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

Tuesday 13th September 2022

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

CELTA vs TEFL vs TESOL? What do all these acronyms mean? TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, EFL, ESL… With all these acronyms, sometimes the world of English…

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

TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, EFL, ESL… With all these acronyms, sometimes the world of English language teaching can seem like a confusing game of scrabble. We are here to help and have broken down what these mean, as well as a providing a range of other useful information to help you navigate through this sometimes confusing environment.

We also provide you with an overview of some of the different scenarios in which you may find yourself teaching English. You can get an idea of what to expect and how to make the most of each potential situation. So without further ado, let’s begin!


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

  •  
    • ESL= (acronym) English as a Second Language
    • EFL=(acronym) English as 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

These are all general terms, however CELTA is an actual qualification. The CELTA certificate is the most widely recognised English language teaching certificate in the world and is internationally recognised and accredited by the University of Cambridge.

So what do these English teaching acronyms (TEFL, CELTA, etc) mean in real terms?

What we see here are general terms that describe some of the different scenarios for teaching English. But what is the English language teaching world like? Here’s an overview of the industry and some of the situations in which you may find your yourself teaching:

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

If you are teaching English in a place like 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? The English speaking world contains a wide variety of countries, and not all of them contain red double decker buses! There are lots of different accents too. That’s perfect. The English language 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 native English speakers. The English language 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. However, often employers often don’t expect these teachers to have any training.  Some employers, and the communities they are serving, still think that being a “native speaker” is enough (this is quite 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?). The results can be chaotic!

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 often 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 some teachers teach post-CELTA are to children. You will find them more satisfying, effective and fun if you know a few key things. This is why we highly recommend that you check out the Teaching English to Young Learners Course that Emma Pratt from ELTCampus 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. For those teachers with a family, or for those who decide to start a family during their teaching career, 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 or a similar organisation.

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 sometimes trauma and emotional and practical issues to consider: of being displaced, dislocated, isolated, and dealing with loss, as well as financial strain.

Be Prepared

For some teachers this will be hugely rewarding and meaningful. But it can take over your life, as the needs are huge. Many teachers we have spoken to 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.

4. You are an online English teacher working with foreign students in a variety of different scenarios

Something that has become more prevalent in the last couple of years or so is the growth in the number of English language teachers teaching exclusively online. This could be through a school, a learning platform or independently.

Additionally, more teachers have decided to combine their teaching format. This means teaching a combination of online and face-to-face lessons, some one-to-one, some in a classroom (real or virtual). However, the core skills for these different formats is the same. You are still imparting the same knowledge of the English language, whether you do this online or in person, though there will be some techniques that work better in each scenario. In this scenario, you need to be a flexible and adaptable for each unique lesson. Your skills and techniques learned during your CELTA will hold you in good stead for this challenge!

So, are you considering a career as an English language teacher? Want to work in the TEFL world and teach English abroad or from your home? The CELTA sounds ideal for you.

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, get in touch with a StudyCELTA expert today!

You can choose from CELTA courses from around the world, both face-to-face CELTA courses and online courses. Take a look at our CELTA calendar and find a course that is suitable for you!

Need help preparing for the CELTA course? ELTCampus has an excellent pre-CELTA course preparation bundle, which contains all you need to make the most of your CELTA course come the first day!



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

TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, EFL, ESL... With all these acronyms, sometimes the world of English language teaching can seem like a confusing game of scrabble. We are here to help and have broken down what these mean, as well as a providing a range of other useful information to help you navigate through this sometimes confusing environment.

We also provide you with an overview of some of the different scenarios in which you may find yourself teaching English. You can get an idea of what to expect and how to make the most of each potential situation. So without further ado, let's begin!


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

  •  
    • ESL= (acronym) English as a Second Language
    • EFL=(acronym) English as 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

These are all general terms, however CELTA is an actual qualification. The CELTA certificate is the most widely recognised English language teaching certificate in the world and is internationally recognised and accredited by the University of Cambridge.

So what do these English teaching acronyms (TEFL, CELTA, etc) mean in real terms?

What we see here are general terms that describe some of the different scenarios for teaching English. But what is the English language teaching world like? Here's an overview of the industry and some of the situations in which you may find your yourself teaching:

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

If you are teaching English in a place like 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? The English speaking world contains a wide variety of countries, and not all of them contain red double decker buses! There are lots of different accents too. That's perfect. The English language 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 native English speakers. The English language 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. However, often employers often don't expect these teachers to have any training.  Some employers, and the communities they are serving, still think that being a “native speaker” is enough (this is quite 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?). The results can be chaotic!

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 often 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 some teachers teach post-CELTA are to children. You will find them more satisfying, effective and fun if you know a few key things. This is why we highly recommend that you check out the Teaching English to Young Learners Course that Emma Pratt from ELTCampus 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. For those teachers with a family, or for those who decide to start a family during their teaching career, 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 or a similar organisation.

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 sometimes trauma and emotional and practical issues to consider: of being displaced, dislocated, isolated, and dealing with loss, as well as financial strain.

Be Prepared

For some teachers this will be hugely rewarding and meaningful. But it can take over your life, as the needs are huge. Many teachers we have spoken to 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.

4. You are an online English teacher working with foreign students in a variety of different scenarios

Something that has become more prevalent in the last couple of years or so is the growth in the number of English language teachers teaching exclusively online. This could be through a school, a learning platform or independently.

Additionally, more teachers have decided to combine their teaching format. This means teaching a combination of online and face-to-face lessons, some one-to-one, some in a classroom (real or virtual). However, the core skills for these different formats is the same. You are still imparting the same knowledge of the English language, whether you do this online or in person, though there will be some techniques that work better in each scenario. In this scenario, you need to be a flexible and adaptable for each unique lesson. Your skills and techniques learned during your CELTA will hold you in good stead for this challenge!

So, are you considering a career as an English language teacher? Want to work in the TEFL world and teach English abroad or from your home? The CELTA sounds ideal for you.

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, get in touch with a StudyCELTA expert today!

You can choose from CELTA courses from around the world, both face-to-face CELTA courses and online courses. Take a look at our CELTA calendar and find a course that is suitable for you!

Need help preparing for the CELTA course? ELTCampus has an excellent pre-CELTA course preparation bundle, which contains all you need to make the most of your CELTA course come the first day!

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