Cambridge DELTA: is it worth it?

I have posted quite a bit in the past about my Cambridge DELTA journey, and what I was liking and not liking about it. However, midway through it I stopped blogging, and so I never got a chance to round up my experience and express my final thoughts on the certification. That is why now, with a full DELTA under by belt and three years of teaching experience after it, I think it is time for me to share what worked and what did not work, and why I think you should spend your time and money otherwise.

The positives

I would like to start on a positive note, because of course I am not suggesting that the experience was a completely negative one. Although at the time it felt like memorising a lot of random concepts, and although the exam was a little pointless in my opinion (a race against the clock, as I wrote immediately after taking it), I have to admit that in hindsight Module One was probably the most useful part of the whole certification. It allowed me to dip my toes into the fields of applied linguistics and second language acquisition, to familiarise with the theories and thinkers who have influenced the language teaching profession, and more importantly it helped me understand why I was doing what I was doing as a teacher (during CELTA it was more like “this is how things are done”, there was not much time or room for theories).

I particularly enjoyed practising analysing textbook pages in order to find the underlying principles informing the various tasks and exercises, commenting on learner’s output and on the nature of the errors they produced, as well as learning more about what we know (and the whole lot that we do NOT know) about how people learn languages. I think this Module gave me the confidence to rationalise and be able to express why I make a specific choice during a lesson or the criteria that guide me in choosing a specific task.

The good thing about the DELTA approach to theory is that it is quite hands-on (many of the exam tasks ask you to apply it rather than just show a declarative knowledge of it). On the other hand, the certification aims at providing a general working knowledge of lots of different aspects, but none really in depth. This is not necessarily negative since the certification is not aimed at future academics or researchers, but at experienced teachers who want to improve their practice — and having even a general idea of the principles informing your choices is a crucial part of any good teaching.

However, the positives stop here for me, and looking back I think I should have stopped at Module One, as most of my coursemates did.

The negatives

Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment for me was Module Two. This is at least in part due to my high expectations, seeing that when I did my CELTA the part I enjoyed the most was the observed teaching practice, so I was hoping that DELTA would be more of that, and better. During CELTA, the observed lessons allowed me to peep into my colleagues’ classroom and learn from them, while they also enormously improved my teaching practice and made me the reflective practitioner I am.

So imagine my disappointment when I realised that the observed lessons of DELTA Module Two were merely a tick-the-box exercise, aimed at showing off what you can do rather than actually improve as a practitioner and learn from your mistakes. Right from the start, I was advised to keep my strongest language point/skill for the last observed lesson, the one which is observed by an external Cambridge assessor and which decides whether you pass the module or not (no pressure!). The training sessions during the course were usually interesting, but then when it came to the observed lesson the main goal was to jump through hoops in order to show Cambridge that you can do all they have decided makes “good” teaching.

In addition, I do not feel I received any useful feedback on my lessons from trainers all through the course. On the contrary, for the last two lessons I ended up NOT listening to their advice and being better off that way, which made me doubt the way Cambridge recruits its DELTA trainers. Unfortunately, this comment is true for all three modules as well. It might sound presumptuous, but I felt like I was not learning much from the trainers, if not (as I wrote above) how to tick all the boxes in order to get a pass. I say this not only because I felt it as I was completing the certification, but also because I heard most of my fellow candidates complain about the same thing over and over again.

The last point is personal will not apply to all teachers. But I have to say that for me, a NNEST living and working in Italy, DELTA was a bit of a waste of money. Apart from private language institutions — which tend to hire native speakers anyway and which usually pay their teachers peanuts — nobody in Italy knows what DELTA is or its value. It is not recognized by universities, state schools or any other institution other than possibly the British Council and other UK-based ones. This means that I could have invested the same amount of time and money on an MA, and that would have increased my employability and looked much better on my CV than DELTA.

The conclusions

All in all, if you are considering taking the certification I would recommend to think twice, and possibly look around for an Master’s-level course that will award you a degree that can be recognised by private and public institutions in different countries. What is more, from my experience with both Italian and UK universities I can confidently say that a Master’s would allow you to understand the theory much more in depth, and would probably put you in touch with working professionals and academics from whom you can learn a lot, and improve your teaching practice.

Have you taken DELTA? How was your experience? Do you recognise some of the same flaws I mention above? Let me know in the section below by adding a commend and/or linking your post on the topic.

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