Saturday 23 June 2012

MA TESOL /app ling or DELTA? Which to do?

DISCLAIMER: This is not a piece based on evidence but just personal experience.  If you feel there are any factual inaccuracies then please let me know and I'll change them.
I recently got an email asking which of these is a better option for an EFL teacher.  Although the person asking probably didn't expect such a long winded reply, it inspired me to put my thoughts down in this blog.  I've wanted to write about the DELTA for a while now but this is not that blog...hopefully it will push me to start writing that blog I'm going to lay out some of the pros and cons of both here and let you make up your own mind depending on your needs and situation. 


This is fairly straight forward.  The DELTA is a 2 month course (with 1 month to write the essay for module 3) and most UK based MAs take a year.  things get more complicated if you want to do part time, or distance learning.  A lot of people choose the DELTA because taking a whole year off work is quite tough for many EFL teachers -in terms of pay, EFL is hardly banking.    


Most DELTAs are being advertised for around the £2,000-£3,000 mark for a full time course including exam fees. Of course, if you do a full time course it is quite likely that you'll have to travel somewhere or live in another country so you can add the cost of flights, accommodation etc to that.  I did my DELTA by distance with BELL and I think it was around the £3,500 mark.  If you're lucky, your employer may be willing to pay for some/all of the fees.

In 2006 Masters programs cost about the same.   They have subsequently increased in price and I've heard they will shoot up in the near future to match BA courses, -though this could be a rumour.  I luckily did my masters in 2006 for about £3,600.  The same course now costs over £4,600.  On top of this you have the loss of earnings for one year, the accommodation and living costs.  This makes the number of people able to even think about doing an MA much smaller, I imagine.  The part time option for the same course comes in at about £7,000 over two and a half years.  There are, though, scholarships available it seems. 

There is a good chance that if you choose a fairly big university and have decent qualifications, there may be chances to work in the English Language centre on campus.  There are at least 4 people where I currently work who were in that position. 

Order of acquisition

There are a number of MA TESOL courses which offer exceptions for DELTA holders.  That is, if you have a DELTA you can receive credit for a portion of the MA without having to do it. The list ranges from nothing (Unis not on the list) all the way up to 60 credits.  Rather ironically, Cambridge, producers of the DELTA, offers nothing.  It thus makes sense to do the DELTA first IF you are planning on going to one of these universities.  I did the DELTA second and it worked out for me because, by that time I had a full time job in the UK and the institution paid some of the fees.  I did try to start the DELTA abroad but for module 2 you will need a trainer and it's pretty tough trying to find one in Asia. 

Although it's sensible to do the DELTA first, it might be easier (as it was in my case) to take a year off work when you are younger.  If you get a DELTA and then get a well paid job you might be more reluctant to leave it to start an MA with no promise of there being a job at the end of it.  However, the longer you wait to do the MA the more you'll probably get out of it.  That is, you'll probably have a better idea of teaching and more experience to give you a better idea of what it is you want to focus on. 

It's also perhaps worth adding that as module 1 and 3 are exams, you can enter by yourself without actually doing a DELTA course.  So, you don't have to take the course to apply for the exams and if you feel confident you might find this is a good way to save money.  I will add that the exam has some very odd expectations in terms of answers, so make sure you aware of these if you plan on doing this. 

What you will learn

The DELTA course is 3 modules.  The first is an exam in which you will have to define terms like "notional functional" and "unbounded morphemes"  and be able to say who started the "silent method" and what it involves.  Why this is important for a teacher to be able to do is anyone's guess.  The test, which is actually two 90 minutes exams,  does have a few useful sections.  The section in which you have to analyse and correct a student's work seems pretty authentic to me.  Also the section in which you must analyse a test and find its faults is quite useful...though you inevitably start to think about the flaws of the DELTA exam itself.

The second module is the practical part and this is the real meat of the DELTA.  you are assessed over two months and have to produce a huge amount of paper.  There are five lessons (including the experimental) four of which are observed and one of which is observed by a n external candidate.  If you fail that then you fail the whole thing.  you do have a chance to retake this though as I did.  One complaint about this module is that it doesn't explicitly tell you what good teaching is, rather it just seems to allow anything so long as you can justify why you did it.  Another problem is the huge amounts of writing you have to do.  5x 2,500 essays plus a detailed lesson plan each time 500 word post class reflection and a 800 word linking piece between the essay and and the lesson plan.  There is also a personal development essay of about 5000 words, which you cannot fail and which is full of the kind of meaningless pseudo-babble that I personally despise.  "I feel I have developed as a teacher and met my objectives" --ugh!  (edit: I might be being a little harsh here)

The third module is quite interesting.  It is a long essay which is divided into sections and staged quite cleverly so that if you mess up the start you're pretty much done for.  You have to firstly do a needs analysis with a class.  Using the needs analysis you devise an exam for the students to test their abilities and then finally you create a syllabus/15 lesson course around your findings.  It's quite a neat intellectual challenge though I did have some issues with it as well.  The literature on needs analysis is a bit fluffy and lacking any real scientific basis.  It just seems likes opinions dressed up with academic language.  It also seems a bit questionable to me to take time out of lessons to test students for a course that, in many cases, they will not actually ever do.  I wonder how ethical this is?

The DELTA has also recently introduced a 3rd module for managers and those wanting to be a DOS which seems like an interesting move.

Though the DELTA curriculum is standardised,  MA courses are much less so.  It is also worth remembering that two holders of an MA TESOL could have studied completely different things.  For example:

[course A] Methodology/ Second language acquisition/ Intercultural studies/ sociolinguistics /phonology/

[course B] Syllabus design/ testing/ psycholinguistics/ corpus studies/ grammar

Therefore it's probably worth thinking about what you want to study and trying to find a Uni which offers something along those lines.


in short, people can and often do fail or give up the DELTA.  It is very time consuming and I wasn't always convinced I was doing anything other than busy work.  It would take some spectacular skill to manage to fail a master's degree.  Universities are not very good at failing people and short of not submitting work or plagiarising it's a good bet that you will pass.   


It's a bit of a risk doing either one or the other because there are some jobs which prefer the DELTA and others, the MA.   There isn't really one choice that will satisfy everyone and as the job market gets more competitive, the number of places asking for, and getting candidates with both is increasing.  The place I work used to require a DELTA or equivalent qualification.  Now they state DELTA essential despite it being essentially an academic department. 

Generally speaking the DELTA will get you further.  The DELTA is the British council's baby and hence they will look favourably on people with it.  The DELTA is also more respected as a 'practical qualification'.  Jobs in EFL in Europe will more often require the DELTA than an Master's.  If your goal is university work in Asia, (particularly Japan where the British council doesn't have a great presence) the DELTA is quite often unheard of.  A search of Gaijin pot (Japan) brought up about 3 jobs which asked for a DELTA (an then they were just listed as 'desirable') and 1 on the TEALIT (Taiwan) site.  A search for Master's degree's brought up slightly more but this time they were listed as essential. 
It is worth noting that a master's degree is not the guarantee of lucrative university work in Asia that it once was.  Almost always the departments will want people with a MA TESOL or applied linguistics and almost always they will require some published papers.  Taiwan is also quite fussy about what kind of master's degree you got and they will want it to be officially stamped by your university notary and then by their 'embassy' in whichever country you are from.  they will also not accept MAs that were done part-time or those which are over 3 years old.  This legislation is apparently an attempt to avoid fake degree certificates. 


The DELTA gives you a chance to examine your teaching.  Unfortunately as there is so little actual solid theory in EFL teaching you can't be convinced that what you're being sold is actually worth anything.  OK, so now I know what a notional functional syllabus is, but I'm not sure if I should be teaching one or not.  The module three essay at least gives you the ability to try to set up a course doing a needs analysis and designing a course around the results.  It might not be great but it's perhaps the best we've got a this moment.  For those with an MA though, the theory side of the DELTA might seem a bit superficial.  Getting a DELTA though has some kind of magic aura associated with it.  For English teacher's it's like being a war veteran or a karate black-belt.  You just exude confidence and authority (whether or not you have any is another question...)

I personally preferred the MA, so I'm probably quite biased but the MA allows you to investigate whatever it is you want to investigate. The DELTA essays do allow this as well, to some extent.  In short the DELTA seems to say "this is how is it" whereas the MA says "why is it like this?" I felt I got a lot more out of the MA and though I can't say I became a better teacher by doing it (after all there is no practical element on most courses) it (cheesy cliche) enhanced my world view. 


Any questions or correction please comment.  I would love to make this article more general as at the moment I can only go on my own experience. 

some interesting criticisms of the DELTA and a blog from a DELTA tutor, Marisa Constantinides

Here are a few threads discussing the topic in more detail.


  1. I did the Trinity DipTESOL (more or less the same as a DELTA, although I'm sure you know that), and I've just submitted my MA App Ling dissertation. The Diploma was great for improving my teaching, but contained very little theory. The MA has been weird. I've studied syllabus design and methodology/world Englishes/Language and Gender/discourse analysis/corpus analysis/and more world Englishes. The MA was a lot more interesting, but it hasn't helped my teaching in the slightest.

    I chose to do a more sociolinguistically-oriented MA, because I'm suspicious of TESOL research. I imagine Swan might be right when he says theorists are "like eighteenth century doctors, we work largely by hunch, concealing our ignorance under a screen of pseudo-science and jargon".

    So, the MA was very interesting and useful for jobs in Asia (plus gave me some ideas for PhD research), but the DipTESOL was actually practically useful in terms of teaching skills. The problem with the Dip is that most uni jobs here don't accept it, and also the Trinity diploma is slightly less well-known than the DELTA.

    Enjoying the blog!

  2. Very interesting post - have shared it on Facebook where I run an active community of DELTA candidates or holders who would be very interested in reading your views.


  3. Perhaps your readers might be interested in reading this post I wrote some time ago and the ensuing discussion.

  4. Thanks Marisa for this. I have the Dtefla (the Delta before it changed its name) and I am thinking of doing an MA. This and the links that you've given have made me think twice about doing it because it would have to be distant learning and it seems there are many disadvantages to this. The only thing is, if not an MA then what?

  5. There are many different types of MA though...

    You raise a good question here though, -what options are open to EFL teachers for professional development? MA and DELTA but what else? You could become a teacher trainer, or a DOS I suppose, but these re career changes, not just prof. development.

    It's a shame there isn't some kind of testing qualification. Being able to write good tests is something that is really important to EFL, especially in light of the MET situation.

    1. There's an MA in language testing at Lancaster University

    2. thanks for lettin eme know!

  6. Interesting read, if very late on my part (thanks to your recent tweet). I have very little knowledge about DELTA as no one really does in Canada either. MAs are significantly more useful here, as a result. The DELTA sounds somewhat similar to our short training program here, TESL Ontario, where there are several modules (Advanced Grammar, Sociolinguistics, SLA, etc.) and an observed practicum. DELTA sounds way too jampacked with papers to write given its timeframe. I do one per term during the MA and that was enough.

    Based on my experience of the two (TESL Ontario & MA), I completely prefer the MA. It gives you the chance, as you say, to explore issues important to you and you're forced to read and then become interested in reading research you'd never heard of before. The only thing to consider here though is that the TESL Ontario course is much more appropriate for those new to teaching. Doing an MA, with all its theory, just isn't as practical before having classroom experience.

    1. Is your MA 2 years? We do it in a year in the UK which means bout 3 papers a term hahaha it's hard!

      I prefered the MA too. I guess the DELTA would be better if it actually taught you how to be a better teacher rather than just making you reflect and hoping that will make you better.

    2. My MA is through University of Manchester, UK. It's 3 years part time and distance. One paper per course.

    3. ah yeah, I remember seeing that on your twitter.

  7. I did an MA but when it was cheaper (and mine was a new course so a little bit less than at other universities). My reasoning was that I would get to have a year as a student! This is no small bonus. The DELTA looked to me like way too much hard work when being done over a year, everyone I knew that did it virtually disappeared for a year. And, ironically, felt their teaching suffered as they were only able to focus on the DELTA and related observed lessons.

    The intensive meant sacrificing a summer ie when you can typically earn a lot over the summer holidays in the UK so the lost earnings has to factor into the cheaper price. And then still having the third module hanging over your year while back at work.

    I taught part time at a local language school and just generally loved not working full time and having little responsibility other than turning in a few papers. Beat going to to work every day!

    However, if you want managerial jobs in the UK, even for summer school, The British Council uses that to drum up more business for the DELTA as you have to have DELTA equivalent which means an MA without the practical element doesn't count. The way round this is that some universities offer an add on of observed teaching. Or you can find a DELTA trainer and pay them to do this for you and your lesson obs are your record. That's what I did.

    The ridiculous part about this (I'm involved in scouting DOS's for summer school - anyone interested??) is that it means someone with two years experience and the DELTA is more employable than someone with ten years teaching experience, management experience, examiner training etc but no DELTA.

    The other thing I always ask people when they tell me they're thinking about doing one or the other is...are you planning to stay in teaching? Because if not, having an MA in general is going to be better for you than a DELTA.

    Also, Arab countries seem to require an MA in their jobs ads and they pay well. A year working there and you more than make your money back.

    I've never heard the DELTA broken down into such detail - sounds agonisingly, frustratingly CRAP! I now see where your Tweet the other day came from.

    Did I become a better teacher from the MA? Well, I understood more about it eg the theoretical background of all the methods and I felt more able to analyse students in terms of motivations, learning styles etc. And that helped me with materials design although that was not part of the course. That's where my interests lie now so it must have helped set me on the path. It made me more cynical about teaching English itself and more critical of the often shambolic language school system.

    It annoyed me that after the course I was still interviewing for or being offered Senior positions in the UK that paid under £19,000 in London. There was no recognition financially of the investment I'd made in my own career. This is going to turn into an attack on the whole industry....over and out!

    1. Lots of gret points here. I hope people who read the article also read these comments.

      The British council are in something of a happy situation aren't they? They offer jobs on the basis of qualifications that they provide. They also offer inspections which you don't have to have but which increase your salability. They also have the effect of giving the council more authority -whether or not it deserves that authority, -well, that's anyone's guess.

      I'd love to do a long read on the council...don't really know enough about them, though.

      PS feel free to attack the whole industry -it might need it.

    2. I think I may have deleted your reply accidentally!!

  8. Hello! I came across this blog whilst researching MA Tesol options, thank you for the excellent information.

    I currently teach in Korea... and yes, I read that blog post too, but I'm actually having a really good time here.

    I work at a dedicated English 'village' for Elementary and Middle school Korean students, but it's not somewhere I should stay forever (I've already been here 2 and a half years) and I need to think about future opportunities.

    If I want to teach at a university, then as you stated in the blog post, I have to think seriously about further qualifications. I only have a degree in Media and Film (don't laugh!).

    In addition to teaching, I am also learning Korean.

    I was looking at the following MA Tesol: (coincidentally enough, from my hometown university)

    If you've clicked through, it's entirely distance based, and studied over 3 years (there is no fast-track option).

    As you probably have guessed, I'm in the early stages of investigating this area, so my knowledge is most definitely lacking, but I'm determined to make the right choice, and end up with a course that not only interests me, but is also respected (Nottingham University education department was ranked 4th best in the 2013 UK performance tables).

    There are 3 entry points during the year.

    Considering my teaching schedule and other learning commitments, how do you think this kind of course would suit me in terms of work-load.

    I know people here who are working on 1 year / 2 year MA Tesols, so how would a 3 year schedule compare to theirs? - bear in mind that I'm still learning about the credit system.

    Do you think an MA from this institution would be considered in a high regard?

    Thanks for reading and congratulations on the blog ^_^

    1. Thanks fr the comments! I'm glad to hear you are enjoying working in Korea...I hope things are getting better out there for EFL teachers.

      Notts is one of the, if not the leading EFL research institutes in the UK. If you do it 3 years it is a hell of an effort in my opinion. I started an OU MA but ended up dropping out. It was much easier when I had other students areound me and no work commitments, but that's just me, other people can do it.

      I guess you could talk to tyson seburn (check the higher comments) as he's doing something like that now.

      I think it would be considered ok by most universities but Taiwan is a bit picky I think.

  9. hello, this is a very beneficial topic to so many people..Thanks for the information. I have some other question, though. I am about to apply for a Delta course and because my bachelor's is English Literature and my ELT theory knowledge is so weak, I'm worried about the interview. Do you think is there a possibility that I wouldn't be accepted to the programme?? Thanks for your answer in advance.

  10. ok i've been accepted! Now ca you give me some tips, some subjects to study beforehand. by the way the guy told me that it is a very intensive course so i should consider doing module 2 next summer.. he always talked about failing , demoralizing me :( do you think i can't handle the six week module two programme??? and also do you think i can do module 1 and 3 at the same time? if i don't, module three is going to be in September and 11 weeks!! please answer me I need your opinions so much..

    1. I had quite a negative experience with my tutor assuring me I was going to fail. I thought it was odd that such a 'high level' qualification had someone who was so demotivating as a teacher teaching on it. He was also quite rude.

      I don't know if you can handle it, -only you know that. I took about 3 years doing mine, it's bloody hard work. If you do it full time you will have 0 time for anything other than DELTA work.

  11. @ did it go? pass?

  12. Actually it might be worth adjusting some of this.

    The Distance DELTA programme includes more than 6 lessons. You complete a series of lessons on the orientation course and the final of these is a Diagnostic Assessment (the starting platform for your module two assessments).

    Then you complete Experimental Lesson, and then the 4 main lessons.

    Not that I'd EVER suggest anyone actually apply for the DD programme...

    but there are a few extra TPs in the course...

    1. Thanks for letting me know, can I ask which course this is? Is it one provider or all of them? Maybe it changed since I did it?

  13. I know this post is a bit old, but it looks like comments are still coming in, so I'll add my opinion:

    In the US, the DELTA is unheard of. If you are an American, I would advise against anything but an MA unless you are sure you will never return to the States to work and will be living in a DELTA-friendly country. All the job ads for university-level ESL instructors/lecturers in the states require a minimum of a MA TESOL or AppLing.

  14. Thanks for all the info! Really helpful. :)

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Hi!

    I've just fine the final written paper for the DipTesol, run by Trinity, via Shane English School Japan.

    They offer a semi-part time course, with full time teaching, and the whole lot for a reasonable price.

    I've learnt a lot on the course, especially as the required reading was quite a lot. It consisted of Roach, Richards and Rogers/Schmidt/Farrel, Harmer, Swann, Lightbown and Spaada, Alderson et al (great for testing), etc.

    I might have failed though, which really depresses me as I am really confident that I know my stuff, but no matter how well you have done in all of the modules, the final written exam is a crap-shoot of trick-questions, vague wording, and even mistakes, such as questions including "... Subject + to + infinitive". What's more, I may be outspoken here but the exam seems badly weighted in favour of grammar, which seems out of place when using methodology and professional development are also sections in a 3 hour exam. Considering that teaching practice already encapsulates teaching methodologies, and professional development is touched upon in the research projects (the much maligned "developmental record" and the not so much "observational instrument"), then I feel that the weighting for the grammar section means that you could ace every part of the course but fail everything due to obscure, poorly written grammar questions. I think that the exam should be scrapped entirely, or that only a much bigger grammar exam should be given, with dry, but consistent questions regarding grammar knowledge, with clear sub questions about how to teach it.

    I've received great support from the tutors though, but the one area that they themselves were not able to be clear on was the exam, as Trinity doesn't seem to share much data about the exam, not does it give feedback on what aspects to improve upon of you fail.

    It might be sour grapes here, but if it's easier to pass, then, as much as I loved doing the course and ask the support and things I've learnt (which had helped somewhat), I'd go for a masters. In Japan, a university seal of approval means more than any diploma. I've gone for interviews at many places and the owners just looked at me blankly when I explained about the Diploma. It meant nothing to them.

    Also, at the end of the day, even with an MA, many of the places I've worked for (private run "schools") in Japan couldn't care if you were Henry Sweet himself; just do as they say and teach what they want, how they want...

    Anyway, in spite of this, I'd still give the Shane English School/Trinity Diploma a look, as there seems to be more local support in Japan/Asia than competing diploma courses, especially as you can receive hands on help and tutoring, even though it's technically an "open-university" style course...

  17. From what I know, and have heard directly from people in the business, the Delta/Diploma is the way to go if you want to work in a UK language school or Uni language centre, or a UK-headquartered school like the British Council or IH.

    Outside of that, it seems the MA is more the standard, certainly in the universities. Unis in Japan always ask for an MA TESOL or Applied Linguistics, as do jobs I've seen advertised in the Middle East (and according to comments above, the States also).

    There does seem to be overlap for UK Unis, as they usually ask for an MA OR a Dip. I have been told though, by someone working at a Uni language centre, that if you want to work at a UK Uni, the Dip is better.

  18. Hi there! What a thorough, informative piece. We've just updated our blog with a really in-depth explanation of the Delta as it stands today, with comments from a recent graduate. Here's the link ( - it might be worth a mention here! It could be super useful to your readers. Keep up the great work!

  19. Great info guys! I had already decided to do the MA however I had no idea DELTA had such a good reputation under the clout of BC and IH. Now, I may well do the DELTA part time. Thanks guys

  20. I found your blog when I was looking for information about the DELTA. I've just submitted my module 3 assignment and am writing the mod 1 exam next week.

    I completed an MA ELT last year. I've got a B.Ed (TESL) and have been working in ELT (EFL and ESL) since the late 90s.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post. The DELTA feels like skimming the surface of ELT theory. What I did an entire 3-month course on in my B.Ed or MA (i.e. pronunciation) is done in a week or so - of course, I'm not doing the prep course, but the course notes are pretty easy to find online or borrow from a recent DELTA graduate.

    As with the CELTA, the DELTA is a money-maker for its sponsoring organizations. Information is thrown at the candidate to memorize, and then regurgitate onto the exam or in the assignments. Any person I've ever met who was doing the DELTA was a ball of stress, agonizing over the whole thing until they finally got to the exam / handing in their assignments. And afterwards... they certainly didn't seem to have acquired much.

    I find it ironic that teaching and learning organizations who claim to be the best in the world would think that this is effective. Many (not all) of the DELTA quals I've worked with see it as something they got through, and don't seem to apply much of what was learned.

    And, of course, if you work at the BC, having a DELTA puts you in a higher pay-grade and/or middle management. Again, your new senior teacher is there because they toed the line on an exam based on memorizing and spitting out what the organization wants you to say.

    Anyway, I'm sitting here getting all the terminology just as they want, as the content itself is not worrying me. I'll sit the exam, and get the piece of paper, and that will prove that I've got their stamp of approval. :)

    1. Thanks for the comment, much I agree with here.

  21. Sorry for my ignorance, but is there any difference between MA Tesol and Trinity Tesol?

    I am an undergrad currently living in Japan (will be graduating with a BA in English and a teaching license in 2 months), and as you say, Delta is practically unheard of unlike Tesol here. I was planning on doing MA Tesol, but it seems that there is a "Trinity Tesol" besides the MA, and they're both taught by two different institutions... Maybe it's the same content with a different naming, but I don't know which one to pick ^^;

  22. I just read this after clicking through from one of your more recent posts, sorry for commenting on an old post. I'm currently looking at MA programmes so can't really comment on them but I have completed the distance DELTA.

    I think some of the issues you've raised in your post and some of the comments underneath are true of TEFL qualifications in general. A lot of content is skimmed over without any real understanding required. Also, a lot of what you learn has to be disregarded when you actually go and work in a language school (e.g. needs assessment or planning an analytic syllabus without a course book). Lastly, a lot of TEFL qualifications (DELTA included) are in serious need of being updated (some reference to learning styles is still required in M3 for example).

    That said, I think you get out what you put in. I did learn a lot from the DELTA, it encouraged me to read journal articles and consult greater range of sources than I had previously. For example, I first read your blog when I was searching for sources to justify not identifying students' learning styles.