What can you do to give yourself the best possible chance of not being scammed by dodgy TESOL/TEFL providers in Vietnam and Cambodia? I will address this question head on, but first some perspective.

It seems to me we live in an era when personal enrichment ‘trumps’ all other considerations. Look no further than the fledgling vocational education and training sectors in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are seriously under attack from offshore entities offering dubious study programmes and certificates that carry paper recycling value only.

As recently as yesterday, in my capacity as an employer (school owner) in Vietnam, I received job applications from two unrelated individuals. Both applicants purported to hold ‘internationally recognised’ TESOL/TEFL certification and produced certificates to support their claim. In both cases, the certificates were issued by a Limited Liability Company (LLC), one based in the United States (Florida) and the other in South Africa. I am not the sharpest bloke getting around, but I do know anyone can set up a LLC with minimum effort and small change. Moreover, I don’t know of an LLC anywhere in the world that has the authority to accredit an ESL teaching qualification, let alone issue an ‘International English Teaching Licence’ as occurred in one of the two cases mentioned above.

Those who make a living out of peddling dodgy TESOL/TEFL courses and certificates have no shame. They’re not remotely bothered by academic standards, course outcomes, being accountable and suchlike. They want your money and they’re very skilled at getting their hands on it.
History shows that whenever and wherever there are well-meaning folks who are prepared to spend money, in this instance on vocational education and training, the scallywags come out to play. This is especially prevalent in developing countries like Vietnam and Cambodia where checks and balances are either non-existent or limited to the extent unsavoury characters can line their pockets by duping unsuspecting consumers. I am aware of one entity currently operating in Vietnam that makes a big deal on the internet about their ‘TESOL/TEFL certification’ being accepted for Work Permit purposes. Being ‘accepted’ by an oblivious Vietnamese public servant does not mean the certificate is accredited by an internationally recognised, independent, accreditation authority. I did find myself asking why the issuer in this case would want to ‘crow’ about their certificate being ‘accepted’. Perhaps they were surprised with the outcome! If so, why would that be? Perhaps they know something that the unsuspecting consumer doesn’t.

So, what are some of the ‘Red Flags’ to look out for when you’re shopping around for a legitimate TESOL/TEFL provider in Vietnam or Cambodia? In my humble opinion, I’d encourage you to reflect on: 1. the price of the course; 2. accreditation; and 3. the legal status of the provider. There are many other ‘Red Flags’, but let’s just focus on the three I have identified, for the time being anyway. Allow me to elaborate.Price: If you are in the market for TESOL/TEFL certification in Vietnam or Cambodia, the price of the product will surely be one of the key considerations. World-wide, TESOL/TEFL training is one sector where in the main – you do get what you pay for. Bonafide academic accreditation does not come cheap. How much did the teachers who taught you in primary school, in elementary school, in high school or at university or college pay for their teaching qualifications? I suspect thousands and thousands of dollars. You should make an effort to ascertain the cost of CELTA, the Trinity Certificate in TESOL and the Australian Government accredited Certificate IV in TESOL. Why? Your research will provide an insight to the cost of TESOL/TEFL certification that has quality accreditation and truly carries international recognition. An independent assessment process, suitably qualified staff, infrastructure, continuous improvement, utilities, equipment, benchmarking and policies on all kinds of scenarios are just a random selection of everyday cost factors associated with bonafide accreditation. Dodgy operators don’t have to bear these costs and consequently they can charge a fraction of the price for their ‘TESOL/TEFL course’.

The reality is, if you want cheap and nasty there are plenty of ‘TESOL/TEFL courses’ available in Vietnam and Cambodia. I recently saw a 150 hour ‘internationally recognised’ course advertised for US $179.00 from the self-appointed TESOL/TEFL Master who infers his programme has the tick of approval from a US Cabinet Secretary. How can an internationally recognised TESOL/ TEFL programme be so cheap? I’m talking really, really cheap, US $179.00, for a course that runs for 150 hours – a bit over US $1.00 an hour – for an academic qualification that is supposedly legitimate. Give me a break! Dig just a tad below the surface and you’ll see this is basically yet another Limited Liability Company that literally banks on the fact that enough people in Vietnam and Cambodia will part with US $179.00 for a ‘certificate’ that carries the value of a sheet of paper and some coloured ink. More recently this particular entity added an acronym to the ‘certificate’ they issue implying a higher level of accreditation than just the LLC that was used for the first ‘role-out’ of certificates. Again, scratch a tad below the surface and you will learn that any person (or LLC) can pay a token fee to the entity that owns the acronym, to have the acronym printed on certificates, effectively adding another layer to the deception. Personally, I am aghast that prospective ESL Educators fall for it, but they do. Then, school owners who know a thing or two about accreditation in the TESOL/TEFL industry are the bearers of bad news when a person who holds a bogus certificate applies for a teaching job.

If the TESOL/TEFL programme you are looking at is really cheap, you may feel inclined to ask the provider, why his (or her) programme is 90%+ cheaper than legitimate courses – CELTA, Trinity and the Australian Government Certificate IV in TESOL. Almost certainly you will get some lame explanation that you will be able to see right through.

Accreditation: Internationally recognised accreditation is critical with TESOL/TEFL certification. In a nutshell, if the course isn’t accredited by a government, a legitimate university or a legitimate vocational training college, you will almost certainly be wasting your money, no matter how cheap the course is. If the accreditation doesn’t measure up, you’d be well-advised to vote with your feet.Teaching English in Vietnam or Cambodia is a profession where quality training is an essential starting point for, among other things, possessing the skills and knowledge to do the job, especially if you expect to be paid for your time. Would you have root canal work done by a random person knowing that he (or she) was ‘accredited’ by an individual who apparently lives in a mail box in the Bahamas and derives income from issuing dodgy certificates to people who think they’d make a good dentist? I wouldn’t! How would you feel after learning the ‘medical practitioner’ you’ve been taking your children to see for the last 5 years is chameleon-like, in the sense that he’s actually a qualified baker, who masquerades as a doctor. Surely, you’d be appalled.

The dodgy TESOL/TEFL operators seemingly have a never-ending bag of tricks to give the appearance of accreditation. They want to ensure: 1. you believe the ‘spin’; and 2. they get their hands on your hard-earned money. They’ll claim international recognition when they don’t have it. They’ll tell you their certificate is ‘accepted’ inferring that ‘accepted’ is a synonym for ‘accredited’. Typically they’ll produce a flashy, colourful certificate decorated by a US, UK, Canadian or Australian flag (all 4 flags in some cases), with an ‘in your face’ emboss (looks impressive, but costs less than 10 cents), pronounced signatures from people who are supposedly really important and acronyms galore. All this ‘fluff’ is designed to fool you into believing you are buying something of value, when the reality is very different.

Legal status: Over the past few years I have heard and read about Vietnamese Government officials raiding schools in various Districts in Ho Chi Minh City, in Ba Ria near Vung Tau and in Dalat with unfortunate consequences for the school owners and in a few cases, TESOL/TEFL students from abroad. Word has it the Ba Ria raid left a group of unsuspecting Filipino ‘TESOL’ students staring deportation in the face because the ‘TESOL School’ they were attending was unlicensed. As a matter of interest this particular ‘TESOL School’ was relentlessly advertising its ‘internationally recognised’ TESOL certificates that are accepted (as distinct from registered or accredited) by the Vietnamese Government – sound familiar? The Singaporean owned Raffles School in Ho Chi Minh City is another one I remember being raided, in part for offering courses and certificates without permission from the Vietnamese Government. The school never re-opened from the day it was raided. The Raffles incident was especially nasty with at least one of the managers jumping on a flight out of Vietnam while officials were scouring Ho Chi Minh City looking for him. Very, very unpleasant! Check out the following link about the raid on the Raffles School: https://bit.ly/2Ttew7g

TESOL/TEFL Schools in Vietnam and Cambodia with quality accreditation are typically legal in all respects – they have too much to lose not to be legal. In stark contrast, the dodgy schools have no interest in being legal because it involves hard work, time and a lot of money. All schools will tell you they’re legal, but the reality is that 90% (+/-) of TESOL/TEFL providers in Vietnam and Cambodia well and truly fly under the radar. Thorough due diligence is imperative if you are to have any chance of identifying legal TESOL/TEFL courses in a sector where the legal to illegal ratio is something like ‘one in ten’. Reading online reviews and suchlike can be helpful, but it’s not sufficient. Here are three basic ‘due diligence’ type questions you should ask a TESOL/TEFL provider directed at gaining an insight to their legal status:

  1. Does your institution have permission from the Vietnamese (or Cambodian) Government to offer a vocational training programme (sourced from abroad) in Vietnam (or Cambodia)? If so, I’d like to see written proof.
  2. Does your institution have permission from the Vietnamese (or Cambodian) Government to issue ‘internationally recognised’ TESOL/TEFL certificates in Vietnam (or Cambodian)? If so, I’d like to see written proof.
  3. Is your TESOL/TEFL course accredited by an entity that carries academic weight – a government, a legitimate university or a legitimate vocational training college? If so, I’d like to see written proof.

If the TESOL/TEFL provider you are speaking with answers yes to all 3 questions and backs up their responses with written proof, there’s a high chance they’re legal. If not, almost certainly the ‘provider’ is just another dodgy ‘diploma mill’ looking for the next person to scam.

So, what’s the underlying message in this article? Pretty simple really! The TESOL/TEFL industry in Vietnam and Cambodia is booming and there are plenty of unsavoury characters who see this as an opportunity to make some serious money. These people are smart, really smart! With just a bit of the old ‘grey matter’, you can be even smarter and this is what’s expected from folks who see themselves working as an English language educator. If a TESOL course seems cheap, find out why it is cheap. Inevitably it will have something to do with accreditation, legality or both. If the course isn’t accredited by a government, a legitimate university or a legitimate vocational training college, smile politely and walk away knowing you’ve out-smarted a dodgy TESOL/TEFL provider. If the course isn’t 100% legal in the country where it’s offered, it would be a brave person indeed who’d part with their money and enrolled.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of the Australia-Vietnam School of English in Ho Chi Minh City & Australian Vocational Skills & Education (AVSE-TESOL) in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi & Phnom Penh. TESOL certification (Australian Government accredited) through Peter’s company, AVSE-TESOL, is all about providing aspiring ESL educators with the skills, knowledge and quality certification they need for jobs teaching English in Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere. Here is a link to the AVSE-website:  www.avse.edu.vn