The voice of the “free TEFL course” speaks

After my disbelieving post about the truth of claims of free TEFL training (followed by disbelieving comments by my regular readers, both of them), I got a reply from someone in the parent company and sent off some questions that I thought were worth asking. He didn’t have time to answer my follow up questions, but I have left them in (marked in bold) in case he has time to come on here to answer them, in case anyone else can answer them, and to give this interview the nice gladitorial Jeremy Paxman/ Today programme atmosphere that we all love about British journalism. And with a suitably unimpressed sounding Jeremy Paxman “Weeeeelllllll”, here we go…

“Hi Tom, thanks for agreeing to answer my questions on the TESOL Global course that I wrote about a few posts ago. What really caught my attention was the offer of a “free TEFL course”. Is that claim completely true without any caveats, e.g. is it possible to gain access to the course materials and even have your written work
checked while choosing not to pay the certificate fee?

ANSWER: – We charge for three Administrative things – the Certificate preparation, the Certificate Case, and postage. We do not raise any other fees. We do not enroll anyone until they pay the Administrative fee. We did offer a 100% free Certificate in 2006, and all fees were covered by the Time Taylor Organization, In the first month over 700 persons undertook the course and overwhelmed us – it was never envisioned so many person would do the course. Thus the ‘true’ Free course had a life span of one month.

So why does the site still say “Global TESOL is the only company that can offer you an accredited free 120 hour TESOL Certificate organized by world leading experts” rather than “… for under 100 dollars”. Isn’t this the kind of salesmanship that gives TEFL courses a bad name?

Precise definitions of “free” aside, it is pretty cheap. I assume your organization needs to make a profit or at least draw even, so why offer it for so little money?
ANSWER:-The Time Taylor organization turns over many multiple millions of dollars in Education from its various divisions (publishing, legal, journals, colleges (we own 3 colleges in China, Korea and Philippines, we also own majority shares in 5 TESOL organizations and turn over from the Conference division is about 1.2 million a year (from 9 International conferences we hold). The founder even established free legal services for teachers in Korea for 10 years (EFL-Law) – that site now is merely a Help site only but physically helped over 5,700 teachers in Korea from 1997 to 2007 with free legal help and assistance. Thus some areas, such as the academic journals, which are very profitable, can absorb the costs. A fundamental premise of the organization is to provide as much content (journals, etc, courses) to the developing third world as we can.) We are currently building a school near Butuan to provide free schooling for 500 children. We do receive substantial income from government contracts and simply return some of that money back into projects that we hope can help.

So, the course will be loss-making but for the good of the industry/ the teachers involved? Surely if, as you say elsewhere in this interview, the company that runs the courses is a separate company from the rest of Time Taylor that part of the group must at least draw even? Where will that income come from if not from these courses? (I should point out that unlike some, I in no way think making a profit in TEFL is a crime!)

Do you not think there is a danger of attracting people who aren’t too serious if they don’t need to commit to paying much money?
ANSWER: – You miss the point on this one! Teaching used to be the domain of persons from the main western countries (Australia, USA, Canada, UK, NZ, etc.) The Administrative cost to them is small. But few applicants come from these countries. Nowadays there is a growing demand to employ teachers from the Philippines, India, Pakistan (as is evidenced by Korea now employing teachers from India and Pakistan) from 2009 – and over 150,000 Filipinos teaching English in their country. In a report released by the Congressional Committee into Foreigners Affairs in Seoul, it is estimated that teachers from the above countries will make up over 40% of TESOL teachers there within 4 years. To people from these countries, and many other Middle Eastern, African countries, the fee of $81 is very high. It is these people whom we are most concerned to see receive the chance to undertake TESOL courses. Indeed, as the major share holder of Philippine TESOL from January 2009, we will be offering a 4 week attendance courses run in conjunction with that countries oldest university for a fee less than U.S. $210.00

Yep, I have to admit my thinking was a bit native speaker centric when I first read about it on someone else’s blog. Good point. However, as there doesn’t seem to be any kind of means testing I imagine there could be people, like the blogger I read, who are wasting your valuable time when they haven’t even decided whether they really want a certificate in TEFL or not. If each course is running at a loss, wouldn’t you want to avoid that?


If the income from fees is quite low, what is the commercial logic behind offering this course- staff who aren’t busy so may as well be teacher trainers, increased kudos for the organization, getting teachers for your own schools straight off the course, offering extras like accommodation that you make the money off? Or are there
other motivations, e.g. persuading people away from other organizations you don’t approve of?
ANSWER: – The course you ask about refers to On-Line. Your question seems to confuse other issues that are not relevant. In fact if you look to the sites owned by the organization, you will se we recommend about 15 other courses across the globe.

How many people have taken this course already, and what are your projections for the future?
ANSWER: – The course begins in January 2009. It has not started yet. I have no idea how many people will want to do it. There are other good course out there (on-line courses such as Linguaedge) and other excellent attendance based courses to chose from. Based on early figures from the Philippines, we believe over 200 will do this on-line course per month, and about 50-60 will undertake the attendance based course we will hold in Cebu. We are also establishing a Course in conjunction with TESOL India and five other Middle Eastern, Asian countries.

If your course provides “professional support” etc, aren’t you going to get horribly understaffed if you don’t set a limit on the number of people who can do the online course?

The site claims that people can get a pay rise after passing your course if they work in some schools in Korea and don’t have any previous TEFL qualifications. How sure are you about that, e.g. do you have a signed agreement with the Korean government or have people who took your course before been given that money?
ANSWER: – Teachers who work for the EPIK organization, (The government program) receive 100,000 Korean Won more per month if they hold a 100 hour TESOL certificate. We don’t need a signed agreement, nor do any other of the TESOL providers who supply 100+ hour certificates. I believe a Thailand based TESOL company also makes the same statement. It is something I wish all TESOL providers would do – it might help the industry if teachers know that a TESOL certificate can help. The same statement as it can be found on the EPIK website.

So, although 100 or 120 hour TESOL certificates traditionally mean ones with observed teaching practice, that is not the case in Korean law? Does it demand accreditation and define what that means, or is absolutely anything that claims to be a 100 hour course okay?

Ditto with the credits for university courses- are you assuming you meet their standards as written somewhere, or do you have a written agreement and/ or have people used that right before?
ANSWER: – If you look at the Asian EFL Journal Editorial Board you will see the largest collection of world renowned academics ever assembled. We hold signed agreements from the Universities mentioned. Indeed, we have many more offering the same (for it helps get them students who pay high fees.) However, the teacher who undertakes a TESOL course should ALWAYS ask the university if he or she can get credit based on their TESOL certificate. The University Registrar will look at the TESOL course provider and make a determination. Many grant credit. It is just not something many people are aware of. It is not unique to us.

Apart from the “free” bit, what struck me most about your site is how much time you spend trying to persuade people that they don’t need any kind of TEFL certificate at all. Isn’t it a bit strange for a publisher of professional education magazines to put people off being trained to teach? What is the motivation behind those messages?
ANSWER: – Thus you are asking if it is strange to tell the truth in advertising? The answer is no. The teacher or future teacher must know the truth. There are too many TESOL sites run by fly by night operators who simply fail to tell applicants the cold hard truth. The EFL-Law group has dealt with many complaints where a Polish based operator (claiming to be Canadian) was churning out vast amount of TESOL certificates (in different company names) that in the end were not accepted by many employers. Applicants paid vast sums of money for worthless paper. The truth is that there are few countries who legally require a TESOL certificate. A recent University survey in Korea shows 97.4% of teachers at that time did not have a TESOL or Education back ground. However, it is the view of others higher placed than me that TESOL Certificates will become more of a quasi legal requirement over the next 10 years.

Isn’t there still the danger that someone will come onto the site, think “Oh, I don’t actually need any training at all then” and then merrily go on the way teaching without any help or guidance (as complained about by the head of TESOL Korea in my quotes of the year)? Surely our fundamental selling point for TEFL courses is not getting a job or getting pay rises but actually knowing how to teach when you first get paid for standing in a classroom. If so, rather than “You don’t have to have a cert”, shouldn’t your site be saying “You should get as much training as you can, preferably a course with observed teaching practice, but a quality online course like this if such a course is impossible for you”


Still on the topic of professional standards, do you not think a professional organisation should be persuading people to take a course with observed teaching practice, rather than an online one or none at all?
ANSWER: – YES. However, as referred to above, the majority of our applicants will come from countries where the monthly income is less than $100.00 – We have applicants from Bangladesh, Palestine, African states, etc. These people will never be able to afford an attendance based course yet many are teaching English in their home country. If we look at Korea, with 27,400 ex pats teaching English, and 3% holding a TESOL qualification, then we can assume it is the duty of governments to take on the major role of setting standards. In a meeting of Education heads in April 2008 I attended, it was felt by almost all of the 27 countries represented (by politicians or Education Ministry officials) that it was not possible to impose a TESOL Certificate standard globally – but rather it should be left to a country by country basis.

For a free course I guess high standards are a bonus rather than something you can complain about not having, but the main evidence on your site (which is refreshingly honest about what “accreditation” means in TEFL courses) about standards is the connection with the Asian EFL Journal. What exactly is the connection between TESOL Global and the Asian EFL Journal? Different companies in the same group? If so, any
actual shared staff?
ANSWER: – Yes. The Asian EFL Journal now has an on-line readership of 1.3 million unique readers a year from 127 countries. Sales from the three leading journals are quite substantial. It was felt by the majority that the TESOL course had to be a separate entity from the journal- following a recent take over attempt by a large British based corporation. It is anticipated a new take over bid will occur in the not too far future- thus it was felt wiser to separate the entities for commercial purposes.

Despite being honest about your accreditation on the specific page, you still say “accredited course”. What exactly does that mean, e.g. what would you accept as accreditation from other courses that made the same claim?

Can you please take down the references to specific famous TEFL figures who will actually have nothing to do with the course、as this is a much abused practice that brings the whole industry into disrepute?

ANSWER: – Indeed, can you apologize for not having done your homework? You seem somewhat misread or mislead on this one. {I can slip a note here that a site operating out of Korea claiming to be us and holding up 3 prominent photos is fraudulent – and our legal division has asked the Korean authorities to take it down – but the process is slow. We have also heard of a site operated out of China also uses our name and format illegally. We took them down a while back but they reappeared under a new IP. This was also a reason to separate the course into its own entity. Thus the moral is to any TESOL candidate, “Be careful who you are dealing with. i.e caveat emptor”

If you refer to this link,

our main lecturer if Dr. Paul Robertson who is the founder of 14 academic linguistics based journals. 2 of them have just been listed in the world’s leading 400 academic journals by Thomson’s, so we feel reasonably satisfied in saying our key attendance based lectures are of reasonable quality. Dr. Robertson is present at every attendance course; (note we do not hold that many due to staff limitations- all courses are filled within days of opening.) We also are fortunate to have Professor Ellis attend as when his schedule allows – (Professor Ellis is the Senior Advisor the journal group and lead speaker at the Annual Conference in Korea every year) … we have had 3 courses in Korea run by Professor Ellis in 2008. Over 60 teachers have graduated his TESOL course. Thus 2 of the world’s leading Linguists have presented!

To actually have the course run by those people is indeed pretty impressive, but I’m still not sure about the wording of “Members of the Board include Professors Rod Ellis , Professors David Nunan and Dr. Paul Robertson as well as many others”, (from ) when maybe David Nunan and many of those others will have no supervising role when it comes to this division of Time Taylor International and the courses it runs, as they are members of the board of the Asian EFL Journal, an unconnected company that is simply in the same group (and not even on the board of the parent company). It might not seem like a huge issue in this case, but it is one step from claiming that people who visited once are somehow a mark of quality as some other courses do. Also, I assume they do not provide support to the online trainees.


Who will the trainers be?
ANSWER:-How does this question fit in with an on-line course? Attendance based courses are not what we are talking about here.
In 2009 attendance based course will be established in the Philippines, India in 3 cities, Pakistan, Taiwan and Malaysia. The course will not operate until all legal requirements of each country are met, etc. Courses in Korea will be limited due to international commitments of our key trainers who are now involved in other educational projects in Chongqing China, central Korea and Manila.

Good point, a lazy use of words I must admit (it’s Xmas hols!) Still, your site says the online course involves “Writing a TESOL paper, Consulting with course supervisors from time to time” and “professional support”, so there must be staff (hopefully well qualified and experienced staff) who set the tasks and mark them, give advice, and prepare the reading and other materials. Can you give us some details of staff numbers, minimum requirements etc?

Is the aim to be as good as other online TEFL courses but cheaper, or do you have something unique to offer?
ANSWER: – NOPE- Merely to give teachers an alternative. There are other good courses out there – Linguaedge is another excellent course I would recommend. There are a couple of courses in Thailand we recommend. An excellent attendance based course is held in Pusan, Korea at The University of Foreign Languages. Anaheim University with whom we are closely connected have the world’s leading linguists on their staff. Thus the options are many and varied. Teachers need to look around, consider the course, costs, and their individual long term future.

There are of course also many terrible or even non-existent TEFL courses out there too. What is people’s ultimate guarantee that this course isn’t one of them, despite the low price?


Is there any particular reason for why online courses are not offered to people in South Korea?


Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer the first round of questions above

All the best for 2009


ANSWER: – You too-all the best and hope all goes excellently with your site. Come back in 6 months and do a follow up! If your in Korea in April 2009, Chonguin China May 2009, or Manila in August you are my guest at our international EFL and ESP conferences.

Sure, I’m based in Korea so if I have time I’ll pop along. Give me a nudge for a progress check on the online courses as well when they’ve been running for a while. Also, do you want to offer a totally free course or at least access to the content to one of our Book Review page reviewers for a free review on that page? As they are all qualified and/ or experience teachers, they could give readers much more of an idea of what the course is like than we can with an interview, even one with as full answers as this one!

This entry was posted in Dodgy TEFL courses, Global TESOL, links, Online TEFL certificate, Teacher training, Teaching English Abroad, Teaching English in Asia, Teaching English in Korea, TEFL, TEFL career planning, TEFL certificate, TEFL conferences, TEFL qualifications, TEFL scams and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to The voice of the “free TEFL course” speaks

  1. Teflista says:

    To me, Alex, what is most shocking, if not scandalous, was this statement from the interview:

    ‘We also own majority shares in 5 TESOL organizations and turn over from the Conference division is about 1.2 million a year (from 9 International conferences we hold).’

    And from their website:

    “Founded in 1993, the group has grown to include incorporated TESOL organizations in India, Turkey, Philippines, and soon to be 47 other countries.”

    Here is their new organization, ‘TESOL Philippines’, which ‘opened its membership’ on Jan 1, 2009:

    Does this not have the look of an official TESOL (USA) or IATEFL affiliate? Yet, it is obviously just a division of their own company and they do sort of identify as such at the bottom. I see an opportunity for this to be possibly misused down the road… our course is the only one endorsed by ‘TESOL Philippines’ (when it is, in fact, part of their own company…)

    Aren’t teacher organizations supposed to be for teachers, by teachers and not something that one company owns a majority of shares in? Is this industry going into the gutter or what?

    BTW, the flagship TESOL organization in the Philippines is PALT, which is a wonderful organization with an excellent annual international conference:

  2. David V. says:

    Fine piece of blogging Alex, thanks.

  3. Joshua says:

    GREAT interview. I’ve been to the Asian-EEL conference in Busan- the whole organization is a huge scam, and I’m baffled how many get pulled in by it.

  4. Don W says:

    “The Time Taylor organization turns over many multiple millions of dollars in Education from its various divisions…” Sounds like absolutely typical Paul Robertson style self-aggransizement and outright lies. If you have ever dealt with this guy, you’ll know enough not to go anywhere near the ‘Time-Taylor Network’.

  5. Alex Case says:

    Could we back that up with some facts, guys?

  6. John in Japan says:

    Is there anymore news on this? I paid the 81.00 a couple of weeks ago, but my subsequent emails are not returned. Who is this guy you interviewed? Tom Davidson and how can I get in touch with him. I beginning to loose faith in this course.

  7. Alex Case says:

    Hi John

    I can’t say anything for the quality of the course one way or another, but I’d be very surprised if this turned out to be one of those TEFL scams where they just run off with your money and disappear. More likely typical TEFL cheapskates and understaffed. Have you got a telephone number you can try? If not, I’ll try emailing Tom Davidson about your case, but my emails often go unread as well

  8. John in Japan says:

    Thank you. No I can’t locate a phone number anywhere on their web site or the Asian EFL journal site.

    I ‘d appreciate any help at all.
    I didn’t think it is a scam either, with connections to some very significant folks.


  9. Leah says:

    I think, unfortunately, your opportunity to question was diluted by asking so many questions at once – this let the interviewee just focus on the last one (indeed, the volume of questions in each set would overwhelm me), which was a similar pattern throughout. It seems like you asked your questions by e-mail so this may have been the only ways to do it without barraging your subject with e-mails. It’s still too bad, though.

  10. kian o'grady says:

    I too paid the $81 and was very concerned when a couple of emails went unanswered.

    However, I then tried emailing the email address used for the paypal payment and I received several very prompt responses.

    So, just email them at and all should be good 🙂

  11. rose says:

    Hi guys,
    I’m new and need some pointers. I would like to train for tefl/tesol but need some clarification- should I only consider courses that offer 100+ hours? From what I’ve read so far, it seems that weekend courses are a bit of a waste of time. Also, as I’m travelling to South America, would it be wiser to consider a course over there?
    Many thanks for helping me to avoid the scams!

  12. Millie Patrick says:

    I would be cautious dealing with the Time Taylor network, firstly because my husband worked for this organisation and didn’t get paid (where did the guy run to?).

    Then, with some research into the company, I too, came to the same conclusions as Don W, Joshua and Teflista. The organization endorses other companies in the network, and the company is grossly exaggerated with regards to size. Is there any proof of actual turnover figures for the org? Proof of three colleges actually existing? etc…..

  13. Josh B says:

    Hello everyone. I’m currently teaching in Pusan. I’m in a coffee shop and someone just walked up and handed me a flyer for the Asian EFL Journal International Conference (April 10-11, 2009 in Pusan at the Grand Hotel). It says:

    “Attend the Conference and Sunday 12th Lectures Combined with your experience and university degree obtain an accredited TESOL Certificate.”

    Admission fee is 55,000KRW or 74,000KRW with lunch at TGIF.

    direct link to information:

    Any website address with that many hyphens is immediately suspicious to me. I immediately assumed it was a scam. Does anyone have any information?

  14. Teflista says:

    Some of the speakers at the conference are worth listening to, but I’d never recommend that course to anyone. For one thing, there’s no observation or feedback required of your actual teaching (either during or after). What someone has done prior to the course is irrelevant, as they may not have had any idea what they were doing.

    Here’s what it says on their website for the conference:

    “TESOL Certificate 120 hours.

    Part 1. Attend the Conference.
    Attend the TESOL lecture session with Professor Ellis at 5.30 p.m. at the Conference
    Part 1A. Attend Sunday 12th from 1:00-5:30 p.m. for lectures from Conference professors and other invited speakers.
    Part 2. Provide proof of University degree
    Part 3. Provide proof of working as an EFL ESL teacher for 6 months or more
    Part 4. Complete a written exercise (OR) come to the Asian ESP Conference May 25th in Pusan schedule
    Part 5. Undertake to do the readings (estimated at 40 hours) as your time permits”

    Here’s a related article that might be of interest to you:

  15. ataeni says:

    Google search the names Paul Robertson and Tom Davidson. There is not one article or website that states the credentials of these people as mentioned in the above interview. In fact, you will be directed to a cartoon pornographic image/ animation if you google “Paul Robertson” and click the first search entry. Isn’t that suspicious enough?

  16. scammed says:

    I paid $259 US for the online Asian EFL Journal Certificate, which I finally finished a month ago. I was in contact with “Dr. Paul Robertson” but he hasn’t replied to my emails since he asked where he should send the certificate.

    Now, after reading this page, it looks like I’ve been scammed.

    I put a lot of effort into reading and writing all the essays, so its quite disappointing. I signed up for the certificate because it was highly recommended by the forums which had previously given me good advice (but have disappeared now).

    And, I’ve just found this website: [EDITED- DEAD LINK] which looks extremely dodgy…complete with a composite photo of some guy.

    If I don’t get the certificate, I’ll be contacting every organisation which has lent its name to the certificate, and lobbying for their support to be retracted. If anyone can provide some advice on what to do, it’d be greatly appreciated.

  17. Alex Case says:

    As I said earlier, although it certainly ain’t no CELTA and stuff like recommending their own cert on without saying they are the same people (if that is what they did) is a bit dodgy, I would be very surprised if they didn’t send you a cert. If there is any value to the cert is another matter. Pure understaffing due to greed, I reckon

  18. TEFLista says:

    I, too, would be surprised if you didn’t get anything at all from them at all. I’m not that familiar with them, but the article below might offer some options for you:

    What to Do If You’ve Been Had By Your TEFL Course

    Please keep us posted, as I would be interested in hearing the outcome.

  19. teflista says:

    The Paul Robertson website is interesting. There is a claim being made there of be a “Dr.”, yet no mention of what or where it is from. No mention whatsoever of this person’s background, just business transactions and intentions. And the contact email address is Gmail ! Hmmmm….

  20. Alex Case says:

    Also mentions setting up 12 magazines, but if you Google the names it seems only 4 of them have ever really existed in more than name. Makes you wonder about all the past tenses in the story of setting up their schools in Korea as well. I would give them a chance to reply yet again, but as many people have mentioned they never answer their emails. The whole organisation seems to be two people, and one of them told me he had 1000 unread emails in his inbox

  21. scammed says:

    *Update To Previous Post*

    Ok its been 6 weeks since I completed the Asian EFL Journal TESOL Certificate, and still no reply from “Dr. Paul Robertson.” Just like that – as soon as I complete the certificate, he completely cuts off communication.

    At this point, I just have to bitterly conclude it was a scam and I’ve wasted my time and money.

    So, I’m going to start spreading the word as far and wide as I can that these names cannot be trusted.

    And it just so happens that I’m moving to Busan soon, so if “Time Taylor International” has any basis there (which they say they do), then I’ll find them.

  22. Alex Case says:

    Someone else claiming to offer a free TEFL course here:

  23. Ian says:

    I noticed you posted this article in “dodgy TEFL courses” and simultaneously posted a link to a page on my site above in the comments. I think that is unfair. The site does have and has always had a free online TEFL course. In the beginning (for a number of months) it included a certificate, however certificates are only issued via successful completion of the course with a donation. Students need to maintain an 80-85% throughout the course (depending on the course). And it has been that way for quite a while.

    It’s pretty straight forward.

  24. alexcase says:

    I can’t see that anyone reading this would draw any connection between a tag on a post and a link in a comment there. If they want to know more, here is the link to my interview with you:

  25. callcenterblurbber says:

    Paul was previously a lawyer, and quit cause he earned in TEFL, He’s not a teacher by profession and I have no idea how he became a linguist or how got his title Doctor and where that came from. I wish they could just stop using big names in their conferences and crediting that to their course. I feel like their just exploiting Dr, Rod Ellis and big names just to attract naive people who think they’ll be trained by these experts when these experts only drop by for a few hours and the rest of the class is handled by some lecturer. And who are their lecturers? why don’t they advertise who their real lecturers are?

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