Understanding English Language Teaching: TEFL, TESL, TESOL, TEAL
For the aspiring English language teacher, choosing a certification program or degree can seem a bit mind boggling if you can’t get your head around all the acronyms. Read on to understand the basic differences between TEFL, TESL, TESOL and TEAL.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)
TEFL programs were originally designed to train teachers to teach students in a native English-speaking environment. English as a Foreign Language (EFL) refers to situations where language students use English in countries like America, Canada, the U.K. or Australia. It is assumed that students have English being spoken around them and are immersed in an English language culture. EFL students would include recent immigrants, tourists, and exchange students.
Now that the scope of English language learning has widened, new acronyms have been coined to describe the more global usage of English.
Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)
ESL is currently the most common way to refer to English language learning programs around the world. Terming English as a ‘second language’ rather than a ‘foreign language’ changes the focus from learning English to visit or live in English-speaking countries to learning English for the sake of using English anywhere in the world. Whereas EFL curricula may have focused on useful terms for tourists, ESL curricula focuses more on everyday language for normal people.
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
With the coining of ESL, teachers were quick to point out that for many students English was not a ‘second language,’ but a third, fourth or even fifth language. Many English language learners are already bilingual, so referring to English as a ‘second language’ isn’t correct in many cases. Hence ESL became ESOL, and TESL became TESOL. Most Master’s level programs you’ll find are termed MA TESOL as opposed to MA TESL or MA TEFL. TESOL programs tend to be more in depth than basic TEFL or TESL certifications.
Teaching English as an Additional Language (TEAL)
EAL is the least common acronym of the four, but it seems to be coming in vogue at international schools around the globe. The term is actually pronounced as if you’re saying all three letters : E – A – L, so it’s not an acronym in the true sense. Its full name is shorter to say than Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and it’s meaning is more concise: Teaching English as an Additional Language. No matter if your students can already speak one, two or even several other languages, English can be considered an ‘additional language.’
What should you get certified in if you want to teach English overseas or at home?
Basic certification programs in TEFL, TESL, TESOL, and TEAL are all very similar. If you’re at home or abroad, the concepts and strategies used to teach English will not differ too much. TEFL certification is still a doorway to English teaching abroad even though its name refers to teaching English in English-speaking countries.
I have a TEFL certification, but I have taught ESL at the University of Massachusetts. The majority of the students were learning English as a ‘foreign language,’ as they were immigrants or students in a foreign land. Since the term EFL has widely been replaced by ESL, the course was called an ESL course. This wasn’t correct in all cases, as many of my students already spoke two or more languages fluently. The class could have just as easily, and more correctly, been called ESOL or EAL.
Although my certification is in TEFL, I have spent time teaching for an MA TESOL program and I have applied for positions in EAL. Just because your certification has one name, don’t feel that you can’t apply for jobs or teach in programs that use the other terms. Teaching English to students who don’t know the language is a similar experience whether it’s called EFL, ESL, ESOL or EAL.