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  :: TEFL Acronyms

A Short Guide to Understanding the Acronyms of Teaching English Abroad

There are a million acronyms related to the field of teaching English to non-English learners. It is very difficult for newcomers to the English Language Teaching world to know what they mean, so here are some explanations.

The Acronyms
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) are perhaps the most common terms. The term ELT (English Language Teaching) has quite recently come into use as an umbrella term which aims to include everything in the field. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is another umbrella term, and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is now very much in vogue, due partly but not entirely to the political attention this area tends to receive.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is teaching people, usually in their own countries, often in private language schools, who want to use English for business, leisure, travel, etc. It is also used to describe the teaching that takes place in Britain to short-term visitors who believe it is better to pay to study the language in the country where the language is spoken. EFL is viewed by some as a little pejorative, with its emphasis on the ‘foreign’ element.

TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) is teaching immigrants in English-speaking countries, though this area is also, confusingly, referred to as ESOL. ESL is English as a second language. In the US the terms TESL and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) are much more widely used than TEFL, but basically the concept is the same.

Confusingly, the acronym TESOL also refers to the American professional association: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, while the UK equivalent is IATEFL, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teaching takes place in countries where the learners’ own language is not English, but where the learner has come to live and is therefore learning the language for every day use and integration in the host community.

The Courses - TEFL courses, CELTA courses, TESOL courses
TEFL and CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and TEFL and CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) are often confused. This is partly because when anyone asks "Have you got the TEFL?" what in fact they mean to ask is if the teacher has taken a teacher training course and is therefore trained. ‘Trained’ is largely taken to mean being in possession of the Cambridge CELTA qualification awarded by Cambridge ESOL or the Trinity Certificate in TESOL, awarded by Trinity College London.

Though you will often hear it, the question "Have you got the TEFL?" is not actually grammatically correct, it needs another word, ‘qualification’ at the end, and arguably the indefinite rather than the definite article (‘a’ rather than ‘the’) to be a real question (this is where you need a language awareness course!) "Have you got a TEFL qualification?"

Cambridge CELTA & Trinity Cert TESOL
These two are the most widely internationally recognised TEFL/TESOL/ELT qualifications, and are the only ones that the British Council will accept for teachers in their British Council accredited language schools in the UK. These schools have to go through a rigorous inspection and to fulfil various criteria, one of which relates to the TEFL/TESOL teachers’ qualifications. The British Council do not accredit language schools outside the UK. Some countries have a local accreditation scheme that some language schools will belong to, but this is fairly rare in what is generally an unregulated industry.

‘Equivalent’ TEFL / TESOL courses
There are many courses which are based on the model that has been proven to be the most effective in training TEFL/TESOL teachers. This model consists of a judicious mix of ‘input’ sessions, which include focus on language (the ‘what’ of TEFL/TESOL courses), and methodology (the ‘how’), along with a total of at least 6 hours teaching practice. Teaching practice is classroom experience of teaching real live students. The most effective teaching practice includes pre-class lesson planning, teaching which is observed and in many cases assessed by tutors. Feedback, from which trainees learn the art and craft of TEFL/TESOL teaching, is usually carried out in a group format, and is often followed by a written record to refer to later.

The contentious areas connected with ‘equivalent’ TEFL courses are recognition and accreditation.

The 4 week course training format was originally designed and implemented in the UK, by John Haycraft, the founder of International House. As such, it is the forerunner of its many ‘equivalents’, but it has also engendered a whole industry, including systems of quality control which have attempted to mould TEFL/TESOL training to fit frameworks and criteria which give it value. This value is particularly important in the UK context, although it has also spread to much of the rest of the world. Depending on where a teacher ends up teaching, the perceived value of UK accreditation is more or less important. In many parts of the world, home-grown ‘equivalent’ courses are in fact much better known (recognized) in the local context than either CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL, and therefore are perceived to have more value than the UK-based industry greats.