Sep 8

MA TESOL or Delta?

elt FAQs 
Should I do an MA TESOL or Delta?
If you're looking for a qualification to take your ELT career further, you might think about an MA TESOL or the Cambridge Delta. But which one? Here are some thoughts and some useful links (below). Hope this helps :)


So, you’ve been teaching for a few years and you are starting to think that you’d like to take your career to the next level. You’ve thinking about an MA or a Delta but you’re not sure which one is best for you. I’m Jo Gakonga from and I know that this is a tough question. The bad news is that I can’t answer that question for you, and in a short video I can’t even give you all the information you need. But the good news is that I can give you some thoughts about the relative merits of the two and point you in the direction of some useful sites for more information. Hopefully this will at least be some help in making the right decision for you.

Why do another qualification?

The first thing is that if you are serious about English teaching then a further qualification of some sort is definitely a good idea. CELTA is great, but it was designed as an initial teaching qualification and it’s only 120 hours. See it as a good starting point and I’d suggest that a couple of years’ experience is then a good idea. After that, some more formal input will help to give you roots and wings in Julian Edge’s terminology.  ‘Roots’ in having a firmer foundation in educational theory and ‘wings’ to fly further in your chosen career. This was certainly the case for me.

My story

Let’s start with my personal history. I’ve done both of these qualifications, I did the Delta fairly early in my career- I’d been teaching about 4 years at the time - and the MA TESOL about 15 years later. They’re both Level 7 qualifications on the scale of UK qualifications. They’re both quite expensive and time consuming and a lot of effort. But for me, they were both brilliant and both life and career changing. So if you are wavering, my advice would be ‘take the plunge’!

What’s the difference between them?


Let’s look at Delta first. The Delta is CELTA’s big sister. Accredited by Cambridge and usually (although not always) run out of private language institutes. It’s in three modules that you can take in any order and over as much time as you like. You can find out information about these modules in the links below but in short:

Module 1 is called ‘Understanding language, methodology and resources for teaching’ . It tests your knowledge about those things and it’s assessed by two 90 minute exams.

Module 2 is a practical module, called Developing Professional Practice and it’s assessed on your planning and teaching in the classroom with observed lessons (one with an external observer) and extended plans and reflections for each lesson (there’s a LOT of writing here!)

Module 3 is ‘Extending practice and ELT Specialism’ (or there’s an alternative version aimed at ELT Managers). It’s an extended essay where you choose a particular class and write a course for them, including a needs analysis, designing a syllabus, planning the course and the assessment.

You can study for module 1 and 3 on your own without a formal course, but I personally wouldn’t recommend this.

It’s worth noting that what you need to learn is generally more proscribed and much more standardised than the learning path on an MA and it’s got a strong slant towards the practical – what actually goes on in a classroom. This is obviously particularly true for Module 2 – the assessed teaching practice.


Moving on to a Master’s degree, MAs in TESOL or Applied Linguistics are often more theoretical. They certainly can be. They’re made up of different modules that are usually assessed by extended essays – there’s a lot of reading to do – and the final part is a dissertation where you’ll do some independent primary research in an area that interests you and write it up in a formal, academic manner with support from a university tutor. The content on an MA is much more variable than the Delta and there’s often quite a bit of choice, so it’s a good idea to look carefully at the syllabus to make sure that it offers the things you’re interested in. I wanted a focus on teacher education, for example, so that was what I looked for. Having said that, there’s usually the opportunity to tailor the assignments to a focus that interests you. For example, I did a module on Spoken Interaction (which was fascinating), and we had to analyse some talk so I used an extract from a CELTA feedback session. It’s good to be open to the new, though. The things that ended up being most fundamentally life changing for me, weren’t the things I expected at all.

You can do an MA face to face or online and full time in a year or part time over a longer period (I did mine in two years while I was working part time). My experience was that part time was good – it gave me more time to read and think about what I was doing and a lot more time for my dissertation research.

Just as a point of note, it’s pretty hard to fail an MA if you start one – as long as you put in the work. It’s more than possible to fail Delta modules.

Which should you do?

Which you choose depends a lot on the kind of work that you want to progress to. I’d say that overall, for being in the classroom, the Delta offers a reassurance to an employer that you can actually do the job in a practical way, so my feeling is that this is the one to do earlier on in your career. I’m biased, though, because, of course, that’s the way I did it. You’ll also need a level 7 qualification with assessed teaching practice (which essentially means the Delta or the Trinity Diploma) if you want to become a CELTA trainer in the future.  On the other hand, if you want university level work, you’ll probably need a Masters and in some parts of the world, an MA carries more kudos than the Delta, I think. The best thing to do is to Google the kind of job that you want in the future and see what qualifications they’re asking for.

This is already a pretty long video and there’s much more I could say, but I hope that it’s given you a bit of food for thought. I’ve put a whole bunch of useful links just below here, so check them out and see what others have got to say about it too, before you make a decision.

Good luck with whatever you do and thanks for watching.

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