How to Get Ready for the CELTA Interview

Laura Woodward, CELTA tutor and assessor, answers all your questions regarding the application, the pre-interview task, and the CELTA interview.

Webinar Summary

If we start with a simple question about CELTA, and then let’s say how much does it cost. 
The most important question for most people because obviously money doesn’t grow on trees. So the current price is 27,000 Egyptian pounds, which is the rough equivalent of £1250 Sterlings. This is a very common cost around the world, that’s an average CELTA price and some countries are more expensive.

Who can apply? Everybody?
Preferably, you should be at least over 18 years old. Cambridge has two guidelines for this and ideally they’d like you to be over 20, however, years ago they introduced a new rule where they said you can be over 18 if the center feels that you are mature enough. Now basically what this means, the people who apply for CELTA should be capable of doing a degree, whether it’s a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Education, so intellectually you should be around that level. And of course if you’re over 20, the chances are you already have a degree of some kind.

If we feel that you have the capacity to cope with the CELTA course, we accept you because Cambridge doesn’t discriminate as to whether you have a degree or not. It’s whether we feel that you’ll be able to cope with the demands of the course. However, just something to bear in mind, although we don’t discriminate as to whether you have a degree or not, some countries might not let you work there if you don’t have a degree plus a CELTA. So this will vary from country to country when it comes to getting work permits.

To sum it up, you got to be plus 18+ and for the degree, it’s preferable, but if you don’t have one, that’s okay.

Then how to apply for the CELTA course?
Like any CELTA center in the world, you ask for the CELTA application form and you can find these on the website and you download the application form. It’s very simple. All you have to do is fill in your name, address, date of birth, and a little bit about yourself, for example, your qualifications, what did you study at University, if you have a degree if or a Masters or so, please mention that, where you took it, when you received it, when you graduated, and a short paragraph about why you would like to take the CELTA course. And this is usually a very simple task, it’s only about 150 words. 

In fact, I did forget to say something important in the who can apply, you can be experienced or inexperienced, it’s up to you. When I first started, when I took my own CELTA, it was mostly completely inexperienced native English-speaking candidates who never taught before, knew nothing about grammar. Over time, that has changed and there are more and more experienced teachers who don’t speak English as their mother tongue, but they are already qualified and experienced teachers. So these are the people who want to perhaps update their skills, refresh their knowledge and acquire an internationally recognized teaching certificate.

So this is basically part 1, the application process. Fill in the application form and a brief explanation of why you want to take the course.

This is also accompanied by something called a pre-interview task.
So as it says, it’s before the interview. These are a few questions and usually about vocabulary or grammar and you’re just asked to explain what they mean. We’re not looking for detailed grammatical explanations, what they mean, when we use them in real life. 

That’s one part of the CELTA pre-interview task. Following that, which is part of the pre-interview task, you will be asked to write an essay. Now this is very important, because the essay is around 800 words long and there’s a very good reason for this because if you are accepted onto the CELTA course, the average assignment IE CELTA homework, because there are four of these, is between 750 to a thousand words long.

So we need to know that you can write a reasonable essay that shouldn’t have too many mistakes. We’re not looking for perfection, but it should be mostly accurate because we need to know that you can cope with the written demands of the course.

Now, pre-interview essays vary, but the most important thing we want you to do is just give us your opinion. It doesn’t matter whether I agree or disagree. I just want to know, as any tutor in the world just wants to know what you think about this subject, teaching skills, teaching grammar, teaching vocabulary, your ideas. So, please do not go around surfing websites for CELTA essays and application essays, because we use anti-plagiarism software and Cambridge takes plagiarism very seriously.

So if you send us an application essay which has been plagiarized, we will not accept you, we will not continue your application because if you’re cheating now, what are you going to do when you start the course? I know there are some websites that have these things but it’s unethical and these websites are not with the permission of Cambridge. You’re a teacher, your duty is to be honest, just write the essay in your own words. That’s what we want to see.

So pre-interview task, just answer some questions about grammar and vocabulary and write an essay in your own words. If there are any mistakes, we give you a second chance to correct yourself. So it’s not an exam, it’s just for us to see what you know and what you think.

Generally, the application is about personal info, like educational background and then a paragraph about why you want to do your CELTA. And if you go to the task, the paragraph is like 150 words and when you go back to the pre-interview task, the essay is around 800 words. You should write correct English as a teacher, no wrong or right answers, you just say your opinion.

If you make too many mistakes, chances are we won’t be able to continue to the next part.  We do expect to see mostly correct written English because you’re going to teach it. So make sure your punctuation and spelling is as correct as possible.

We make mistakes, but proofreading helps a lot. Do you recommend this?
Yes, always proofread. Sometimes if I’m writing something like a report that will go to my boss, then it has to be as near perfect as possible, then I proofread, and sometimes I give it to a colleague because sometimes, another pair of eyes can see things that I didn’t see. So, yes, please proofread.

So I’m done with my application, my pre-interview task. Then, what’s the next step?
If everything is fine, you are invited to an interview. Now it sounds a bit scary like a job interview, it’s not like that at all. And to be honest with you, people always ask, “how can I prepare for the CELTA interview?” And the answer is really try not to prepare too much because you might end up just giving this speech or something that you’ve memorized, which doesn’t work with us, we will understand what you’ve done.

If you want to prepare in any shape or form, try to find out about the CELTA course, ask other people. There are forums where people have taken the CELTA before, just to get an idea, was it hard work, was it difficult, etc. Because these are things people want to know, a whole load of questions that you have in your mind, especially when you’re paying such a lot of money but for the CELTA interview, it really isn’t scary at all and we will just ask you things like “Why do you want to take the course? What are your future plans? What kind of teaching have you done before, if you have taught before? And how do you think the teaching you are doing already would be different from the course?” and a lot of the interview really is the tutor explaining to you what to expect on the course. We have to,  Cambridge says very clearly in their official handbooks that we have to explain to you and make it clear that there is a lot of work involved.

So it is our responsibility and our duty to explain to you that it’s a full day. There’s a lot of work to do in a short time and the course is very rarely intellectually challenging because that’s not its purpose, but you have to be free if you’re doing that, especially the full time course, you have to stop working, clear your calendar, if you have children you need to make arrangements. People will ask you about this in the interview, we need to know that you are supported because when you’re doing a CELTA course, you can’t do anything else when you’re doing full time, you work from sort of nine till six most days.

And then you know whether you’re online or face-to-face, you will then finish your lesson plans or you’re doing some homework and assignment, so we have to tell you about these things and it’s also an opportunity for you to ask us questions. Then just for four weeks if it’s face-to-face, and just clear the calendar, get somebody to help you out.

So that’s what the CELTA interview is. Part of it is asking you questions, part of it is telling you what to expect. We will also ask you about your attitude towards constructive criticism, because feedback is a huge part of the CELTA course, some people find this very difficult to accept, you know, especially if they disagree. You are allowed to disagree, but the important thing to remember is that it’s according to a set criteria, not your tutor’s opinion. So if you find it difficult to accept constructive criticism, then this isn’t the course for you because you come to learn and then we make mistakes. You should have feedback you can accept as well.

At the end of the interview, we usually tell you if you have been accepted or not and you will then be given a pre-course task which is issued by Cambridge. And that usually is something to prepare you for the course, some terminology, and it’s not graded, but it’s quite big, about 30 plus pages. We suggest you do it bit by bit before the course starts and we’ll give you the answer key when you finish it but it’s not checked.

So if we sum it up about the interview, part of it is about the pre-interview task to check the answers, we’re going to check your understanding of what you wrote. Excuse me for not mentioning that, maybe you wrote something that we weren’t quite sure about, can you tell us what you meant by this and you know could you explain a bit more, or we noticed that there were a couple of little mistakes in your essay, could you tell us what you think the correct form should be and so we sometimes develop that in a bit more detail as well.

So part of it is like giving you the needed awareness, that you need to for your time, free yourself totally for the course. 
Make sure that you know, whichever format you’re taking the course in, if you’re doing a face-to-face think about traveling time, if you live far away from the center, can you move closer, do you know any friends or relatives who live closer to the center. If you’re online, do you have a good stable connection, that’s very important. Do you have a room where you can shut people out and do your CELTA assignments, do your lesson planning without people disturbing you because that’s very important.

You literally eat, sleep, breathe CELTA. That’s how it goes. It’s only four weeks in your life and you got yourselves off with Cambridge CELTA certificate.

I’m not confident about when I go to the interview. I still have this kind of weird feeling, so how can I overcome these things? What should I know to make myself comfortable?
The most important thing is that it’s not a test, it is an application process. We do need to see if you’re the right person for the course, but the pre-interview task is not exactly a test.

We do need to see how you can cope. We don’t expect in-depth, grammatical knowledge, like I said because the course was originally designed for mother tongue English speakers who would never have studied their own grammar so we don’t expect a detailed knowledge of grammar. We just want to see if you’ve got the general idea. And during the interview, we just want you to be comfortable, we need to make it clear that you have a lot of work to do but please try not to stress out about it. We just want your opinion because as I said, there’s no right or wrong answer because it’s an opinion. It’s about 40-45 minutes. 

And sometimes we interview with two people, most interviews are one-to-one, but sometimes we have two applicants so you can sort of chat to each other and make each other feel at ease as well.

So what is the first step? I think we have in the interview day writing again. 
Sometimes if the pre-interview essay was good, we stop there. Most of the time we get you to do an interview essay on the day and there’s a reason for this. So allow yourself a couple of hours, because the face-to-face part is about 40-45 minutes but the actual interview essay on the day will probably take you about an hour.

The reason we do this, again this is another Cambridge recommendation, is we need to be sure that it’s your work, we don’t mean that in an unkind way but of course unfortunately now with the internet where everybody is sending these essays and things and we don’t always know who did it.

So if it’s face-to-face and you live nearby, near enough, we ask you to come here to the center and write the essay there and then. You can even type it is up to you, but as long as you’re here doing it. If that’s not possible, because you’re not in the same country or you live very far away, then we time it. We don’t send you the title until that time. So on this date, we will send you an essay title and we’d like you to write it and then send it back to us at 6 p.m.

Of course, we still can’t guarantee a hundred percent that you wrote it, but we have to trust you on that. So again, that gives us another idea of your ability to cope with the written work on the course.

Because on the course, you will not have much time to write, usually in most cases you’ll be given an assignment, as in homework once a week, but you’ve only got one or two days to do them because you’re also doing lesson planning and everything else.

So this is why we need to see what you can write when time is short because your pre-interview essay or your application essay are three weeks in advance, it means you have plenty of time to prepare but on the CELTA course you don’t have that much time.

Do we work face-to-face or just online?
The next face to face starts after ”Eid”, we also do online, so it’s up to you which format you choose. Obviously for people who are not in Egypt already, it might be more logical for you to do the online version, or you live far away, you’re not in Cairo and you can’t leave your family.

So if you do face-to-face, then it’s four weeks. If you do the online full time, it’s five weeks. And That’s because Cambridge knows the difficulties of doing things online. Sometimes it’s more tiring to work online because people sort of think it’s easy, it’s actually quite exhausting, it’s horrible being online nine hours a day.

There is no easy way to do a CELTA, whether you do it full-time, part-time, online, offline, you’re going to work really hard. 
Yes, for my experience and even my colleagues’, they usually say that they liked the stress they had, it was a really good journey, everybody had a really good atmosphere and good communication with the rest of our group, it was really interesting, having such an experience and a good professional development step.

I think you make a lot of friends on CELTA that you take with you after the course. And that’s what’s so amazing about it, not only do you learn to improve yourself as a teacher, but you can make very good friends. Some of those people might be very good contacts and that will help you when you go job hunting and things like this, especially if people from different countries or working in different situations, that’s really nice.

So you can help each other a lot, as long as you’re not plagiarizing first.

So can I quote? 
Quoting is fine and acknowledging it. You see, plagiarism simply means that you are pretending somebody else’s work is your own and this is why it’s dishonest. Quoting a couple of sentences from a well-known author is absolutely fine because while acknowledging you are admitting that these are not your ideas or this is not your idea and you are giving credit. So that’s the difference, quoting or referring to something because you’re saying exactly who said it in which book they said it and so on. Of course, we don’t want you to do things where you quote a whole paragraph, that’s not going to work with us. 

That’s the difference between quoting and plagiarizing, one is acknowledging, saying who wrote it, the other one is pretending that you wrote it when you didn’t. And just so you know, please note that most CELTA tutors in the world, if not all of us, we have read many methodology books. So as soon as you start writing something that is clearly not your own, we can smell it a mile away because of experience.

It’s because we’ve also done CELTAs and DELTAs ourselves and we used the same books for preparing our own workshops or sessions and things like this, so we recognize them immediately and nowadays, of course because we have internet, we can go into anti-plagiarism websites. You can use anti-plagiarism software which will tell us in two minutes if it’s yours or not.

So when I get something that says 88 to 90 percent plagiarized and 10% unique and then it shows me all the websites where you got it from. We don’t mind sort of 10%, it is an often accepted average. 
So it’s the same with your application essays, it’s the same with your assignments, your homework on the course or lesson plans. We know especially if you copied something from somebody who did the course with us before.

Is it okay if I am Level B2 to apply?
That’s too low. In fact, I should have mentioned this at the beginning. Cambridge clearly states this in the handbook, you should be at the higher end of C1 and the lower end of C2, this is approximately an IELTS band 7.5. So B2, you probably won’t be accepted on the course because we will see that your written and spoken English won’t be enough. 

The reason for this is that the CELTA course is an internationally recognized certificate, so you should be able to teach English anywhere in the world. But if your own English is B2, while that’s very good in some ways, that won’t be enough if you’re teaching Upper Intermediate or advanced level Learners because it might mean that their English is better than yours.

So you don’t want to be in that difficult situation as the teacher. When we issue you with a CELTA certificate or I should say issue you with a grade, we are saying to the world that you can teach pretty well in every country that accepts CELTA and so your English level must be very high. 

If English is not your mother tongue, this is the level you should be aiming for. So if you are at a lower level at the moment, get working on your English, maybe you need to take some more courses, maybe an IELTS preparation. And you know, there’s lots of free material on the Cambridge website that you can use to help prepare yourself for the CELTA course and ideally take a course that would be great to update your English and bring up the level. Because if we accept you with a B2, it’s 90 plus percent sure that you’ll fail because of writing and speaking, so it would be very dishonest of a center to take your money when they know that you’re B2. So just work on yourself.

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