To be perfectly honest, they mean the exact same thing! Here are the definitions:
TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
TEFL = Teaching English as a Foreign Language
These two definitions are applied interchangeably, but, in general, TEFL is the term used in the UK and TESOL is used in Australia and the US. Canada adds another twist by often using the acronym TESL:
TESL = Teaching English as a Second Language
There is so much confusion around these acronyms, but there are some historical reasons for all these differences. Generally there are two main schools of English study:
ESL = English as a Second Language
EFL = English as a Foreign Language
The difference between these two types of English study boils down to a difference between where the English learner lives. Basically, English learners who need to speak English on a daily basis, usually because they live in a native English speaking country, have been commonly referred to as learners of English as a Second Language. Learners of English as a Foreign Language, however, study English as an additional language for hobby, travel, or business. It’s important to mention that learners of English as a Foreign Language generally don’t have to use English on a daily basis. Learners of English as a Second Language, however, do need to speak English to function at work, shopping, etc.
Moving back to TESOL and TEFL. It’s apparent why TEFL is called TEFL – it’s Teaching EFL. Why then is there a difference in TESOL? In Australia many professionals felt that English as a Second Language was demeaning and not exactly descriptive. They changed the acronym to TESOL – focusing more on who learned English rather than the function of their learning. TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – is much more descriptive and can easily apply to those learning English as a pastime, or because they need it on a day-to-day basis due to the fact that they live in an English speaking country.
It all seems a little confusing doesn’t it? The most important thing to keep in mind is that TEFL and TESOL training refer to the exact same thing! A TEFL certificate or a TESOL certificate will give you the qualification you need to teach English overseas, as well as in Australia in smaller private schools, or in volunteering roles.
ESL and EFL in the Classroom: Differences in Activities
When taking an English teaching job there is definitely a difference when it comes to the types of activities you will be using in class if you teach in a foreign country, or teach in Australia. To illustrate these differences, I find the distinction between ESL and EFL helpful. Here’s a quick overview of the type of activities you’ll focus on depending on the needs of your English learners.
- Fun activities based around hobbies, likes, dislikes etc.
- Cultural studies are important, but optional
- Career English is optional and depends on students’ needs.
- Learners don’t live in an English speaking environment which creates the need to develop a special English learning atmosphere in class.
- Activities are usually focused on life skills and building communicative abilities to get specific tasks done.
- Cultural studies are often an important part of the curriculum as many students would like to become citizens.
- Career English, often referred to as vocational English or English for Specific Purposes (ESP), can play an extremely important role in the classroom.
- Students live in an English speaking environment which provides ample opportunity for field trips, etc.