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ESL, EFL, TESL, or TEFL--What's the Difference?
If you’ve been doing your research on how you can use your English speaking ability to teach abroad, there is no doubt that you have come across these abbreviations. They sound pretty similar, so the big question is, what makes them different?

ESL is oftentimes used in the U.S. as an umbrella term for teaching English to non-native speakers anywhere, be it truly someone’s second language, third, fourth, etc. The U.K. uses EFL as a blanket term for the same thing. So the term that you most often hear probably differs depending on your country. Despite their common use as such, their true definitions actually do have some differences.

English as a Second Language: The first thing to note about ESL is that it is taught to non-native English speakers in an English-speaking country. This includes countries like the U.S., where English is the parent language, as well as countries such as India or Nigeria, where English is a recognized language.

English as a Foreign Language: If you’re looking to be in an environment where English is not an established language, begin searching for opportunities teaching EFL. The great thing about EFL is that, while you don’t have to have substantial knowledge of a foreign language coming in (it may be beneficial to learn some basics to aid your transition), you get the opportunity to be fully immersed in a new language.

Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language: While ESL and EFL refer to the involvement of those on the learning end, TESL and TEFL refers to those on the teaching end. This means that these terms are nothing especially new, just another abbreviation so that instead of asking, "how do I get involved with teaching ESL/EFL?" You can ask, "how do I get involved with TESL/TEFL?"

Don’t forget that you’ll need your TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification to teach both ESL and EFL, so look for classes in your area or online.

If you have more specific questions, check out TEFL’s FAQs.


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