EFL, TESOL, ELT... What's the difference?

TEFL courses, TESOL courses, ELT courses... What's the difference? In fact, the answer to that question is really "not a lot". But let's first take a look at what all of those acronyms stand for…

TEFL acronyms

TEFL and TESOL...

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is also sometimes referred to as EFL (English as a Foreign Language). We prefer the term ELT (English Language Teaching), though ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is now rapidly coming into fashion.

In the US, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is much more widely used than TEFL.

For all practical purposes, however, these terms mean virtually the same thing.

TEFL and TESL

A distinction is sometimes drawn between TEFL and TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), and hence also between EFL and ESL.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) involves teaching people, usually in their own countries, who want to use English for business, leisure, travel, etc.

TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) involves teaching immigrants in English-speaking countries.

Courses: General TEFL courses

TEFL courses and CELTA courses

TEFL and CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) are sometimes confused. This is partly because when anyone asks "Have you got TEFL?" what in fact they have in mind is the Cambridge CELTA qualification. The question "Have you got the TEFL?" is not strictly speaking an accurate one, though you will often hear it.

Cambridge CELTA is probably the most-widely recognised TEFL qualification in the world today. An independent Cambridge Assessor visits every CELTA course to make sure that we have run the course correctly according to the Cambridge guidelines. The assessor checks that you are happy with the course, watches some of you teach and discusses grades with the tutors.

If you want to teach English, you want to get yourself a recognised qualification - both (1) in order to put it on your CV for potential employers and (2) so that you know what you are doing once you get inside the classroom.

CELTA will provide you with both of these two things.

More information: CELTA course at IH Barcelona

TEFL courses and TESOL courses

Particularly if you are a US citizen, do you want to do a TEFL course or a TESOL course?

As noted above, there is in fact not much practical difference. On CELTA courses at IH Barcelona there is no bias towards UK-English, for example. We like to think that we train you to teach the language you speak, no matter where it is in the world that you come from.

If your long-term career-goal is to teach English in the US, however, it may be that what you really want to do is an MA in TESOL (rather than merely a "TESOL course"), as that is what will be expected in the States.

We do, nevertheless, have quite a lot of American citizens taking the CELTA course, among other reasons because for anyone not certain whether or not to commit themselves to an MA, a month-long course plus some subsequent English teaching experience is a good way to determine whether or not, as a career, it is for you.

DELTA courses

After the CELTA course, and several years of teaching experience, there is then the DELTA (Diploma of English Language Teaching to Adults). For anyone with a couple years of experience, it is highly recommended, both to expand your knowledge of all areas of language teaching (and the language itself) and because it would be the qualification to have if you are ambitious to get on in TEFL, and become Director of Studies (DoS), senior teacher, teacher trainer etc.

DELTA can be taken either full- or part-time.

• More information: DELTA course at IH Barcelona

• Management courses, see also: DoS course | ELT management

More specialised TEFL courses

CELTA and the CELT Young Learner course

Whereas a CELTA course is geared towards teaching English to adults, to anyone with an aptitude for working with children, the CELTA YL extension course is of interest, CELT YL standing for Certificate of English Language Teaching to Young Learners.

Coming after the main CELTA course, the CELTA YL extension course, is also an option worth considering as there are never enough specialist YL teachers to meet the demand for them. In most schools, at least here in Spain, most English teachers spend around 50% of their time teaching Young Learners.

Having a recognised qualification is definitely a plus to go on your curriculum, besides making life much easier for you when you get into your classroom.

More information: CELTA YL extension course

Business English

Apart from Young Learners, another more specialised field in TEFL is Business English.

Many teachers of Business English find themselves going out to companies and teaching there, "in-company", rather than in a language school. It will obviously be helpful to have worked in business in some capacity.

• More information: Business English teaching course

ESP courses

ESP (English for Special Purposes) can involve teaching English to professionals working in literally any field - airline pilots or cabin crew, air traffic controllers, bankers, doctors…

As with Business English it helps if you have some experience of the relevant field. At IH Barcelona we recently had someone taking a CELTA course who also had a nursing qualification - now that's someone with specialist qualifications!

Other TEFL courses

EAP courses

EAP stands for English for Academic Purposes and often involves teaching the sort of (fairly high level) English students from abroad might need to cope with a university course in Britain or the US.

MA/MSc in TEFL (TESOL)

For anyone ambitious to get to the top in TEFL, an MA in TEFL (or TESOL, or ELT), after CELTA and then DELTA, plus suitable experience, is probably what you want to consider.