This is almost an FAQ type question because people often ask as they are unsure about what each of the acronyms really mean.
Not just the words they represent, but what does each area actually deal with?
How might the teaching be different?
Let’s get these ideas sorted out today . . .
TEFL Certification vs. TESL Certification
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is probably the most accurate description of what teachers who teach English overseas actually do.
Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) is what teachers do when teaching English in their home country when teaching immigrants the language skills needed in their new land.
We’ll address TESOL later down the page.
Purpose Defines Function in TEFL and TESL
When teaching TEFL, your students are usually in their home country, may never even visit an English speaking country and they usually need to study English to progress in their education or for work/occupational reasons.
Some definitions of TEFL would include the idea that students will not often have opportunities to speak English outside the classroom. These students will have distinctly different needs and motivations for their study than English as a Second Language students.
When teaching TESL, your students are typically living in an English speaking country and need to learn (quickly!) the language skills needed for their daily lives.
From grocery shopping to mailing a letter to finding a job or even renting an apartment. Their needs are real and immediate when it comes to getting English skills.
You can see here that the motivation of ESL students will likely be much stronger that of EFL students. They have immediate and real problems that need to be solved using English. And the topics taught might be very different.
It would be unlikely that you would want or need to teach an EFL student the language needed to mail a letter in a post office where English is the language in use.
Yet, for an ESL student this will be an important skill, becoming less so in these days of the internet and iPhones though, but I think you get the idea.
For the ESL student, this particular need is greater than for the EFL student – who may never step foot in an English environment post office.
As there is such a huge amount of language that our students need, we obviously need to focus on the specific language most relevant for our students. We don’t want to spend time teaching them language that they will likely never need and never use.
If you wanted a general observation, possibly you might think that EFL is typically more generic language and ESL might be more specific to a certain task – but that conclusion would not really be accurate. A lot of EFL is specific occupational language or language needed to pass a certain test like TOEFL, IELTS or GMAT.
TESOL versus the others
Teaching English to Speakers of other languages ( TESOL) encompasses both TEFL and TESL, but the reality is that essentially the same methodology is used in all three of these variations.
So the way you learn to teach ESOL will be the same as you learn to teach EFL or ESL.
You’ll tend to find Americans using TEFL, Canadians using TESOL and Brits using all three acronymns.
Methodology and lesson planning are the core of most courses and once you get that down, you are good to go in any of the three areas – you need only to determine the specific needs of your students and get to work.
Language Teaching Methodologies used in TESOL – TEFL – TESL
The most common teaching methodologies – PPP and ESA – are really just good teaching strategies that you could – really – just as easily apply to a simple mathematics lesson.
TED’s Tips™ #1: Simple enough. Don’t make too much of the differences of a TESOL, TEFL or TESL course – or methodology. There really isn’t much difference and the only real difference in these types of classes is in the specific language needs of your students. A good needs analysis will tell you that and get you going.