ESL/EFL Terminology

A large number of abbreviations and acronyms are used to describe English language teaching. This can confuse students as well as aspiring teachers. Note that many of these terms mean nearly the same thing. In this article you can find a brief explanation of popular ESL/TESL terminology.

ESL

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. ESL students are non-native speakers of the language living in a country where English is the first language.

EFL

EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language. Practically, there is no difference between ESL and EFL. In both cases, the students are non-native speakers of English.

ELT

ELT stands for English Language Teaching or English Language Training. It covers all forms of English language teaching.

ESOL

ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. It is primarily concerned with the learning of English by speakers of other languages. The teaching of English to speakers of other languages also comes within the purview of ESOL.

EAL

EAL stands for English as an Additional Language. Just like ESL and EFL, this is also concerned with the acquisition of English by non-native speakers.

TEFL

TEFL stands for teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is all about teaching English to non-native speakers.

TESL

TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language. It is not different from TEFL.

TEAL

TEAL stands for Teaching English as an Additional Language.

TESOL

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It is not different from TESL, TEFL or TEAL.

As you can see, all of these abbreviations are about the learning or teaching of English. Most teachers have heard about these terms, but few are even aware of the distinction. The word ESL is mainly used by American teachers and the word EFL is mainly used by British teachers.

The term EAL is not as popular as the terms ESL or EFL, but it is politically correct. For many learners, English is not their second language. They may have already learned three or four languages. In this case, terming English as a second language doesn’t make much sense. Some teachers also object to using the word foreign because languages can’t be foreign in the strict sense of the term.

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