of call. By doing a Google search for ‘TESOL course in Cambodia’, ‘TEFL in Phnom Penh‘, ‘teaching jobs in Cambodia‘ or similar, you’ll find page after page of TESOL/TEFL providers who want you to sign on the dotted line – and quickly!
The reality is that not all TESOL courses are the same. There are brilliant TESOL courses, mediocre TESOL courses, dubious TESOL courses and a bunch of downright ‘shockers’. In this blog post, I’ll illuminate three key elements that should be part of your due diligence before you part with your hard-earned money on a TESOL course in Cambodia. First, is the course ‘nationally’ recognised? Second, does the course include a sizable, practical teaching component that: a) offers a mix of teaching experiences; and b) is critically assessed? Third, does the course come with meaningful, ‘hands-on’ job support?
If a TESOL course that has caught your attention fails on any of the three elements that I have identified, I’d suggest that you give it a miss and resume your search. Let’s look at ‘nationally recognised’, ‘practical teaching component’ and meaningful ‘job support’ in more detail.
AVSE’s TESOL course in Cambodia, is an excellent example of a study programme that’s nationally recognised (in Australia) and therefore meets a key criterion to be internationally recognised. On the homepage of the AVSE website ( www.avse.edu.vn ), you’ll see:
- the logo of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), the umbrella entity for nationally recognised training in Australia;
- the AQF course code for the TESOL programme that AVSE delivers in Cambodia; and
- information about AVSE’s Registered Training Organisation (RTO) status in Australia (RTO: 45373). Only RTOs in Australia have the authority to deliver nationally recognised study programmes within the Australian Qualifications Framework, onshore or offshore.
Your TESOL course in Cambodia must be nationally recognised in the home country of the TESOL provider. To folks who know about these matters, it makes perfect sense that a course – and related certification – that’s not nationally recognised cannot be internationally recognised. Understandably, most people can’t be bothered with this level of detail. I get it, but I’d remind you that teaching is a profession and paying customers – English language students and their families – have a right to believe that their teacher holds a legitimate, nationally recognised teaching qualification. In a nutshell, if you invest in a TESOL course that’s ‘accredited’ by a self-appointed accrediting entity that supposedly lives in a mailbox in the Bahamas, or similar, there’s a good chance that the certificate you hold will carry the value of the paper and ink that was used in the printing process.
Sadly, around 80% of TESOL courses and related ‘certificates’ worldwide, including face-to-face and online courses, offer bogus qualifications. Bogus in the sense that the certificate isn’t nationally recognised and therefore cannot be internationally recognised, despite what the provider tells you – and how aesthetically pleasing the videos, promotional material and the certificate might be. Watch out for ‘weasel words’ such as ‘our certificate is accepted’. ‘Accepted’ isn’t a synonym for legitimate.
Apart from reviewing a TESOL provider’s website, how can you tell if the study programme is ‘nationally recognised’? It’s easy – if you know where to look. Every developed country in the world – and the lion’s share of developing countries – has a national qualifications framework and related accreditation authorities mandated by law. In Australia, the principal entity is the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). In South Africa, it’s the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). In the United States, you’ll find nationally recognised training and related qualifications on the US Department of Education website ( https://www.ed.gov/accreditation ) and on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website ( https://www.chea.org/ ). In the United Kingdom, it’s a tad more complicated, but when you drill down, it’s four entities – Ofqual, Qualifications Wales, The Council for the Curriculum & Assessment in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Click here and you will see pertinent information about which entities can accredit ‘non-degree’ qualifications in the United Kingdom – including TESOL Certification.
Here’s some homework for you. If you already hold a TESOL certificate, take 5 minutes and check if it’s nationally recognised. If you’re not sure after checking yourself, reach out to AVSE-TESOL and we’ll give you a straight answer supported by documented facts.
Practical teaching component
Quality TESOL courses include a minimum of 6 hours of critically assessed teaching practice, with exposure to various ages and skill levels. The TESOL course in Cambodia at AVSE-TESOL includes a minimum of 14 hours of practical experience with two distinct components, observation classes and physically teaching ‘real’ classes. The ‘observation’ component requires TESOL trainees to ‘shadow’ an experienced ESL teacher plying their trade for a minimum of six hours. Once the observation classes have been checked off, the TESOL trainee moves to the critically assessed teaching practice classes. TESOL trainees at AVSE-TESOL teach a minimum of two 60-minute classes and three 120-minute classes (8 hours in total), with classes one, two and three being critically assessed. If a TESOL student feels that they’d benefit from additional teaching practice classes to build confidence – or for any other reason – this can easily be arranged with one of AVSE’s partner schools.
As the words suggest, ‘Practical teaching’ involves experience with ‘real’ students in a ‘real’ classroom environment. The idea is that you put into practice what you’ve learnt during your TESOL course and receive feedback. In a nutshell, under supervision from a qualified teacher, you give this ESL teaching caper your best shot. You hope to ‘swim like an Olympian’ during teaching practice classes, but the reality is that many newbies ‘dog-paddle’ – and others meet the same fate as the Titanic. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympian or have things in common with ‘Fido next door’ or Leonardo DiCaprio; teaching practice is about making a genuine effort, accepting that mistakes will happen and showing commitment to doing better next time.
While the direct experience and feedback that teaching practice affords are pivotal to skill development, this phase of a quality TESOL course is also an opportunity to show your skills to a potential employer. Anecdotally, 70% of trainees enrolled in the TESOL course in Cambodia at AVSE, are employed by the school where they did their teaching practice classes.
There’s ‘job support’ that’s fluff on a website page and there’s meaningful, hands-on job support. Most TESOL providers advertise that their programme comes with job support, but you’d be well-advised to ‘drill down’ on the meaning of the words. What will the TESOL provider do to help you land that all-important first teaching job? Where does the job support process start and finish?
If the job support consists of emailing en masse a CV that you prepared – without local input – you could be excused for feeling that you’ve been short-changed. With this scenario, the provider is doing nothing more than you can do yourself – and you could probably do it quicker. The ‘scatter-gun’ approach is, at best, tokenism.
Meaningful job support is a strategic and multi-faceted process that requires input from folks who know the local market. Job support from your TESOL provider, at a minimum, must include assistance with:
- Preparing a CV that reflects local requirements;
- Producing a short video that will allow prospective employers to see and hear from you;
- Critically assessed mock interviews with typical questions;
- Background information on the local job market – hours, salary, holidays, professional development opportunities; and
- Direct referrals to a specific person at a school within the TESOL provider’s network.
Here’s one other point for consideration under ‘Job support’. If the course that you’ve enrolled in is not ‘nationally accredited’ – and therefore not internationally recognised – all the job support ‘under the sun’ won’t make up for the fact that you hold a qualification that doesn’t stack up and have dud certification, akin to what you’d buy from a ‘diploma mill.
Holding a ‘TESOL certificate’ that literally carries the value of a single sheet of paper, doesn’t mean that you won’t get a job. As they say, “you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time”. There are enough folks out there issuing Work Permits (Public Servants) and shonky employers (schools) that don’t care about legitimate certification, don’t know what’s legitimate and what’s not – and in some cases – don’t care and don’t know.
Doing a legitimate TESOL course in the first place will substantially reduce the likelihood that you’ll be knocking on the door of less reputable schools when the time comes to nail that all-important, first teaching job.
Forming a view on whether your preferred TESOL course in Cambodia is legitimate or just another ‘Diploma Mill’ charging a premium for a certificate that carries zero value, involves a bit of research. Before you sign up for a TESOL course in Cambodia, make sure: 1. It’s nationally accredited – and therefore likely to come with international recognition; 2. the course includes a sizable teaching practice component that provides exposure to different ages and skill levels and 3. you’ll receive meaningful job support once you’ve completed the programme. If you make a point of doing thorough due diligence on these three elements, you’ll be well-placed to hit the ground running as an ESL teacher in Cambodia or elsewhere in the world. Good luck!
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director and owner of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. Peter has been living and working in Southeast Asia for the past 15 years. If you’d like to know more about teaching jobs in Cambodia (or Vietnam), check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
Doing a TESOL Course in Cambodia comes with challenges
If you’re looking to be challenged, the Australian Government-accredited, in-class TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) will ‘suit you to a T’. The coursework will challenge you; there’s a lot to get through in under four weeks. The local environment will also challenge you. Cambodia can be hard work. It’s really hot and dirty, and you’ll have abject poverty in your face. As an ESL teacher, there’s also ‘wall to wall’ kids. Collectively, the challenges that come with doing a TESOL course in Cambodia and carving out a teaching career might seem like a good reason to avoid the place. However, I’d argue that the challenges Cambodia presents for ESL teachers are why you should go there. If you wanted ‘same same’, presumably, you’d stay home.
Personally, it’s the ‘wall to wall’ kids that I found to be the most challenging during my first few months in Cambodia. I went to Cambodia naively thinking I’d teach adults. However, it quickly became apparent that 90% of the ESL teaching opportunities in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in Cambodia involve young learners, 4 to 17 years of age. While it all worked out fine for me, my TESOL course in Cambodia at AVSE-TESOL was excellent, and I grew to love teaching kids, I wanted to share my thoughts and a few kid-related tips for newcomers.
Your exposure to Cambodian kids will go well beyond your work as an English language teacher, where you’ll be pulled, pushed, pinched, whacked, jumped on and the like. Cambodia is a developing country where abject poverty is on display for everyone to see. Poverty leads to kids (and adults) living on the street, begging for money and engaging in petty crime. Kids in the classroom, kids in the streets and laneways, kids down by the riverside in Phnom Penh, kids working in jobs that an adult would ordinarily do – no big deal, right? It is a big deal if you naturally shy away from kids. It can be an even bigger deal if you naturally gravitate towards kids and people get the wrong idea.
Here are some kid-related tips given to me by a fellow Brit who’d been teaching in Cambodia for six or so years when I first met him shortly after I arrived in Cambodia. The tips held me in good stead throughout my TESOL course in Cambodia and during my 12-month teaching stint.
Kids in the classroom
As much as humanly possible, keep kids seated throughout a lesson. When they start wandering around in a classroom, disturbing you and their classmates, trouble inevitably happens. During my TESOL course in Cambodia, I was given a range of proactive and reactive strategies to reduce the likelihood of kids wandering around. Make sure your lesson plan contains a mix of short, sharp learning activities, have plenty of backup activities, so the students are always occupied, set class rules from the outset and clue up on non-verbal cues to manage your class. Most importantly, don’t touch a student anywhere or at any time and don’t pick them up like you would with your child. Why? First, they’re not your child. Second, you are leaving yourself open for unfounded accusations. If you’re reviewing work, do it from the side rather than the back. If a student wants to give you a high-five or similar, make it an imaginary high-five.
Avoid giving free English lessons to kids
After you’ve completed your TESOL course in Cambodia, all being well, you’ll be working as a professional ESL teacher at a school within days; such is the demand. Whether you’re working in Phnom Penh or elsewhere in Cambodia, you’ll hold an esteemed position in the local community. In part due to the respect you’ll command, there will be all kinds of invitations to help local kids with their English outside of a regular school environment, often voluntarily. As a kind-hearted soul, your first inclination may be to ‘help out’. Unfortunately, from my observations, this kind of situation nearly always ends up in tears due to unrealistic expectations, changing circumstances and lack of professional distance – right through to dealing with false accusations and legal problems. It’s simply not worth the grief. If you feel the need to help local people outside of the classroom environment, best to donate to a reputable charity and leave it at that. Avoid giving free English classes.
Kids are not a tourist attraction
You might be surprised to learn that there are travel companies in Phnom Penh organising tours for westerners to visit poor families, orphanages and the like. While I am sure tours of this kind are a source of much-needed funds – and most of the participants are well-meaning, it’s a bizarre practice and a good example of ‘Only in Cambodia’. Exhibiting kids like we exhibit animals in a zoo is demeaning and probably violates fundamental human rights. Most people in a developed country, parents in the UK, for example, would be appalled if their child’s kindergarten group was ‘displayed’ or required to sing a cute song for a busload of foreign tourists. Give this kind of activity a miss.
Don’t give money to kids
If you give money to a student, he (or she) will tell their parents, school friends and others. Through a simple Google search, you’ll see that Cambodia has a sad history of attracting foreigners with their own agenda, who were happy to give money to kids. Being tarred with the same ‘deviant’ brush will, at a minimum, end your teaching career, and you’ll have your face on the front page of newspapers far and wide – even if your intentions were noble.
Like most English language teachers, you’re almost certainly a kind-hearted soul by nature. Imagine you’re on a day off from your TESOL course in Cambodia, and checking out a tourist site. There’s a scruffy-looking kid who asks you for $1.00. Will you give the kid some money? By handing over money when confronted with this kind of scenario, you’re essentially encouraging the child to continue begging. ‘Working’ as a beggar doesn’t leave much time for schooling, markedly increasing the likelihood of a lifetime of vulnerability and poverty. Don’t give money to Cambodian kids under any circumstances.
Professionals are the experts
Once you have completed your TESOL in Cambodia, you can rightly say you know a thing or two about teaching English as a second language, and have a certificate that says as much. However, TESOL Certification doesn’t qualify you to rescue children you believe are vulnerable any more than it permits you to work as a dentist, a medical practitioner and the like. It is irresponsible and dangerous to rescue a child in a foreign country. Instead, let the professionals with the skills and local knowledge help the child. If you encounter a situation where you believe a child is in danger, make immediate contact with a government (or non-government) child protection agency or reach out to the local police. You’re not making a fuss or bothering anyone by passing information to those qualified to deal with children at risk. On the contrary, you’re taking appropriate action to ensure a child is safe.
Doing a TESOL course in Cambodia and working as a professional English teacher in Phnom Penh or another city comes with many challenges. My greatest challenge was learning how to interact with local kids in the classroom and elsewhere. I picked up a few tips that I wanted to share with others thinking about heading to Cambodia to work as an ESL teacher. Don’t – touch local kids, hand out money, offer free lessons, participate in silly ‘kid-related’ tourist activities or take the law into your own hands trying to ‘save’ a kid. Constantly remind yourself that you are a visitor and go about your business as expected from a visitor to your own home.
About the writer: Paul Douglas did his TESOL course in Cambodia at AVSE-TESOL in late 2018. He worked as an ESL teacher in Phnom Penh until February 2020. Paul is currently working in a few different jobs in Portsmouth, in the south of the United Kingdom, saving money for his next teaching abroad adventure.