What Are The Differences Between TEFL and TESOL?

Difference between TEFL and TESOL (And even TESL)

When TEFLers are first starting out, it’s difficult to get to a handle on all the jargon. If that’s how you’re feeling, you aren’t the first and won’t be the last.

This article should help. Let’s start at the beginning. What’s the difference between TEFL and TESOL? Or even TESL?

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

TESL is Teaching English as a Second Language (but you’ve probably Googled that already). So, let’s start at the beginning.

Immigrants coming to an English speaking country would need to learn to speak English to assimilate. It wasn’t such an issue in the UK because a lot of the immigrants were from Commonwealth countries where they spoke English. Most notably, India and the West Indies.

Across the water in the US and Canada, immigrants were not English speakers so they would need to learn it for any real quality of life.

There was a need for English teachers and to differentiate them from your typical English teachers, they created TESL. Teaching English as a Second Language.

Then, thanks to commercial flights, travel around the world became really easy and people started to explore the world. Backpackers would travel across Asia and Europe. When their money started to run out, they would look for ways to save up money to make the next leg of their trip.

Most would end up picking fruit or the like, but then locals saw an opportunity to learn English and local schools started up and would employ travellers to teach. They had NO teaching experience, no qualifications they were just born in the right country.

The world got a lot smaller. Business went global and suddenly, if you want to get on in life you need to be able to speak English. The tourism, business, medicine, education… all required English.

So, they needed English and they needed English teachers. A whole new industry was emerging and it needed a name, so they came up with Teach English as a Foreign Language.

A slight difference to TESL. The difference being, if you are living in a country that doesn’t speak English, you only need English for work or travel, it’s not essential to living, therefore, it’s like you or I learning another language at school, Spanish or French…. A foreign language.

So, we had TEFL for teaching English in a non-English speaking country, and TESL for teaching English in a country where English is the first language.

But what about TESOL?

Then came political correctness.

Teachers of English as a Second Language… but what if the learner speaks multiple languages?

Somebody somewhere felt that is was condescending to assume that the learner could only speak one language and English would be their second language, so we need a new acronym… introducing TESOL.

Not second language but speakers of other languages…. That’s better.

So, to be clear, if you’re teaching English to someone abroad, it should be TEFL and if you’re speaking to someone in an English speaking country, it should be TESOL (formerly known as TESL).

But here’s the kicker… not everyone uses the terms properly and they often get interchanged and people mean one but say the other.

So… what’s the point in having two anyway right? Sadly, we don’t make the rules we just have to follow them.

The practicalities of the two are very minimal. Back in the day, TESL / TESOL would focus on the English essential to life, like going to the bank or post office but these days TEFL does that too so no real difference there.

I’m assuming TEFL is what you are looking for, most people are. Because most jobs are overseas and most courses focus on that. But that’s for another day.

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