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What's the Difference Between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA?

What is the best qualification for teaching English?

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CELTA vs TEFL vs TESOL? What do all these acronyms and abbreviations mean???

We asked our guest writer from ELTCampus, Emma Pratt to explain...

TEFL, ESL, ESOL, TESOL... it all means the same thing really, but first let’s unpack these terms that float around the internet:

    • ESL= (abbreviation)English as a Second Language
    • EFL=(abbreviation) English a a Foreign Language
    • TEFL=(acronym)Teaching English as a Foreign Language
    • ESOL=(acronym) English as a Second or Other Language
    • TESOL=(acronym) Teaching English as a Second or Other Language

So what do these English teaching abbreviations and acronyms mean in real terms?

What we see here are general terms that describe some of the different scenarios for teaching English. I've worked in all these situations, except as a teaching assistant, and here is my take on the industry:

1. You are the English teacher in a non-English speaking country

If you are teaching English in Spain, where English is the foreign language, then we in the industry refer to that as TEFL, or  ELT. Your class will be mono-lingual, and often mono-cultural, depending on the country. Unless you are a local who is the English teacher, you’ll be in the position of the foreigner and your learners are the locals. The context can be fun because you learn a lot about their world. Make a lot of the learning about giving them a chance to communicate their realities and culture with the world.

It's not all about spreading "English Speaking Culture". It's about enabling communication with the world.

In the past, teaching English was about bringing English culture into these classrooms. But whose English culture? My English world is from the South Pacific, there are no red double decker buses there! My accent is different too. That's perfect. English today is multi-cultural and multi-local. The students need to know that. Also, statistics show that a non-native English speaker is more likely to use English with other non-native speakers than with natives. And what is "native" anyway? English is global, multi-layered and has multiple-ownerships!

In Company or In School

You'll be working for a private language provider, either in private language schools after school and work, or going into companies at a time of the day to provide English classes for employees. Some private companies have contracts to provide after school classes at a school to the students there. You could also be giving one-to-one classes, or even teaching online.

Language Assistants

There are also programmes to be a language assistant. I would check these carefully. In my experience, employers often don't expect these teachers to have any training. (Yikes!).  Many employers, and the communities they are serving, still think that being a “native speaker” is enough (such a frustrating misperception!). As a result, and despite not having any training, schools will throw these untrained teachers into a class and expect them to teach 30 kids (now that's hardly assisting, is it?).

What will you be teaching?

  • English for Academic Purposes (EAP) - students who need to be able to write assignments in English - writing skills, presentations etc.
  • English for Specific Purposes (ESP) - students will need to perform a task in English - speaking on the phone about products, client services, tourism, developers working across countries on projects etc.
  • Exam Preparation - in Europe, students in university are expected to gain a B2 (upper intermediate) level in a foreign language. They sit official exams to prove this.
  • Young Learners - this is a massively growing area especially in Europe and Asia. It is highly likely that a private language school will have you giving classes to kids. A CELTA course or similar will prepare you for adults, but children have different things going on. The very first classes I taught post CELTA were to children. I would have found them more satisfying, effective and fun had I known a few things. I highly recommend that you check out the Teaching English to Young Learners Course that I put together with Anna Hasper, a Young Learners guru.
Unless you are working in a school during the day, your teaching could well happen in the afternoons and evenings or early mornings. If, as was my situation, you decide to start a family, this timetable isn't very family friendly. That's where working online opens up lots of opportunities.

2. You are the English teacher in an English-speaking country working with immigrants

In this scenario, you are teaching English in an English-speaking country, or a country where English is one of the first languages like in the United States, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa etc. You will be working in centres often run by or funded from the local government. The industry in this case, is often referred to as TESOL, ESOL or ESL. English in this context is often being taught to immigrants who are going to be using the local English language to engage with their new surroundings. English will often be their second, third or fourth language (or more).

There is a lot of pastoral care attached to these contexts.

In addition, your class will be multi-lingual and multi-national. Each person will have a lot of backstory. Some will be economic migrants who have come for work. Others will be refugees. Educational backgrounds will vary. Some may not be strong in their literacy of their own language. There is trauma and emotional and practical issues to consider: of being displaced, dislocated, isolated, and dealing with loss, as well as financial strain.

Be Prepared

I found this work in my native country of New Zealand to be hugely rewarding and meaningful. But it can take over your life, as the needs are huge. I was speaking with volunteer teachers in Greece just recently. They were working in camps with immigrants and refugees.  They stressed that this kind of work needs a cool head and you need to have strategies to look after yourself or you'll burn out.

3. You are the English teacher in an English-speaking country working with foreign students

This case is similar to the first scenario, and again we refer to it as TEFL, or generally as ELT. But unlike teaching in a foreign country, your class will be multi-lingual and multi-cultural. You are the local, your learners are often foreigners who are new to your country. The needs are different in this scenario. Most of your students are in your country temporarily. They need to improve their English for work and study. You'll be preparing students for exams or for further university study locally. There will be general English in there too as some will be combining English classes with a break from home. Some will be immigrants, but usually immigrants with money to pay for a course.

So, are you considering a career as an English language teacher? Want to teach English abroad or from your home? Here’s something you can do to find out more.

If you’re thinking about becoming an English language teacher but don’t know where to start, or know someone who wants to get better informed, join our StudyCELTA experts for a webinar where we unpack English Teaching specifically with you in mind.    StudyCELTA Webinar

Sign up for our free informative webinar! Send us your questions and the things you want to know about starting out in English language teaching.





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