Published on July 9th, 2011


To Do: Apply for the CELTA in Saigon – Check!

Months ago (after much research) I determined that the best credential I could get for teaching EFL around the world wasn’t gonna be some dinky online TEFL course (laughable among most all hiring personnel, and an excellent way to toss a couple few hundred bucks down the drain) but rather, the gold-standard of EFL certification, the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). Accredited by no less than Cambridge University in England, the CELTA  is recognized and prized worldwide, and includes 120 hours of rigorous teaching instruction, as well as hands-on teaching experience.  The month-long course is offered at select locations ’round the globe including Vancouver, B.C. and San Francisco (but not Seattle), as well as Costa Rica, Thailand and several locations in Vietnam.

Technically, as a native English speaker one doesn’t HAVE to be CELTA certified to teach EFL in many corners of the globe (though most require some sort of Bachelors degree at a minimum).  But suffice that A. given that I haven’t a CLUE how to teach English, I want the very best training I can get to prepare me for standing in front of a classroom of 40 to 60 Asian eyeballs staring back with the expectation that their “teacher” knows what she’s doing; and B. I just want to be sure I have the best credentials I can muster to better ensure that my crazy notion of starting a wholly new career teaching EFL in some g-forsaken rice paddy on the other side of the globe – at 60+ – will halfway succeed.  In short, a CELTA in my pocket (along w/ my B.S. and M.S.) should help mitigate any potential age-discrimination I may run into, as well as give me optimum leverage when negotiating just how many dong I deserve for my labor.


Nuget Waterside, Chaing Mai, Thailand

Thus early on, I knew that I’d take the CELTA somewhere – I just couldn’t decide precisely where.  For a long while I was pretty much set on taking it in Chiang Mai, Thailand, mainly because I fell in love with the serenity of the Nugent Waterside setting where the course is held.  Chiang Mai also happens to currently be somewhat of a mecca for expats drawn to its charms, coupled with cheap rent, food, etc.  I’ve been to Thailand before and loved it.  Thus I considered taking the CELTA there perchance it would better set me up with contacts for teaching there after the course.

But in the end, my druthers swung back to my first love – the mystique of a less hyped, more adventuresome locale: Vietnam.  My choices there for the CELTA were either Hanoi in the north, or Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the south.  And as I still have my ultimate sights on settling in Da Lat (about 6 hrs. by bus northeast of Saigon), I opted to apply to take the CELTA through ILA in Saigon.

Which brings me to the present, and my struggles with completing the somewhat daunting ILA CELTA course application.  Downloading the application packet from the ILA site, it turns out to be no less than 11 pages, including a five-part series of grammar questions.  Uh, make that a seemingly endless stream of confounding grammar conundrums.  For example:

Q: (i) What is the difference in meaning between the following sentences?
     (ii) Identify the grammatical structure underlined in each sentence.
(a) When I arrived at the station the train left.
(b) When I arrived at the station, the train was leaving.
(c) When I arrived at the station the train had left.

As native English speakers we of course KNOW the nuanced difference in the timing of that train, but EXPLAINING in simple terms the difference between past simple tense vs. past progressive vs. past perfect – uh, that’s a bit more challenging.

Then there’s:

Q: Spot the mistakes in the following sentences and correct them.  Explain the nature of each error….your explanation should be clear enough for your students to understand (i.e. “wrong tense” is not acceptable – you must explain WHY it is the wrong tense.)
(a) Borrow me your pen, will you?
(b) Can you remember me to go to the bank?
(c) I am absolutely agree with you.
(d) I’m boring with this exercise.

Again – we native English speakers can spot the grammatical errors above instantly.  But trying to explain WHY the sample sentences are incorrect is a tad more dicey.

The ILA school recommended a couple of grammar books for completing both the application and for use when taking the CELTA course.  So I ponied up for the 658 page book: Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (oh, how I wish it could be Kindle-ized!) that I’ll now have to pack 7,000 miles to Saigon.  Still… it turns out to be a great book.  Indeed, as a life-long lover of  the nuances of my dear mother-tongue, I find the book utterly fascinating with clear-cut explanations and examples of every stray grammatical twist and idiom.  Best of all, it proved a great help in noodling out my answers to the many questions posed in the application.

There were also some especially novel sections of the application, like…

Q:  In everyday English the sentence “What are you going to do?” could be pronounced something like “Whataya gonna do?” or “Whatcha gonna do?”  Make an argument for and/or against teaching foreign students this pronunciation.  Consider the needs of speakers, listeners, writers and readers.

Of course I personally enjoy deliberately butchering my own prose here on TravelnLass (indeed, the very name of the blog is a bit of a mangle of the “ing” in “Traveling”.)  But that’s DELIBERATE and meant to liven up the story and make things a bit more friendly.  Nonetheless, we all DO tend to mash our words together when speaking casually – “How are you doing?” becomes “How ya doin?”, “kind of” becomes “kinda” and “Do you see?” becomes simply “See?”  So the question is – how best to prep EFL students in both formal and casual English pronunciation?

There was also an easy-peasy section that asked for 5, multi-syllable adjectives to describe my personality (showing the accented syllable of each word.)  For these I chose:

  1. FLEXible
  2. EnthusiAStic
  3. ReSOURCEful
  4. ReSPONsible
  5. FRIENDly

(I rather thought “PSYcho”,  “LUNatic” and “CRAzy as a fruitcake” might not be putting my best foot foward here, am I right?)

And finally, in Part Four of the CELTA application tome, there was this decidedly ponderous mandate:

Use a chart or diagram to represent your progress through your career and/or life to date.  The choice of design and what information you include or leave out is entirely up to you – but find some way to give us a sense of who you are and what you’ve done.

Uh, a diagram… of my whole LIFE???  At first I didn’t know where to even begin.  I mean, maybe if I were a young 20-something my life/career might fit on a single page.  But with six decades of life chapters… tough to choose just what to highlight and what to leave out.

In the end, I opted to simply spell out the main milestones (leastwise since I became a single mom) – in a colorful continuum (so as to make it a bit more creative – seemingly a favored trait in a good teacher, no?).  The result:


The TravelnLass in a Nutshell

Who knows what TPTB (ThePowersThatBe) at the ILA school will think of me/my answers.  My greatest concern is that they’ll take one look at the breathtaking size of my chronological age – and issue a “Reject” out of hand.  But hopefully, my brilliance will shine through and I’ll soon be doing a telephone interview – the next step in the CELTA application process.

Stay tuned… (and cross your fingers for me!)



About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

3 Responses to To Do: Apply for the CELTA in Saigon – Check!

  1. This is exciting to see….love it! As you may know, I teach ESL at a 2-year college in NJ. My first job was in Ecuador at a language school and I had no experience and no TEFLA or CELTA certificate or anything! Just background in editorial work and in the business world. I went through a mentor program, fortunately, and fell in love with the job right away. Eventually, I got an MA in TESOL and made it my full-time career.

    Just want to say–if you have any questions, please e-mail me. I’d be more than happy to answer them and help you out pre-interview!!

    Good luck!

  2. Ruth says:

    Finding grammar interesting will stand you in good stead for the CELTA and beyond! Explaining it is hard but you slowly get better with practice.

    Good luck with your application!

    • travelnlass@gmail.com says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Ruth – coming from you (one who just completed the CELTA in Saigon herself) that means a lot.

      So how’s the teaching going? Hopefully great, yes?

      And the good news here is (this just in this morning and I wanted you to be the first to know)…

      (insert drum roll here, please…)

      I just got an email from ILA – they want to interview me (by phone) tomorrow night!

      Can you spell: W-o-o-H-O-O!!! 😉

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