If you’re about to finish the Trinity DipTESOL, prepare yourself. You’ll soon have one of the most poorly understood qualifications in ELT.
I finished mine in late 2014. Since then, I’ve had 3 different DELTA-qualified teachers suggest that my next step should be to take their Cambridge-accredited course. At least a handful of teachers have commented that I took the ‘easy DELTA’. My old boss all but dismissed my qualification by stating that the assessment ‘does appear less rigorous than the DELTA’. I’ve come across a fair few job adverts where the requirements ask for ‘DELTA or equivalent’ – my qualification isn’t even mentioned by name!
I can’t honestly say which is a harder course, I haven’t taken both and I don’t intend to. I’ll soon sit down with a DELTA-qualified colleague and record a conversation comparing our experiences of the two courses, which should be pretty interesting. I’ll post it up once it’s done. In the meantime, here are some of the most common perceptions I’ve encountered about the Trinity DipTESOL in the last year or so, and my own thoughts on them. Feel free to comment, disagree, and share some of your own experiences of both courses.
‘The DELTA and the DipTESOL are not equivalents’
I don’t feel this is always said with malice. The way this conversation often plays out is:
Colleague: the DELTA and the Dip aren’t really equivalents
Me: Well, they are both Level 7 on the UK National Qualifications framework, the same as a Masters. You can get accredited prior learning on a lot of MA courses for them, so they are kind of the same
Colleague: Yeah, but, they’re different courses…
This tends to lead into a discussion on course content. Here’s an overview of modules on the Dip course…
If you’ve taken the DELTA, you’ll notice there is plenty of crossover. The DipTESOL also has a 3 hour long written exam, about 10,000 words worth of assignments for a portfolio, and 5 assessed lessons (4 internal, 1 external) each requiring rationales, lesson plans and evaluations with word counts that go into the thousands. Based on what I hear from DELTA teachers, I’d say the courses have pretty similar demands, they are just structured a bit differently. So, different? Yes. Equivalent? Yes…
This is a classic assumption of the DipTESOL, and it’s usually based on the course having a ‘Phonology Interview’. In the Dip you have to talk for 30 minutes about phonology. You give a presentation on one way you use phonology in class, chat about it after, transcribe some spoken English delivered by the examiner, then chat about the theory and practice of teaching phonology in general.
Despite the format, I’m not so sure that phonology really is a bigger focus on the DipTESOL compared to the DELTA:
- According to the DELTA syllabus there are two ‘language systems’ assignments to complete in Module 2, each with background essays of 2000-2500 words. If you are interested in phonology, you can choose this as one assignment topic. That’s a substantial amount of phonology focus in my book!
- As with Diploma assignments, I guess you could choose to focus your DELTA extended assignment on teaching phonology to certain learners.
- If you don’t choose to focus on phonology in your DipTESOL assignments (or exam questions), then you’ll only deal with this language system during a 30 minute interview, and as integrated in your lessons – plus in a bit of key reading.
Phonology does form an important part of the DipTESOL syllabus. However, I’d argue that a strong knowledge of grammar and lexis is of equal, if not higher importance. A third of the final exam in the DipTESOL deals with these language systems. You have an hour to answer 4 questions on some fairly difficult grammar and vocab points. You’re marked on both accuracy and completeness for each question. Here are two example questions from the November 2010 paper… personally I don’t think they are that easy. It must be particularly hard to achieve ‘completeness’ for Question 2 if you allow just 15 minutes for each question.
So, is there a heavy focus on phonology? I guess so, yes. Is it any more than other language systems? Not necessarily. Is it more than on the DELTA? I suppose it depends on what you choose to teach and research.
‘Employers prefer the DELTA…’
Yes, some do. I’ve witnessed this first hand. I was really disappointed when my old boss suggested that the DELTA was more rigorous. But let’s be honest, that was one person. I currently work at a British Council centre in Bangkok, and there is no prejudice regarding my qualifications. The two senior teachers who interviewed me had both taken the DipTESOL, so choosing that course above the DELTA has hardly restricted their careers! In my previous centre in Vietnam, the British Council were offering teachers funding for the DipTESOL rather than the DELTA. The BC network certainly considers the courses to be equivalent. I can’t vouch for other institutions though. In truth, I don’t really feel that the DipTESOL is just being brushed aside as an ‘or equivalent’ qualification in job advertisements, I just think that the DELTA is more recognisable.
‘The Dip is much easier than the DELTA’
I’d hate to be a DELTA trainee, because I feel like a lot of recent DELTA graduates strike unnecessary fear into the heart of them!
Graduate: So, you’re starting the DELTA next month…
Trainee: Yeah. You’ve done it, right? How was it?
Graduate: Oh *rolls eyes*. Prepare for 9 months of hell! Say goodbye to your weekends. Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth it, but…
Still, I’m sure we’re all guilty of this when we are the informed party. Someone asked me about my experiences of the recent CELTYL course I’ve just completed over 10 weeks. My response mirrored the one above. I think it’s just because the course is fresh in my mind, and the pressure I felt is still quite real. I bet in a few weeks my story will change to ‘yeah, it was a challenge but rewarding’, then in another month to, ‘give it a go, it’s a bit time-consuming but you learn a lot’.
My manager got his DELTA marks last month, and found out he got a Merit for his teaching practice. I heard him sharing experiences with our new DELTA trainee. He said ‘look, the course is demanding at times, but if you put in the time and effort it is manageable, and you’ll pass it. Don’t worry too much, you have plenty of support’. Well said. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I felt that the DipTESOL was a real challenge and I really felt the pressure, but when you come out with a good mark and the fear of failure has disappeared, you start to think ‘maybe I did blow that out of proportion a bit’.
Of course, there are factors to consider…
- Course duration and course format. It’s always worth clarifying how long people took to complete each course when you ask them about their experiences. I imagine experiences on a 3 month intensive or 9 month distance DELTA would be very different to an 18-month distance DipTESOL.
- Previous experience. I’d already studied a Masters before I took my DipTESOL. This meant the assignment side of things didn’t worry me as much as it might others. However, there were some experienced teachers on the course who breezed through the teaching practice – I was a nervous wreck for that!
- Reading requirements. I would say from my conversations with DELTA graduates that the reading seems more extensive on the DELTA. Whilst citing key ELT literature is very important in the DipTESOL written exam, this isn’t a strong requirement in other written work. My assignments each had no more than 5 references but all passed with a high mark. I could have been a lucky exception though…
- Expectations of your chosen centre. In my Diploma interview I asked a bit about the standards for the written assignments. The tutor replied, ‘we would hope that you’ll be able to edit the assignments down afterwards and perhaps get them published in industry magazines’. Wow, talk about added pressure! I’m sure this isn’t a standard expectation for all DipTESOL centres, maybe mine just aimed high. Still, if this is what they say at DipTESOL centres and our courses are ‘easier’ then good luck with the DELTA!
So, which course is harder?! It depends on how you do them, who you do them with, what prior experience you have. Basically, there are too many factors.
You may be lucky enough to avoid some of the opinions I mentioned above. No doubt for every fleeting judgement you hear about your course, they’ll be twice as many teachers who are genuinely interested in the differences between these two courses and WILL consider them equal. Over the last year though, I must admit to being quite surprised at how little some teachers know about the Trinity DipTESOL – but then how much do I really know about the DELTA having not actually taken it?!
Worryingly, my knowledge of the Diploma has sometimes led to a feeling of empowerment. I feel like an enigma at times, and I’m prone to misinformation. I’ve dumbed down the course to please others (‘yeah, but it’s not the DELTA, is it?’), I’ve played on its supposed strengths (‘We covered a lot about phonology on the Dip’) and I’ve exaggerated the level of challenge merely to justify my own standing. All of which have done nothing to help colleagues understand more about my alternative, yet equivalent, qualification to the DELTA. Let’s hope this post generates a bit of dialogue among ‘Dippers’ and ‘DELTA-ites’ to help stifle misconceptions on both sides. Yes, I know, we’re not really at odds, are we?!