TESOL / TEFL Terminology 101

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The English teaching industry has a large number of acronyms and abbreviations that are often confusing for people first entering the field.

One of the biggest causes of this confusion is the fact that the profession itself has a number of different names, which are often used interchangeably. The following 6 acronyms are all commonly used to refer to teaching English to non-native speakers.

TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Second or Other Languages
TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
TEAL: Teaching English as an Additional Language
EFL: English as a Foreign language
ESL: English as a Second language

The main difference between them is the country in which the teaching takes place. TESOL and TEFL are synonymous terms that refer to English language instruction in non-English speaking countries. They can also be used to describe training programs and certification courses for would-be teachers. TESL and TEAL are interchangeable terms that normally refer to English teaching among immigrant and refugee communities in English-speaking countries. The terms TEFL and TESL are more common in Europe, whereas the terms TESOL and TEAL are more common in North America. EFL and ESL normally refer to English language programs in general – rather than just the teaching component of these programs. EFL is used in non-English speaking countries, whereas ESL is used in English-speaking countries where students are learning English as a second language.

Below is a list of other terms that may be helpful when navigating the sea of training programs and teaching positions available worldwide.

Organizations and Accreditations:

The British Council – The largest ELT employer in the world, with over 60 language schools, offices in over 100 countries, and over 7500 staff.

ALAP – A recognized accreditation and validation body for TEFL / TESOL Certification Courses

LCCI (London Chamber of Commerce International Qualifications). A recognized accreditation and validation body for Business and English Language qualifications.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) – An English proficiency exam taken by international students applying to U.S. colleges and universities

Trinity College International Examinations Board – A recognized accreditation and validation body for TEFL / TESOL Certification Courses

Cambridge ESOL (The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) – A recognized accreditation and validation body for TEFL / TESOL Certification Courses.


Teaching Acronyms:

CALL – Computer Assisted Language Learning

DOS – Director of Studies at a language school or academy

EAP – English for Academic Purposes

EMT – English Mother Tongue

ELL – English Language Learner

ESP – English for Specific Purposes

L1 – a student’s first/native language

L2 – the language that a student is currently learning

LEP – Limited English Proficient